She rose to His Requirement – dropt

Roman Mosaic - Ship & Sea Life, 1st - 4th century, Unknown
Background Image: Roman Mosaic – Ship & Sea Life, 1st – 4th century, Unknown

I love the image she creates of a serene agitation building up like a “Pearl” in the secret place of her life that “He” can’t get to. She maintains her independence while also submitting to the mechanism of a relationship but she maintains that she does not belong to anyone. Wonderful wordplay of “she rose” as in she’s a rose and he’s a requirement.

As typical for Emily, it is ambiguous who the “He” is. On first reading it’s easy to assume she’s speaking as a new wife, however she could also be speaking as someone who understands that in order to grow up they will have to follow someone else’s rules – even the wealthiest businessperson is still beholden to their shareholders. What she is exploring here, however, is the dual nature of this act of free will, free will as being the freedom to choose to submit to an authority, as what Milton was writing about in Paradise Lost. And while she describes this as being “honorable Work”, she describes the act as like an oyster that will “Develope Pearl” because something has agitated a tender, and private spot but instead of growing angry it grows something beautiful – though from the oyster’s point of view, a pearl might be just so much excrement.

The most difficult part of the poem is the second to last line, “But only to Himself – be known”. As I was reading this I first assumed she would say that “He” wouldn’t know “The Fathoms they abide”, in that “He” wouldn’t know her secret “Pearl”, but the way this reads seems to be that only “He” knows this pearl exists, that even she is unaware of what is growing in her. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the soul in that through the process of living, of growing up, of engaging on the free will to submit to authority, our “Pearl” soul grows out of the agitation of living until God is ready to dive into the dark “Fathoms” of the universe and extract the gift we’ve been growing without even knowing.