Emily Dickinson, “Be Mine the Doom” (845)

“Be Mine the Doom” (845)
Emily Dickinson

Be Mine the Doom –
Sufficient Fame –
To perish in Her Hand!

Comment:

The speaker sounds like a flower that has been plucked; the sexuality of the poem is perhaps too obvious. But “Her Hand?”

“Doom,” “Fame,” “perish:” with “Doom” (fate) and “perish” this poem seems to have Biblical weight. It moves from “Doom” to “perish,” however, and “the Doom” contrasts with the infinitive “to perish” both in terms of its finitude and capitalization. This is in addition to a supposed contrast between “Mine” and “Her” that may be developing over the space of these 11 words. A quick google search reveals an awful lot of Bible verses that begin “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord” or some such thing. I think it is safe to say that “Be Mine the Doom” is a statement of Biblical certainty. It sounds like noble resignation at the least, or more likely a lament.

“Sufficient Fame” is the bridge between the two other lines of the poem. It is the Doom, and one wonders if Dickinson is alluding to flowers being plucked. It is conceivable some “gentleman” used the speaker and another girl and now has ditched one for the other. All that’s left for the former girl is ill-repute. “Sufficient” is what is so curious: did one have to be “plucked” to have some self-esteem? Perhaps 19th c. America was more like Jersey Shore than I realize.

But “Sufficient Fame” is probably also a reference to the theme of Dickinson as poet, which shows up not infrequently in her work. I sometimes like to take “Fame” as the issue of self-knowledge, and that identification will work here: shame, as in a blush, is a very public display of the most private matters. Those matters may be so private that one may not always realize why one is blushing at times. And yes, this implies that “Fame” could involve only one person. Someone could say something that made you blush, and no one else noticed but you.

Which is why I think – despite the sexuality of the poem, and the intensity of feeling that brings – “Her Hand” is the speaker’s. The distance between “Mine” and “Her” is created by “Sufficient Fame:” who caused the perishing, exactly? Who put you in the situation where you felt known, exposed? It’s possible for the “plucking” to be entirely imaginary, and we note that loss of innocence has nothing to do with actually going out and doing something wrong. In Christian terms, we are accountable for adultery just by looking at someone a little bit too long. The poet’s quest for “sufficient fame” has her thinking the unthinkable; the poem now has the feel of a dark joke, and I think for a first read, that will suffice for now.

4 Comments

  1. Dickinson again showing that you don’t have to say a lot, to say a lot.

    My first thought was to link Her Hand to Fame, which also underscores your reading of ill-repute and self-knowledge I think.

    But it’s also like she’s saying that sufficient fame is the doom. All of a sudden, ‘sufficient’ then doesn’t seem enough.

    Looking up ‘perish’ in the dictionary, it embodies the concept of spiritual death. ‘Doom’ also incorperates more than (adverse) fate or ruin, which I associated with it first. It also spells a judgement, both legally as the final one.

    I don’t know what all this turning of the verbal pebbles really brings, though. I feel like I’m missing some central allusions. Is the speaker saying that fame isn’t everything? Or that her fame is not enough? Or that that sentiment, sincere as it is, is mired in the awareness that even speaking it is an expresson of Vanity?

    Lots to think about, as ever. Thanks for a stimulating blog post.
    .-= Ario´s last blog ..Poetry 101 =-.

  2. @ Ario – there’s a lot of religion in this poem, but not a lot of morality. It isn’t clear what happened to the speaker.

    I think the parallel situation in our lives is when we feel shameful not because we’ve done anything wrong, but because something didn’t work out. It’s like we’re being judged, and we feel really uncomfortable. Usually the situation I’m thinking about occurs when one says too much unknowingly, or brings up uncomfortable topics. But that feeling definitely extends to awkward moments in and out of a relationship.

    That may be what’s going on here. We’ve got some deep need to be accepted, far deeper than any of us realize, and “sufficient fame” is when we’re coming to terms with how complicated an issue this is.

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