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Heaven is What I Cannot Reach by Emily Dickinson Poetry Analysis

Poetry Analysis

“Striving to be better, we oft mar what’s well.” Such are the words of William Shakespeare. This hints of many frail humans who spend most of their life striving to be perfect, only to find that the goal is an impossible one and they had wasted precious time. Why do so many strive for perfection? The idea of this delicious morsel is tempting, and so they strive on, not willing to sacrifice their pride and realize that they cannot be perfect. And all the wishing and sighing goes to no use. In Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Heaven is what I cannot reach!,” she displays and describes this perfection and how it appears in humans: alluring. “The whole universe is but a storehouse of images and signs to which the imagination must digest and transform (Microsoft)”. Within analyzing the representations, perfection is used synonymously with paradise and heaven. In “Heaven is what I cannot reach!”, Dickinson uses symbolism to portray how perfection for humans is hopelessly out of reach.

Dickinson compares a fruit and the tree upon which it’s dangling from to the appeal of perfection. Specifically, the lines “the Apple on the Tree/Provided it do hopeless hang (lines2-3, 97)” signify this. The apple is an evocation of the symbolic fruit of Genesis; it is a temptation only when it is hopelessly out of reach. Similarly, ‘perfection is a trifle dull,” according to the British author W. Somerset Maugham. Maugham continues to explain his belief with, “It is not the least of life’s ironies that this, which we all aim at, is better not quite achieved” (Microsoft). In other words, perfection ‘satisfies the hunger,’ but after it is achieved, it becomes bland. Wishing after the delicious fruit comes to no avail. The tree, its height hindering one from snatching the apple, symbolizes the obstacles that prevents one from reaching the goal.

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Dickinson symbolizes the landscape to the unknown; the place where perfection is found. The poet eases into the comparison with the line, “the Color, on the Cruising Cloud” (line 5, 97). Colors of clouds are free and not fix, but they are also out of reach. These colors are reflecting the hues of the land that is hidden from the eye. Similarly, one catches glimpses of heaven, little murmurs of what it promises, but it still remains a mystery. The cloud Dickinson mentions is tinted with this promising color, but like all “cruising” clouds, it appears then disappears in the sky. Likewise does perfection allure to the senses and then flees. Since no human can be perfect, paradise is forbidden to one. The line “the interdicted Land” (line 6, 97) portrays this. It is a land where one is prohibited entry because of blemishes. “Behind the Hill, the House behind/There, Paradise is found” (lines 7 and 8, 97) metaphorically relates to the untouched land also. The faults that block one from reaching the house are portrayed by the hill. The word home/house represents rest and safety. This safety, which protects one from danger of mistakes, is something one will supposedly have when reaching perfection. This house is always out of sight, and one knows it is there, but cannot scale the hill.

Dickinson spins an appealing web of symbolism to convince the reader that humans are weak and gullible to think that they could attain perfection. The poet begins with “her teasing Purples, Afternoons” (line 9, 97). First, the color purple is often a mysterious murky hue. The author Oscar Wilde once remarked, “Mere color…can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways” (Microsoft). In other ways, the purple is taunting the soul, enticing one to guess at what perfection is like. Dickinson continues her web with “the credulous decoy” (line 10, 97). A decoy is a place where the lured are captured, a place that they believed in too readily. How symbolic is this to desperate humans who are anxious to accomplish the task of achieving/finding perfection. The decoy is the idea of perfection; once one is caught, he/she realizes that it is unattainable, and they he/she has been striving after something impossible. The weak are “enamored of the Conjuror” (line 11,97). They are filled with love for the magician, for the one who solemnly entreats them. This love pulls down the blinds, the paradise illusion is veiled to make it look real. This is what the master charmer does, “that spurned us-Yesterday” (line 12, 97). Yesterday symbolizes the past, and the today murmurs of too-late-to-turn-back’s. Yesterday is thus engrained only in memory; it can only be relived again in the mind. So does this represent the useless path to perfection; it cannot be traveled upon again once one reaches the unscalable hill. One is rejected before even realizing it.

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Dickinson uses symbolism in this playful but bitter poem “Heaven is what I cannot reach!” to portray the perfection that humans strive for and is hopelessly out of reach. The poet stuns the reader with cunning symbols, proving that she is a witty poet. She understood the power of symbolism. “In a symbol there is concealment and yet revelation…What we can call a symbol, there is…some embodiment and revelation of the Infinite; the infinite is made to blend itself with the Finite, to stand visible,” according to the Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle (Microsoft). How often in life do we say that something isn’t fair. For those who blindly pursue perfection ask the question once, when they come to the end and finally realize that paradise is out of their reach. One can enter perfection only by being perfect, which is impossible. Humans are flawed, period. They are washed of their blemishes and flaws only when they die, and only then may they know the unknown, the unfelt perfection-the core of the apple-that they had been striving for their whole earthly lives. Ironically, this perfection was not reached through their own chewing of the apple’s flesh.

Works Cited

Microsoft Bookshelf. 1996-1997 Edition.

Shurr, William H. New Poems of Emily Dickinson. The University of North Carolina Press. 1993.