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When interpreted as a whole, Emily Dickinson's manuscript booklets of writing, or fascicles, offer insight into individual poems. As many scholars have speculated, Dickinson expresses religious ideas with experimental instability. The collection of poems on fascicle five, sheet three, demonstrate an anticipation of life exalted after death. For example, "As Watchers hang upon the East -" changes from a hopeful poem about the afterlife, to a questioning one that encourages the reader to remain critical of religion. In this poem, there is mention of a beggar who, while pondering death, looks forward to the prospect of a heavenly 'feast' promised to those who follow God. The narrator of this poem insinuates that heaven may not exist in the way that society claims it does; they leave the poem on a very open ended note with the line, "[h]eaven to us, if true" which reinforces the idea – so common in Emily Dickinson's religious poetry – that she writes with unsurety concerning her beliefs. Dickinson's arrangement of these poems on the sheet explains that belief is a personal journey based on life experience. This is not to say that she did not believe in said afterlife, it merely implies that naivety and blind faith leads to disappointment and one should watch for personal confirmations of religious ideas. In a way, Dickinson acts as a spiritual advisor to readers. Neither confirming nor denying how one should live their life, but rather emphasizing individual spirituality.
Utah State University
English Language and Literature
MacDonald, Carter; Christiansen, Amma; Curry, Robin; and Owens, Sabrina, "Something to Believe In" (2020). Fall Student Research Symposium 2020. 45.