Analysis of "Safe in Their Alabaster Chambers" by Emily Dickinson
Safe in their Alabaster Chamber
Safe in their Alabaster Chambers -
Untouched by Morning -
and untouched by noon -
Sleep the meek members of the Resurrection,
Rafter of Satin and Roof of Stone -
Grand go the Years,
In the Crescent above them -
Worlds scoop their Arcs -
and Firmaments - row -
Diadems - drop -
And Doges surrender -
Soundless as Dots,
On a Disk of Snow.
The poem's theme revolves around the topic of death. Like many of her other poems, Emily Dickinson does not directly address the subject, but instead, she allows her words to guide the reader onto the topic of death.
The illustration she depicts with her opening lines, is that of people "sleeping" safely in their alabaster chambers. "Sleeping" references towards the eternal sleep that everyone must face when their life comes to an end. Rather than saying dead, the word sleep better fits the imagery that Emily depicts within the poem. Instead of using the word "casket," the word chamber is used instead.
These words bring forth the second theme of the poem, which is Christianity. The belief that life after death is real, changes the way one presents the topic of death. The person "sleeps," like a living person would, but this sleep is not eternal like death, this sleep has an end. They will awake when the "resurrection" occurs. The idea of resurrection lies within the belief that Jesus Christ will come a second time, in which the great resurrection will occur and the "meek" shall inherit the earth.
Christianity and Imagery
To gain a better understanding of the poem, you must first look at the imagery depicted in the poem. The imagery is what brings out the two themes addressed by the poem.
The first stanza illustrates people sleeping safely in their alabaster chambers. They are presented as the "meek members of the resurrection." This directly references towards Christianity. It can be directly referenced towards the bible verse Mathew 5:5, which states "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
They are "safe" from any temptation of sin and of any "evil" and only await for the upcoming "resurrection." It then goes on to mention the "Crescent" that is above them. It makes a reference towards the sky, which in term leads to heaven.
And as the worlds scoop their arcs (meaning that they make a pavement or a sort of curved path towards the sky), they are gathered and sent forth onto the heavens.
Firmament- Heavens where God dwells; [fig.] immortal, sacred, everlasting place.
And as this happens, Diadems "drop" and Doges "surrender". This means that titles and materials things no longer matter, because everyone is equal in heaven. "Doges", which references to those in power, like politicians and Chiefs, surrender. Their power no longer means anything, and they have to surrender that power in heaven.
The last two lines of the poem depicts each individuals as small "dots" on a disk of snow; meaning, that they are as small and as insignificant as everyone else, when compared towards the larger picture. They are just like everyone else in heaven.
Death and Imagery
Alabaster is a snowy white material, by describing the chamber as white, Emily Dickinson is depicting not only the color of death in the United states (where Emily grew up), but also references towards the inside of the casket and the cemetery vaults (the small structures that are put over graves or are used instead of putting a casket underground). They are supported by "rafters" with a roof of "stone." It can also be interpreted as the rafter of satin, being the casket (with the satin material inside the casket) and the roof of stone, being the tombstone.
Inside the tombstone, the dead go untouched by morning and untouched by noon. They are no longer affected by time, they are safely asleep, protected by their chambers. This can also be interpreted by the idea that even though we may die, time still goes on. The earth keeps revolving, and life keeps on going, but we, as the dead, no longer play a part in it.
The last stanza can be used to interpret the meaning we have after our life is over. The years go by, as we "sleep" in our chambers, and people up in the "crescent above," (meaning people alive under the sky) continue to line up to take their place. But in the end, Diadems drop and Doges surrender. This means that even though we may gain titles, power and materials things, in the end, we lose it all. None of it comes with us after death. Someone comes to take your place in the world and you surrender to death's will. In the end, we are soundless dots on a disk of snow. We become more insignificant with the passing of time, and we are silent in our sleep.
It's important to know that the imagery of snow is significant because not only is it white (referencing once again towards death), it also melts with time. This could possibly mean that our existence is possibly erased in this world, with the passing of time.