‘My Life had stood — a Loaded Gun’ (754)

Emily Dickinson in her own words

Colin Gee

I often pretend that I am a rifle propped as home defense in one corner of the parlor. Quiet, menacing, leaning, I bide my time against the wall as the inmates of the house go about their daily chores, sometimes giving me nervous glances, but never laying hands upon me — barrel, bolt, or butt.

They never touch this loaded gun. This hunting rifle is off-limits to them.

One day my Owner stretches, yawns, gets thon’s buckskin trousers up, and announces to the household that thon is going out to bang up some deer.

‘Going to bang up some roebuck for a nice stew,’ thon says, stuffing thon’s bandolier full of bullets and knives.

Thon’s hand passes from the shotgun to the bow and arrow — from the bow and arrow to the rifle. Then thon carries me away.

Seconds later we are striding free beneath the mighty trees of an everlasting forest, I rejoice, and I speak for thon from fiery lips — from killing sphincter, and the mountains reply in kind. It is as if we were shooting back and forth, the mountain and I, and I smile to see the smoke and furious cruel stabbing fire discharge from my body and rattle through the bones and branches downvalley, and laugh.

‘How now, Master,’ I smile, in giddy fright, when thon squeezes my trigger — when thon presses my stock against thon’s muscular shoulder, and I recoil into thon’s youth and fleshy wight, when thon rests me between his thighs, upon a stump — wherever thon, wherever!

It is like when you are staring down at a bunch of petrified human corpses in an ancient Roman ruin — standing above the excavated rubble of thon’s final resting place, where thon were smothered in ash and brimstone and curled up, stretching thon’s smitten suffering necks and faces to the light — where there was no light. It is like that, except that instead of dying of asphyxiation thon were dying of incredible explosions. That was what it was like to shoot my bullets down thon’s Valley.

At night we camp out and I stand guard by My Master’s Head. I stand as tall and straight and dignified and lethal as possible, serving thon better than a duck pillow. To thon’s enemies I am an enemy that never needs more than a single shot fired in reply to kill — to explode thon and spray thon like pumpkins. My eye is yellow — my thumb a fatal hammer.

I gaze down upon My Owner, where thon sleeps. Though I will probably outlive thon, in a world in which to live is to shoot, and kill, I lament it, for I have the power to live, but thon has a power denied me — the power to die.

‘Emily, are you going to stand over by the fireplace and mope all day?’ thon do not ask me, or ever try to interfere with my day-to-day routine.

Thon alone can touch me.

‘My Life had stood — a Loaded Gun —’ (754)

Emily Dickinson

My Life had stood — a Loaded Gun —
In Corners — till a Day
The Owner passed — identified —
And carried Me away —

And now We roam in Sovereign Woods —
And now We hunt the Doe —
And every time I speak for Him —
The Mountains straight reply —

And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow —
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through —

And when at Night — Our good Day done —
I guard My Master’s Head —
‘Tis better than the Eider-Duck’s
Deep Pillow — to have shared —

To foe of His — I’m deadly foe —
None stir the second time —
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye —
Or an emphatic Thumb —

Though I than He — may longer live
He longer must — than I —
For I have but the power to kill,
Without — the power to die —