Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
This poem’s coherence results from the opposition of tensions that arise from Dickinson’s dual understanding of life. To live with the beloved is impossible, for “it would be life.” Life is, on the other hand, something eternal, the key to which resides with the church sexton, who keeps the key to the Lord’s tabernacle. The cups of human life, however, hold no sacramental wine; the housewife discards them when they break or crack and replaces them with newer ware.
The speaker cannot die with the beloved, for the gaze of “the Other” intrudes; it can be shut neither out nor down. This apparent rival that spies on any possible pact is the metaphysical divine other that has first rights in matters of death as well as life. Similarly, it is impossible for the speaker to “stand by/ And see you—freeze”; the single death of the beloved denies death to the devoted speaker.
Even a joint resurrection of the lovers is impossible; this would anger Jesus and obscure the face of the redeemer. To this dual understanding of life the poet thus adds the stages of the Christian experience: life, death, judgment, and resurrection. When the beloved looked upon the “homesick Eye,” grace would “Glow plain,” but it would be “foreign” to him who sought a higher grace. Furthermore, “They d judge Us,” saying that he sought to serve Heaven even though she could not.
The speaker could then no longer have her eyes on paradise; both would suffer damnation, but she would fall the lower, and they would still be apart. The effect would be the same even if the beloved were forgiven. The only alternative, “Despair,” becomes their connection; their only conversation is their joint prayer, which allows them to link the immanent and the transcendent