Emily Dickinson, “As willing lid o’er weary eye” (1050)

As willing lid o’er weary eye (1050)
Emily Dickinson

As willing lid o’er weary eye
The Evening on the Day leans
Till of all our nature’s House
Remains but Balcony


“The Evening on the Day” leaning looks like it forms a human eye. It does not, unless we assume Day has been looking at us and Night won’t. I say “us” not just because of the presumably human speaker who created the simile (“as”), but because of “all our nature’s House.” That is very curious. At first, one reads it as the external world, in its fullness, containing “all our nature.” The sky and the celestial lights would not be part of “all our nature.” But when was the external world simply “all our nature’s House?”

That consideration forces us back to the start. We see the evening on the day lean when we’re tired, when our eyes are about to shut. There is less “sight” at work here, sight being the holding of different objects at a distance, and more “correspondence.” The latter: we hold ourselves a certain way or have some conception. That formal structure is mirrored in the world. The similarity makes us think we’ve arrived at truth.

Not quite. In this case, though, the problem of the self has been seen. “Our nature” was singular, only sounding plural because of the possessive. Our bodies, shutting down for the night, are not closing our minds to the world. On the contrary, a “balcony,” a place to see more, is all that’s left. Perhaps we are looking higher, at the stars. Not our nature’s House, but the potential fulfillment of our natures. There is a quiet romance to this poem: our natures are more open at night, not confined by apparently all-knowing Day. Is the speaker leaning on her balcony, waiting?

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