Monday, June 29, 2009

Faith a Fine Invention But...

A few days ago, I posted on definitions of faith from the NYTimes from Hebrews to the most skeptical to everything in the middle.

Here is a reflection on faith by Emily Dickinson:

Faith is a fine invention
For gentlemen who see;
But microscopes are prudent
In an emergency.


This is the entirety of a very short (four-lined!) poem. Like all of her poems, it is atitular. It is a nice rhythm and rhyme, making, like a great many of her poems, only the second and fourth lines rhyme. I thought the term "invention" striking here. Invented suggests constructed, created, perhaps even contrived, but nonetheless "fine." But it is only fine within certain bounds, fenced in by "gentlemen who see" and "emergency." The first is inclusive and the second exclusive: it is fine for those who see, but not in an emergency. Who are "those who see"? Are they the "pure in heart" (for they shall see God)? Perhaps an allusion to the (false) etymology of Israel as "the [gentle]man who sees God" (ish roeh el)? The second and third lines, moreover, have centripetal and centrifugal forces. Bringing them together is the emphasis on sight ("see" and "microscope"), but pushing them apart is the type of sight: the nebulous faith of those who see versus the practical or "prudent," specific sight of the physician using a microscope in what seems to be a medical emergency. Reading backwards, then, is the nebulous faith beforehand become more specific in the concept of a "faith healing" that was becoming more popular in nineteenth century in the wake of the second great awakening and following in religious circles in what became known as evangelical and perhaps "holiness" circles? A lot can happen in four lines.

2 comments:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Interesting how you interpret her meaning...I had an absolutely different understanding..which might not be her "original intent/meaning" at all, but illuminates what I 'see"...

The faith created by "gentlemen who see" are those who are comfortably "as ease" without any "challenge to their faith", thus faith is easily "understood or constructed"...by these...

But, in an "emergency", when crisis happens and faith is challenged, there is need for the microscope....and investigation...a tool useful to bring about grounding to faith...

Jared said...

Thanks for this. It is definitely a poem that can be read multiple ways.