Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –
Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.
First published in March 1864 in the paper The Round Table, “Some keep the Sabbath going to church-” centers on an attitude toward faith and traditional Christian beliefs that took into account new scientific discoveries. In a letter to a friend, Dickinson expresses the attitude toward faith in the poem: “I feel that the world holds a predominant place in my affections. I do not feel that I could give up all for Christ, were I called to die.”
The twelve-line poem begins with a statement in which the speaker acknowledges that she does not follow what is expected of her: while some might associate the Sabbath with a need to attend church services, the speaker explains that “I keep it, staying at Home.” With this departure from societal norms established through the speaker’s actions , Dickinson uses imagery of nature to establish the setting of the “church” that the speaker attends at home. For the speaker, the typical role of church chorister is filled by a songbird—the Bobolink, to be specific—and the “Dome” of the church is created by the orchard that the speaker finds herself in. The distinctions between a traditional church setting and that of the speaker continue in the second stanza, beginning with the topic of attire. Dickinson uses alliteration to explain that “Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice” but that the speaker just wears “Wings.”. It appears unclear, however, what these “Wings” are. The contrast suggests that it is something unlike the formal vestments, or the “surplice”, usually worn by those involved in Christian services. By the third stanza, the poem moves to address how the speaker views two key elements of the Christian faith: God and heaven. Dickinson indicates that it is God himself preaching to the speaker; a preacher who is both a “noted Clergymen” and one who delivers short sermons. Yet, it is the poem’s final two lines that reveal the speaker’s greatest detachment from traditional Christian dogma. The speaker reveals that getting into Heaven at the end of life is not her primary goal for, rather, she feels that she is “going, all along.”
In “Emily Dickinson on Her Own Terms,” Betsy Erkkila describes the poem as an expression of celebration by Dickinson to reject her faith—and, by extension, a desire to not follow the expected role of a proper Christian woman. However, contributing writers from the Emily Dickinson Museum acknowledge that when one steps back and looks at the larger pattern that religion forms as a theme in her works, one sees that Dickinson did not always approach religion as she does in this poem. Some works express an apparent irreverence, as this poem can be read to include, while other works affirm a need for faith, and still others express a sense of anger toward God. Religion, therefore, is a complex subject for Dickinson—one that she continued to wrestle with through her poems..
Bibliography and Further Readings Emily Dickinson and the Church, Emily Dickinson Museum; Betsy Erkkila, “Emily Dickinson on Her Own Terms,” The Wilson Quarterly 9.2 (Spring 1985); Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church –. Poetry Foundation; Emily Dickinson Archive.
Credits Composed by Nicholas Yialiades, Fall 2018. Reading by Nicholas Yialiades.