Exploring life without Providence

Expansive Possibility

I dwell in Possibility – (466)

BY EMILY DICKINSON

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –

Reprinted electronically (at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/182904) by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin, ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979, 1983, 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Source: The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R. W. Franklin (Harvard University Press, 1999)

From the beginning, the words I read propelled me along a constantly expanding experience of Possibility, with no suggestion of retreat from the world (so frequently read into this poem). The relentless repetition of identical rhythms that begin each of lines 2, 3, 4 and 5 knit them for me into a unity of motion and meaning:

  1. the more numerous windows, exposing more vistas,
  2. the “[s]uperior” doors (superior of number, it seemed, resounding as those words did for me with identical rhythmic motion, suggesting a parallel generosity of opportunity for receiving expansive contribution to the dweller(s),
  3. the generous — expansive — proportions suggested for its ‘Chambers as the Cedars’,
  4. all leading into a sense of increase, of receiving from outside such a wealth of life-giving experience that “impregnation-able” leaped out insistently as I read the word “impregnable” in the fourth of these lines, seeing all that was allowed into this House of Possibility as germinating something teeming with life,

until it all but “blew the roof off”, revealing the almost infinite expanse of this House that could not contain its gestation in any semblance of isolation. With that explosive liberation, I saw from a new perspective, from the outside looking back in at the occupants of the House, those dwelling temporarily as visitors, greeted as “the fairest” (being those, perhaps, who naturally gravitate to Possibility) and those dwelling permanently like the poet, the “I” with whom the poem begins. Finally, I saw the poet gesture toward the work of this House: “the spreading wide my narrow Hands/To gather Paradise”, to draw in, not hide from, all that is good and life-giving and leading on to ever more and more growth: the continual flowering of Possibility. The sentence that comprises this poem presents a litany of the features of this House, the last of which is its Occupation, which is illustrated for the reader by describing its occupant’s own activity in the final couplet.

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