“Good night,” because we must!

Flammarion engraving from L'atmosphère - météorologie populaire, 1888, Unkonwn
Background Image: Flammarion engraving from L’atmosphère – météorologie populaire, 1888, Unkonwn

Curious Emily wants to take a peek into what lies beyond death but what’s interesting here is that she doesn’t seem to have any problem believing (at least in this poem) that there is a god (“Father”) and Seraphs, so if she is confident there is an afterlife why does she need to take a look for herself? Is she testing faith? Is she asking God why he feels the need to keep us in the dark about eternity?

Her previous poem, “Our share of night to bear” has a possible allusion to Milton’s Paradise Lost, Book V when Raphael visits Adam and Eve after Eve has a disturbing dream where an angel eats the forbidden fruit. God has instructed Raphael to reveal everything to Adam and Eve so that they will not be tricked into sinning, but rather will have the free will to make their own decisions because they’ve been given all the information they need. In other words, God is not withholding vital information from them.

In this poem she continues the theme of knowledge by asking God why he has blocked off the gates of Eden. In Genesis 3: 24 “[God] drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life”. Humanity is barred from seeing beyond their own mortal limitations and thus are deprived of the information we could use to know one way or the other if a paradise truly awaits us after we die. Emily desires to “go” “Incognito” (perhaps a nod towards Dante whom only Virgil and Beatrice recognized in his journey beyond the pale) and see for herself because she believes she has a right to know the truth.

The irony here is that she is committing the failures as Satan in questioning God’s authority and assuming she should have the same knowledge as God. Her use of the word “saucy” is not so much her describing the elusive “Seraph” who guards paradise, but is describing herself as being insolent to her superior: God.

However, her intentions are even more mysterious because of her use of the word “tell”. First she wants the angles to “tell me” and then she asks “Father” to “tell” them to “tell” her. The issue here is if she wants to actually go to paradise and see it with her own eyes, why does she need to be told anything? To “tell” is part of a narrative, and in Emily’s case might refer to her own poetry in that she wants to be inspired, perhaps in the way Milton was to write great poetry that glorifies paradise / nature / her own beliefs. Her playful use of “o” assonance in lines three and four of the first stanza could represent her efforts to “go to know” through her clever use of words, but because there is an infinite chasm between the two stanzas (the blank space) she is unable to cross over and truly represent paradise in her poem because it is blocked to her. The “saucy Seraph” has eluded her and will not “tell” (inspire) her and she represents through the second stanza’s breakdown of the rhyme. Stanza one follows an AABB, however stanza 2 follows CBDB, with B trying to rhyme with her desire to see paradise in the previous stanza, but the final word, “to” uses a slant that feels out of place because she doesn’t have the inspiration to “tell” a poem that portrays paradise.