Emily Dickinson, “The Savior must have been a docile Gentleman” (1487)

The Savior must have been a docile Gentleman (1487)
Emily Dickinson

The Savior must have been
A docile Gentleman —
To come so far so cold a Day
For little Fellowmen —

The Road to Bethlehem
Since He and I were Boys
Was leveled, but for that ‘twould be
A rugged billion Miles —


This is about religious experience. Our marking of Christ’s birth is held, for us, during a cold time of year. We make Him come to us; we feel He does. Only instead of the Son of Man, on a divine mission to redeem the world of its sin, we get a “docile Gentleman.” The world is too much with us, as this is our imagining. There is nothing docile about the Prince of Peace: justice must run down as waters, righteousness an ever-flowing stream. And “gentleman” is the ultimate construct of civil society. We dictate what man ought to be to painful extremes, so much so we demean ourselves, put ourselves in a lower class.

So much for the first stanza. Peculiar about this popular vision of Christianity is that, in a way, it was intended. Maybe there is nothing problematic about Christ as a docile gentleman. The prophet declared the Lord would make every mountain and hill low (Isaiah 40:4). That leveling unifies a number of disparate times: we, hundreds of years removed from His adolescence, are the children come unto Him. We’re there, equal with Him through such direct access. Only, a slight problem – it is, in effect, a wide, easy road. “A rugged billion miles” may overstate how difficult it sometimes can be to achieve a proper, true, moral vision, but then again, a rugged billion miles is literally life on earth.

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