Given the fact that Emily Dickinson never married during her life one cannot help thinking about her vision of love and a life of self-chosen solitude. Poem 895, also known as “A Cloud withdrew from the Sky” is about loneliness.
A life of solitude
In 1852, Emily Dickinson admitted that she was feeling depressed. This was caused by the sudden death of Leonard Humphrey. He was the principal of The Amherst Academy and the two of them were friends. She revealed to her friend Abiah Root, that she was deeply moved by the passing of Humphrey.
some of my friends are gone, and some of my friends are sleeping – sleeping the churchyard sleep – the hour of evening is sad – it was once my study hour – my master has gone to rest, and the open leaf of the book, and the scholar at school alone, make the tears come, and I cannot brush them away; I would not if I could, for they are the only tribute I can pay the departed Humphrey.
In 1840, Dickinson attended The Amherst Academy for the first time. She later told her sister that she was “always in love” with her teachers. After the death of Humphrey, she would go on some trips with her mother and sister. She went to see her family in Philadelphia and visited Washington, as her father was representing the Massachusetts in Congress.
As the health of her mother started to get worse, she decided that she would have to stay at home. She began to withdraw from the outside world as of 1858. What no one knew, is that she was, in fact, compiling her own collection of poetry. This collection consisted of nearly 800 poems and was the result of her writings between 1858 and 1865. This collection was never published and was discovered after her death in 1886.
How about this life of seclusion? First of all, it was her own choice to live a life just like David Henry Thoreau (1817 – 1862). However, this seclusion did not mean she was not interested in the world and especially in the literary world. She read works of other poets of her time and maintained an active correspondence with those she considered as friends. During this period of seclusion, she wrote intensively.
It depends on who you want to believe when it comes to her seclusion. There are those, who say this was based on medical advice and that she was suffering from illnesses such as agoraphobia or even epilepsy.
The poem holds this darkening element of loneliness. A tone, that is typical for some of the work of this great poetess. In this poem, she connects herself to the sky and the cloud that is moving away. If you are willing to consider the theory that this seclusion of Dickinson was based on her depression, it makes sense that this poetess looks at the sky. As many people who suffer from depression tend to look at the sky, to ask for the answers they need. This can be a religious element as well. In this poem, there is this cloud and what she considers to be the helpers of this cloud are forever lost (to her). Is this Dickinson telling us, that she had to say goodbye to so many she cared for? Or is she that cloud, which slowly moves away? That is more likely, since she recalls this Hermetic Memory; a memory of someone who lives in seclusion.
Poem 895: “A Cloud withdrew from the Sky”
A Cloud withdrew from the Sky
Superior Glory be
But that Cloud and its Auxiliaries
Are forever lost to me
Had I but further scanned
Had I secured the Glow
In a Hermetic Memory
It had availed me now.
Never to pass the Angel
With a glance and a Bow
Till I am firm in Heaven
Is my intention now.
- The Life of Emily Dickinson – Richard B. Sewall (1974, ISBN-13: 978-0674530805, ISBN-10: 0674530802, Harvard University Press)(alternative link)
- Interior Chambers: The Emily Dickinson Homestead – Diana Fuss (1998, click to read more)