Emily Dickinson, “The Soul should always stand ajar” (1055)

The Soul should always stand ajar (1055)
Emily Dickinson

The Soul should always stand ajar
That if the Heaven inquire
He will not be obliged to wait
Or shy of troubling Her

Depart, before the Host have slid
The Bolt unto the Door —
To search for the accomplished Guest,
Her Visitor, no more —


First stanza: “The Soul should always stand ajar.” Is the “Soul” itself a door? “Soul” is most certainly “her.” “Heaven” is a “he” who inquires. He sounds like a lover. It may be rude to keep him waiting or cause him to think himself bothersome. But once one says that, “Heaven” also sounds like one with authority. Is the Soul supposed to be receptive to pleasure or judgment?

Second stanza: Should the Soul depart? Or might Heaven do so? Or should we depart and leave Soul and Heaven alone?

The second stanza initially makes it sound like “Heaven” leaves. That makes “Host” the Soul. The consequence of being ajar for “Heaven” is that he will leave at the earliest opportunity. The Soul only glimpses Heaven (“no more”). The glimpse may push Soul to search. Is receptivity the search itself?

That provisional interpretation pushes us back to the idea that Soul departs (because it does). When does the Soul depart? Before the Heavenly Host has even left his domicile. It sounds like we die as Soul goes in search of Heaven. That’s a bit too cynical to leave alone.

The Soul gets a “Visitor.” But “accomplished Guest” is something else. The Soul might be a door, after all, even if it is a search too. We are to leave the Soul open and depart ourselves. Receptivity is the search itself, but not in the sense of pleasure.

We are our souls, and our openness is timely. At some point we will be shut out of or shut into Heaven. The “accomplished Guest,” I think, has to be finding our judgment itself – judging what or who is good. “Heaven” is “no more” in the second stanza as Soul and Heaven have merged in some sense. Love is now a higher yet earthly openness.

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