Emily Dickinson's 1577
American poet, Emily Dickinson, is a great example of the transition from the wordy Romantic style of writing to literary transcendentalism. Dickinson’s elliptical style and compact phrases are heavily exemplified in her poem 1577(1545), “The Bible is an antique Volume.” This piece is full of satire as the speaker questions society’s blind obedience to Christianity and ultimately suggests the embracing of a new religion. The speaker gracefully degrades the Bible’s right as the solitary means to interpret humanity and proposes that the audience finds something new to believe.
In the first line, the metaphor referring the Bible as merely “an antique volume” speaks volumes. Dictionary.com defines volume in this context as, “a collection of written or printed sheets bound together and constituting a book.” The speaker views the Bible as an “antique” anthological collection of stories that can be priced rather than the acronym –Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. In the second and third lines, the validity of the authors of the Bible is questioned. “Faded Men” and “at the suggestion of Holy Spectres” connotes the men where told what to write and didn’t experience that life themselves. These lines, and the entire poem, are mostly bereft of the elaborate syntax communal in Dickinson’s other poems.
Those familiar with biblical persons understand the significance of Satan, Judas, and David and the impact of their roles in the Christian faith. As a Christian reader, the simplicity of the lines, “Satan—the Brigadier, Judas—the Great Defaulter, David—the Troubadour”, reduces the persons’ history. Although the descriptions denote some truth, there is more to them than that. Satan, the “prince of the air (Ephesians 2:2)”, is responsible for tempting Eve into eating the forbidden fruit hence leading to man’s “distinguished precipice.” David wasn’t just a psalmist, he was one of Israel’s greatest kings and he is part of Jesus’ lineage. Dickinson’s literary genius foreshadows what is happening in the twenty-first century. Today, being a Christian isn’t popular and life is harder for teenagers and young adults. This is demonstrated perfectly in “Boys that “believe” are very lonesome”. Believers can’t do what nonbelievers are doing without being convicted (1 Peter 1:14- As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance). The nonbelievers are “lost” and don’t know any better. Traditional churches push the “lost” farther away because of the hypocrisy and arbitrariness of renowned religious leaders. The holier-than –thou leaders are the worst offenders because they are doing what they teach will “condemn” you. As a result, “Orpheus’ Sermon captivated” and Christianity is shunned.
Both atheists and Christians can appreciate the theme of this poem- everyone has to believe in something. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith best as “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” Unless a person has a personal relationship with God, they won’t really understand the meaning of faith- the essence of Christianity. The speaker encourages readers to not rely solely on what they are told but to challenge it and learn for their self.