(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Dickinson wrote this poem between 1860 and 1862, if one accepts the Johnson chronology. Her sister included it among the small selection of poems published after the poet’s death. It appears that the title “Called Back” was appended based on a note the poet had written to her cousins on the day before her death. Perhaps she was inspired by the sudden conviction she was recovering that affects many terminally ill people, or (equally likely) she did not want her cousins to worry. In any event, she wrote, “Little cousins,—Called Back. Emily.”

Dickinson’s poems often focus on a proleptic view of the death experience; that is, they anticipate death yet present a living narrator to interpret the nearly experienced event. Not surprisingly, they are usually devoid of any overt Christian imagery; yet, there does appear, in this instance, the image of the “Reporter” who has stood before the apocalyptic “Seal.” The narrator’s wish to remain next time, to see “the things . . . By Ear unheard,/ Unscrutinized by Eye—” corresponds to Saint Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2.9. The speaker, however, is far more like Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner or Herman Melville’s Ishmael, the narrator of Moby Dick (1851). All three have looked upon death and lived.

It is impossible not to sense the enlightened, humanistic tone of the poem’s first two lines: “Just lost, when I was saved!/ Just felt the world go...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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