Revelation's Limit: Dickinson, Apocalypse, and the Ends of Time

Beasley, Bruce , Department of English, University of Virginia

Dickinson's dread of time and resistance to narrative completion has been widely studied, but less understood is her equally prevalent fascination with the Book of Revelation and the eschatological narrative of the New Testament apocalypse. The Book of Revelation--and Dickinson's numerous poems that refigure apocalyptic experience--became a battleground for some of the most crucial conflicts in her thinking: between the desire for culmination, satiation, and epistemological completion, and the resistance to closure, ending, and termination. Throughout Dickinson's work, she struggles between two competing notions of time: time as the medium which alienates the human and the divine and conceals God from us, and time as the medium of God's revelation upon its culmination in apocalypse.

Through close readings of more than thirty poems, I examine Dickinson's ambivalence over the promises of apocalyptic revelation. The first half of the study examines poems that claim moments of apocalyptic revelation within the confines of time. These poems, I argue, give vent to the contradictory desires to experience revelation and to guard against it; they reverse the temporal location of apocalypse and shroud revelation in loss. In the second half, I turn to Dickinson's fictive recastings of apocalypse beyond the grave and beyond time, examining the relationship between the Apocalypse's claims of complete spiritual satiation in terms of Dickinson's many poems extolling hunger, thirst, and desire. Throughout the study, I examine the relationship between Dickinson's "poetics of concealment" and her attitude toward closure, coherence, and termination.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Emily Dickinson , eschatological narrative, conflict poetry , analysis poetics of concealment closure
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