“I dwell in Possibility…” (657)
I dwell in Possibility -
A fairer House than Prose -
More numerous of Windows -
Superior – for Doors -
Of Chambers as the Cedars -
Impregnable of Eye -
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky -
Of Visitors – the fairest -
For Occupation – This -
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise -
“Possibility” is a “fairer House than Prose:” it cannot be the fairest of dwellings because it is possibility, after all. “The fairest” is reserved for visitors to this House, or even, given the ambiguity the dashes create, the activity she engages in: “The spreading wide my narrow Hands / To gather Paradise.”
The “House” is peculiar. Compared with “Prose,” we are tempted to think that it is poetry itself, with Dickinson addressing us as poet. I think that interpretation holds, but I really hate “the theme of this poem is about poetry” line of thought generally, for this reason: a clever reader can make any poem to sound like a comment on poetry. Still, Dickinson mentioned “Prose,” and that implicitly brings up the theme of poetry.
But she doesn’t talk about poetry explicitly – rather, this “House” is open to the air in two ways (“numerous of Windows,” “Gambrels of the Sky”). When you add in the mention of Cedars, you wonder if this is a House at all. Prose might actually be a House, trapping thought. The imagery here reminds one of the forest as Cathedral, only “Gambrels” is a term specific to a barn’s roof. Using that term, she’s discounted any formal religious imagery.
We wonder about the House as natural. Poetry is still a House, of sorts. That it has more Windows allows more light to come in, but also allows the occupant at any given time to see more.
The doors are “superior,” as they are “impregnable” as Cedars are: you can’t see through them. The end of Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” has the protagonist looking out at another building, and seeing in the windows what’s going on in each of the different rooms. Each thing happening in each room is starkly different from that happening in any other room. Possibility means choice – when you make a choice, other possibilities are closed to you. The difference is between the “Chambers” (within) and the “Windows” (without): one must choose how to see, and while choices are not necessarily final, one choice does mean another can not be acted on at the same time.
The problem of human vision causes our speaker to muse on what is above: “an Everlasting Roof.” There is a viewpoint which sees all.
But what’s funny about the sky is that we see it, too. The “fairest” Visitor might as well be an angel – it is the visit to possibility which makes one “fairest.” “This” is parallel with “Prose” in the first stanza: whereas Prose was a static House, the noun “occupation” strongly implies a verb, and we are given a distinct description of an action: “The spreading wide my narrow Hands / To gather Paradise.” “Spreading wide” implies wings, but what fascinates most is the “wide”/”narrow” duality: the Hands, by themselves, are narrow. “Spread,” they’re wide.
This is not a poem necessarily about poetry when all is said – it is a poem that uses the idea of the speaker as poet to make a point about the nature of thought. Thoughts are possibilities: each one implies a perspective. To dwell in possibility seems impossible, since to keep every thought alive all at once is impossible. Hence, “not-prose,” not merely thoughts stated as propositions, but something more social, and something ultimately mystical. A way of communicating that brings the audience to places you stood, and lets them see as you did, and lets them discover for themselves. The speaker actually is dwelling in possibility: the divine does indeed flow from the natural.