Emily Dickinson, “Banish Air from Air” (854)

Banish Air from Air… (854)
Emily Dickinson

Banish Air from Air –
Divide Light if you dare –
They’ll meet
While Cubes in a Drop
Or Pellets of Shape
Films cannot annul
Odors return whole
Force Flame
And with a Blonde push
Over your impotence
Flits Steam.


The missing elements are earth and water. Water at least is alluded to somewhat (“they’ll meet;” “Drop;” “Films;” “Steam”). The poem begins with imperatives the audience is considering (“Banish,” “Divide”). It sounds like the audience wishes to play Creator, but why? “Fit / Films cannot annul” are the center of the poem, and mark the audience’s “impotence.” “Fit” goes with “Pellets of Shape” – if pellets are bullets, what fits their shape exactly is blood. “Films cannot annul” takes us to “Odors return whole:” what you do to the surface cannot truly subdue the stench of rotting flesh. “Force” is the only imperative after the ambiguous “Fit,” and we know by that point the audience’s cause is lost. The earth is not alluded to because it is the fundamental fact of the poem.

And yet – this poem sounds like tea time, the everyday. Air is separated before the pressure builds and the whistle blows. The stove’s flame, forced, is a division of light. “Cubes in a Drop,” “Pellets of Shape,” “Films” – would you like milk and sugar? Sorry for the milk fat on the surface. “Steam” is air and water; the “Blonde” is light on earth. The very essence of ritual implies not only imperfection, but perhaps hubris. Our attempt to create in the grand sense failed, but something was created, and was rather tasty.


  1. The open meaning to the play on words really leads one to think about life as a whole instead of the day to day. Why am I here? Is there a purpose for me? Am I living up to what I know my potential is? The richness of each line’s meaning takes my breath away. This is beauty on so many levels.

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