Assuming the story of the Roman soldiers casting lots for Christ’s garnets is true, while Jesus died on the cross for humanity’s sins, humanity remained engaged in sinful activity right at his feet. And what of the soldier who did win the garments? Did he really win anything of value or did he give up his salvation for a good roll of the dice with his friends?
Emily is saying that when we win at sin, we lose at everything else. We are like gamblers who are addicted to winning whatever we can here in this world while remaining ignorant of the gifts being given to us from the next life.
What stands out the most in this poem is her use of the word “recollecting”. She is playing on the idea of “collecting” a debt won while gambling, but she ties it together with memory, as in “recollecting” a thought or idea as well as “recollecting” one’s composure. This is a very unusual connection to make and it does not seem obvious at first what she is attempting to do, but I believe she is playing with the idea of how easily we can forget what game we should be winning at and so we slip back into comfortable / bad habits and thus “we lose” because we forgot what is most important.
Yet she is also expressing the problem with being human and that we are incapable of, from the Christian point of view, to be free of vice and sin. We will always struggle and gamble and lose, but we keep playing the game. From this point of view, it is a testament to our perseverance that we keep playing even though we keep losing. We know the game is rigged – we’re all going to die one day – yet we keep rolling the dice and going on about our day as if the game will never end. There is a sort of simple and idiotic simplicity to this which is, in a way, endearing about human nature.