Dickinson: From ModPo on Coursera

For the past two weeks, I have been taking a course in Modern American Poetry through Coursera. This week we had our first writing assignment, analyzing Emily Dickinson’s poem “I taste a liquor never brewed.”  My essay follows:

“I taste a liquor never brewed” is fundamentally about the feeling of religous ecstasy. The title line refers to the blood of Christ, which is a wine never brewed (leaving aside that no liquor is brewed, but rather distilled), and which can’t be found in any vats of the Rhine, but only through religious communion. The reference to the Rhine may incorporate a criticism of German Lutheranism, as the poem alleges Christ’s blood cannot be found there.

The second stanza shows the writer in heaven, with endless, infinite summer days of clear blue skys, clean air, and morning dew. The writer is present in heaven, inebriated with Christ’s blood. She is reeling in the ecstasy of heaven.

The third stanza is the key stanza. The bees, representing the sting of death, are expelled from heaven – out of the Foxglove’s door. The Foxglove is the plant from which digitalis is derived. Digitalis is used to stimulate the heart. In other words, death has no part in heaven, since God’s love imparts eternal life. The butterflies, those too capricious and flighty, renounce God’s love, while the poet revels in it.

The final stanza makes the conceit more obvious, as seraphs (angels) and saints gather to watch the writer lean against the sun. The sun with a dual meaning, the light of heaven, and a homonym with Son, or Jesus, the son of God. The poet thus leans against the sun for support – she is supported by God’s grace, under the watch of angels and saints.


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