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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 293

Title divine – is mine!

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The Wife –without the Sign!

From these opening two lines, the ambiguity of the poem is established. Is Emily Dickinson, who refused the religious altar call, declaring she has had a conversion experience and become the bride of Christ? Does "Without the Sign!" mean this has been a private, rather than a public experience? Or does the opening suggest she has become someone's physical lover without the outward sign of marriage?

Acute Degree—conferred on me –

Empress of Calvary!

The second two lines continue the ambiguity as well as the emotional intensity of the first two, as indicated by yet another exclamation point. Whatever happened to her was deeply felt. The word "Acute" emphasizes that this was an intense, not an ordinary experience. "Empress of Calvary!" lends mystery. Why, if Jesus was king of the Jews, is she not queen? Why does she focus on Calvary, site of the crucifying Christ? In this context, "Acute degree" would imply intense suffering: is she suggesting, by calling herself "Empress" of Calvary, that she has suffered more than Christ?

“My Husband” – women say –

Stroking the Melody –

Is this – the way?

The final three lines do little to clear up the mystery of the poem's meaning. Dickinson quotes generic "women" saying "my husband" and liking the sound of the words. But as the speaker's emotional intensity comes down, she seems to be left with nothing but profound, stumbling (as indicated by the dash before "the way") uncertainty. The reader is left uncertain as well: is the speaker ironic or sincere? Is she referring to a religious or sexual experience? Or is all of this conflated into one? We are left to ponder in a poem that refuses to comfort us with easy answers.

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