Emily Dickinson, “Doom is the House without the Door” (475)

Doom is the House without the Door (475)
Emily Dickinson

Doom is the House without the Door –
‘Tis entered from the Sun –
And then the Ladder’s thrown away,
Because Escape – is done –

‘Tis varied by the Dream
Of what they do outside –
Where Squirrels play – and Berries die –
And Hemlocks – bow – to God –


‘Tis – “it is” – seems to indicate we have three expansions of “Doom.” We start with “the House without the Door.” That sounds appropriate for a concept like Fate. We’re trapped where we reside. But Dickinson’s speaker does not let the matter rest. We enter this “House” through the “Sun” and kick a “Ladder” away. Was the “Ladder” the very “Sun” we used to ascend? Perhaps – reason reaches beyond us. Inasmuch as we find our fate, we are resolved but not complete. And it does seem that the turn to the light of reason makes us exclude any sort of going back. Rational people cannot become irrational. In that sense, an “escape” is done: maybe we are beyond this life, even if we haven’t ascended completely?

But again, the “Ladder” was thrown. “Varied by the Dream” is a move to the imagination; we only touched on rationality. We saw where we were going (“doom”) and wanted freedom. “Varied” does not subtly suggest a want of change. The rationally irrational – the poet we all are? – feels trapped. All of us must script around the fact of death; what varies is what we think we’re reaching toward, what’s outside when we felt we moved into the interior. Our souls have sensitive (“squirrels”), nutritive (“berries”) and rational (“hemlock”) components. The sensitive ignores the larger issue of “doom;” the nutritive in growth and rational in higher reverence accept what is at stake.

1 Comment

  1. I can’t get any head way on the first stanza at all. The only thing that comes to mind is that this is the opposite direction in which plato’s cave story goes. The voice is delving Into the self(or the cave) instead into nature to find reality. reality = self awareness = knowledge – maybe. Usually the sun represents all of those things. Anyways nice poem – thanx for the break down.

    Also- question about the hemlock(and your conclusion) – I looked up hemlock and it seems to be poisonous evergreen trees – i wonder why that particular tree – and then right next to God. Is it some sort of dig at religious belief?

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