The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In this twenty-line poem comprising five four-line stanzas, Emily Dickinson deals with the topics that she most frequently addresses in her poetry: death, loneliness, the hope (but never the promise) of immortality. She begins with the observation that the man who runs away, who disappears, is enhanced by his having left, because his memory lingers and perhaps is softened by his absence. He is, in Dickinson’s words, “tinctured for an instant/ With Immortality,” which is Dickinson’s initial hint that the poem will be concerned ultimately with death.

Yesterday’s vagrant today resides in memory, where he takes on a “superstitious value” as those who knew him tamper with their memories of him, adjusting those memories to suit their own consciences. In the first two stanzas, Dickinson toys with the notion that distance alters memories. Her capitalization of “Immortality” lends an enhanced importance to the word, often the most significant word in her poems.

The phrase “We tamper with Again’” at the end of the second stanza implies that the man who runs away, the vagrant, is better gone. This leads into the word “Never” in the next line, where the anonymous “we” in the poem cannot cherish the man but can adorn him with memories softened by his departure.

By the beginning of the fourth stanza, it is clear that the poet is talking about more than just a man who runs off, a vagrant who disappears, because in...

(The entire section is 536 words.)