Emily Dickinson, “A Door just opened on a street” (953)

A Door just opened on a street (953)
Emily Dickinson

A Door just opened on a street –
I – lost – was passing by –
An instant’s Width of Warmth disclosed –
And Wealth – and Company.

The Door as instant shut – And I –
I – lost – was passing by –
Lost doubly – but by contrast – most –
Informing – misery –


If Socrates is characterized by his eros, then one can say man is not a rational animal as much as an erotic one. Perhaps what we’re hungering after is a moment we can be held in forever, one where “warmth,” “wealth” and “company” never cease. Such a moment is beyond the scope of our reality; one would never describe time as wide, but length fits. One gets the feeling the speaker is wandering around in the cold dark when a beam of light breaks in her direction; I’m thinking of this “Door” as an imaginary fissure. “And Wealth – and Company” seem like afterthoughts after the “instant” bit of warmth. In a sense, a “Door” is an escape from it all. Even lost, a “street” implies a predetermined way.

Still, the funny thing about eros is that as an incompleteness, it yearns for something. The “Door” and its sudden appearance tempt us to dismiss it as trivial. But is it really possible to search for something you couldn’t recognize? “Disclosed,” as discussed partially above, hints at the image or feeling required to find the truth.

“Instant” repeats before “I – lost – was passing by -” does. One “instant” follows the first declaration of being lost, and there it is a noun: an almost non-existent length of time. The other “instant” serves as an adverb, describing how fast the Door shut. It is tempting to read “The Door as instant” as one unit, emphasizing “The Door” as equivalent to the “instant.” But Dickinson’s speaker is developing her thought about how lost she really is. She is “lost doubly:” one gets the distinct impression the speaker does not want to wish for “warmth,” “wealth,” and “company,” not if such a wish is so exclusive. By that, I don’t mean she’s sneering at the people in the pub or wherever the door led. It’s more like: wouldn’t it be nice to make some sense of time before we leave it? “Passing by” is how our speaker describes herself. She’s in motion. “An instant’s Width of Warmth” sounds curiously static.

“Most – Informing – Misery” seems to be a comment on the first list of three. I’m tempted to put either a “to” or an “am” between “contrast” and “most.” “Most” goes with “Company,” reducing the noun to an adjective, turning a group of people into a condition or state. “Informing” probably goes with “Wealth.” The speaker is informed by those beyond the door, but they don’t need knowledge as much as purchasing power. “Misery” is tied to the “Width of Warmth.” To understand everything potentially beyond the street as better than the street is to relegate reality to an artificial coldness. “A Door”/”The Door” indicates that this was just one door. Perhaps there will be better ones.

1 Comment

  1. It is amazing how many young men and women you can talk to who assume that the “pursuit of self-interest” is simply rational. My experience tells me that the distinction between the rational and the passionate has been so blurred that it really no longer exists. Every kind of desire is now justified by self-interest, and yet people can’t seem to figure out why their erotic longings aren’t ever satisfied. One can’t even say that a particular passion is better than another, lest they defy the almighty power of ‘rational’ self-interest!

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