Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dickinson's Interpretation of Gen. 32:24-32

A little over Jordan,
As Genesis record,
An Angel and a Wrestler
Did wrestle long and hard.

Till morning touching mountain,
And Jacob waxing strong,
The Angel begged permission
To breakfast and return.

"Not so," quoth wily Jacob,
And girt his loins anew,
"Until thou bless me, stranger!"
The which acceded to:

Light swung the silver fleeces
Peniel hills among,
And the astonished Wrestler
Found he had worsted God!

Dickinson sensitively interprets the ambiguity between the "man" Jacob wrestles and the culminating verse where Jacob names the place of the wrestling match Peniel, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved" (Gen. 32:30), turning the ambiguity of the ancient text into a moment of delayed realization by Jacob--it is here, I think, that the astonishing impact of the poem lies. She leaves out, however, the impact, import, and perhaps transformative aspect of naming in the passage as Jacob, the swindler who grabs at the heel, becomes Israel, who has striven with humans and God and prevailed (32:28), as well as the "man" refusing to reveal his name (v. 29). Yet I like how she creates astonishment. Indeed, what a stunning closing line: finding that he had worsted God! It is a perfect line to end with because it makes you stop in your tracks; as Jacob stands astonished that he had worsted God, we stop astonished that God can be worsted.

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