Emily Dickinson, “It is an honorable Thought” (946)

“It is an honorable Thought…” (946)
Emily Dickinson

It is an honorable Thought
And makes One lift One’s Hat
As One met sudden Gentlefolk
Upon a daily Street

That We’ve immortal Place
Though Pyramids decay
And Kingdoms, like the Orchard
Flit Russetly away

Comment:

“It is an honorable Thought…. [t]hat We’ve immortal Place.” Not a reasonable thought, nor one entirely braindead. This thought “makes One lift One’s Hat / As One met sudden Gentlefolk:” “met” strikes suddenly – where is the “daily Street,” exactly? Before “met,” all the verbs are in the present tense. “Thought” as a noun, though, is the past of thinking. Is the “daily Street” the afterlife? The thought itself? A memory?

Perhaps all three, in a routine. I can’t help but recall the opening of Yeats’ “Easter 1916” in the first stanza, except I am loath to add “polite” and “meaningless” without just cause. There is a routine (“daily,” “lift One’s Hat”), but it is in response to “sudden Gentlefolk.” What makes everyone else a Gentleman or Lady? The honorable “Thought” all have in their own heads: “sudden” and the repetition of “One” cast doubt on the existence of “We.”

However, the “immortal Place” does exist for each of us, all at once (i.e. a hat covers the head, but we can all wear the same hat). “Thought” is contingent on “though:” we ignore the actual products of a previous “We” who gave honor to One. “Kingdoms” takes us away from the social in an earthly sense. These “Kingdoms” are “like the Orchard” – God’s garden? Eden? – which certainly “Flit Russetly away.” Russetly – like something reddish-brown, like an apple, but perhaps most relevantly: in a simple, homely way. We are all, ironically, Ladies and Gentlemen in this age – not the worst thing. A sudden recognition of another is better than none at all, even if well after the fact.

6 Comments

  1. Ashok,

    I like your analysis. I’m guilty of reading for reading’s sake and not really understanding what the poet is getting at.

    I wind up guessing wildly, hoping to shoehorn the words into my perspective.

    Cheers,

    Mitch

  2. My interpretation, which is most likely wrong is that viewing others (sentient + non-sentient beings) as immoral is giving them honor. If we view them as simply things that will die one day, and treat them like trivial beings in the entire scheme of the universe, that is dishonoring them.

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