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Ample Make This Bed -- Emily Dickinson

Guest poem sent in by Linda Roberts
(Poem #1337) Ample Make This Bed
 Ample make this bed.
 Make this bed with awe;
 In it wait till judgment break
 Excellent and fair.

 Be its mattress straight,
 Be its pillow round;
 Let no sunrise' yellow noise
 Interrupt this ground.
-- Emily Dickinson
(Complete Poems Part Four: Time and Eternity, LXIII)

After reading today's Emily Dickinson (Poem #1328) and reflecting on the
recent "poetry in the movies" thread, I thought of this poem, used to such
great effect in "Sophie's Choice" and especially touching to anyone like me
who's recently lost a loved one.

Graves are often compared to beds, and death to sleep, but Dickinson's
description seems especially poignant to me, since graves are frequently
described as narrow or deep, but "ample" seems both an unusual and apt term.

Linda

46 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Matt Chanoff said...

One thing that's shockingly beautiful about this poem to me is how eroticized it is. Except for the line "in it wait till judgment break," it could be about a marriage bed.

Also, Dickinson has a way of doing things wrong that somehow seem right. What's the deal with breaking the rhyme at the end of the first but not the last stanza? And who's she addressing? Overall, it's like a prayer to God, but some of it addresses the diseased "in it wait..."

Also, it reminds me of something my 10th grade poetry teacher said: look for trochees in poems about death. The stressed, unstressed rhythm gives a sense of trailing off, drifting away. Think of "To be or not to be, that is the question/...fortune/...end them." This poem is all trochees, but each line ends with a final stressed syllable. Where Shakespeare was using this rhythm to brood about death, he was also expressing Hamlet's indecisiveness (trailing off, mumbling). Dickinson uses that final stress to add a feeling of finality.

Beautiful poem, nice choice.

Matt

Nomad said...

This is one of the best poems you could pick, a tremendous poem. I have
heard wonderful professors do an hour long lecture just on the layers of
amazing shit in this poem. It is one of them that lives deep inside of me.

Chris

VnVJC37 said...

I, too, remember my poetry prof spend an hour lecturing on the deep layers of
this poem and compare the bed to a grave and pass judgment on the author,
saying that she must have been in terrible despair over a lost relationship in
order to prefer the sleeping state to the waking state. But I must confess: This
poem came to mind several months ago simply when my alarm clock went off and
the sun was shining through my window on my face and I realized I had to drag
myself up to go to work. That moment of the day is usually awful for me, for
all I want to do is go back to the comforts of sleep. I know that's a
superficial analysis, but I honestly think it suffices on some level.

Thank you very much for letting me share...

MarChrist said...

yes it is a marriage bed and a not-wanting-to-get-out-of-bed bed.

of course the death bed is there and that's why it's so great for s's choice
b/c it is a marriage bed and death bed. look at the story and the end of the
film.

when i hear the poem i hear love and coupling but when i read it in print i
see death. idn't that weird?

Dbrockskk said...

first heard it in "Sophie's Choice" and it's stayed with me ever since.

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Susan said...

I just heard this again while watching Sophie's Choice...these words are so haunting...I would love to know what she was thinking and where she was when she wrote this...it is so confusing...but so beautiful

Susan said...

I just read it again and again and again...of course she is talking about death...not marriage....it is so obvious to me her meaning...so sad.

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Anonymous said...

Have just recently discovered this poem. I believe it has more to say about life and investing everything of yourself into creating a meaningful existence, "make this bed with awe". I think the poem entreats us to commit to living as fully and completely as we can.

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Eddie Kay said...

When I am really sad, I. grasp for these words. It is amazing that poems, prose or even parts of great speeches, I love are so hard for me to put clearly to memory.

I sometimes think that I have a problem with this calming stanza because you must suffer agony (another favorite Dickinson word) before the relief like sleep can occur.

Anonymous said...

I think she was also referring to the element of trusting death far more than life: the bright, noisy, unwelcome intrusion of morning, with its deceptive brightness and activity, cannot delude her any longer. She wants no return to it. Death is far more awesome - and generous, and dependable - than life. She echoed many times this sentiment, particularly in other poems like "Because I could not stop for Death / He Kindly Stopped for Me".

Anonymous said...

The comment made above by one of the contributors mentioned the eroticism of the poem. Dickinson always wrote about death erotically: intimately. She knew it far better than life (and it knew HER far better, like a long-time lover). I read an excellent biography of her by Lyndall Gordon, called "Lives Like Loaded Guns", which I recommend to anyone wanting to know about her extremely strange life (and even stranger family set-up). She definitely wasn't a laugh a minute, but I think her acuity has never been paralleled in English poetry.

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