Emily Dickinson, “There is a finished feeling” (856)

“There is a finished feeling..” (856)
Emily Dickinson

There is a finished feeling
Experienced at Graves –
A leisure of the Future –
A Wilderness of Size.

By Death’s bold Exhibition
Preciser what we are
And the Eternal function
Enabled to infer.

Comment:

The “finished feeling” is curious. It is too easy to think ‘simply finished:’ the polish of the Graves and the fact of the Graves combine to give us reflected light as darkness. “Feeling” is what we want to ignore – that mixture of pain and awe. Dickinson seems to speak initially of an awesome creepiness; the many gravestones only differ in their individual magnitude, a “wilderness” that would cause anyone to fear. That may be “a leisure of the Future” for some, the unambitious who welcome death as an equalizer. But for quite a few, the “leisure” is only the Future’s. The “Wilderness of Size” makes us wonder what little we can do and take pride in, and we do wonder about those who have passed on, sometimes wanting more memories of them.

So Death has indeed made a great display of its power: it has shown its leisure, its diversity of sorts. Our response to its boldness: “what we are” becomes more precise. If we were to say, “we are dead,” that wouldn’t be quite right – we are, death is what is not. And Death alone cannot be “the Eternal function;” it may be Eternal, but it is not a “function.” The feelings of fear, pity, awe (maybe even envy) from Death don’t seem “finished,” but they are. The confusion requires a sorting now the collecting is done. That is the “enabling.” What we get is not knowledge necessarily, but inference. The feeling is finished because it is the awakening of self-knowledge. It is possible to reject the awakening and go back to sleep, of course. Dickinson mentions none of the feelings many experience at graves. We have to infer ourselves, and not merely indulge in momentary feeling.

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