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I believe that this poem can be interpreted in many different ways. Who is to say that there can only be one explanation or meaning to Dickinson's #315? Since being introduced to this poem, I have heard many different interpretations either from others in my group or from reading about it in web sites or books. In this close reading, I will concentrate on the very first word of this text: He. I will explain who I think this person is and how "He" is responsible for the actions in this poem.
In my view, I think the one doing the action in this poem or, "He," is some form of deity. Whether it is God or just a god is beyond my comprehension. I think the only one who knows that answer is Emily Dickinson herself. At first thought, however, I envisioned a supreme Zeus-like god playing the song that is our lives like a musical instrument. We travel through life's trials and tribulations, provided by this being, and we ultimately die at the hand of him.
The first line not only introduces this character but explains that his hands are guiding our souls. The mental image I received from the word "fumbles" (line 1) is a simple one. I thought of someone throwing bits of mozzarella cheese on top of a pizza getting ready to be cooked! This can be symbolic of our supreme being throwing at us the events of our lives as it fumbles through his hands with no concern or compassion as to where it falls. The next line verifies this image. "As Players at the Keys" (line 2) is symbolic of a pianist playing the song that is our life. However, the plural usage of "player" might suggest more than one god is in control of our existence. Like a song with its peaks and valleys (representing our life) the pianist's ("He," or, the gods) fingers strike at the "keys" with varying tempo's and force. This also ties in to lines three and four.
"Before they drop the full music on -
He stuns you by degrees-"
At this point I feel Dickinson is trying to tell us that those who are in control of our soul are not in our favor.
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"By fainter Hammers - further heard -
Then nearer - Then so slow -"
I think these lines are representative of the constant rule the gods have over our lives. We can see and hear troubling times coming with little to do about them. They constantly arrive and are seemingly getting closer. The last phrase, "Then so slow," may represent the aging process. I would assume life moves at a slower pace once we reach a certain age. The wear and tear of life, especially the one that this poem relates, has to slow us down as well as everything around us. We may think it's all over - retirement! And because things are a bit slower, we do have a chance to catch our breath:
"Your Breath has time to straighten -
Your Brain - to bubble Cool -"
But as soon as we think we can enjoy life under our demands - the gods, maybe in this case the supreme being, strikes us with death:
"Deals - One - imperial - Thunderbolt -
That scalps your naked Soul -"
This is a bit disturbing to me. Shouldn't we deserve a break after a life full of obstacles and oppression by forces unseen? Forces who have ripped, stretched, and torn the very souls of our existence?! Perhaps this was done in a snooty gesture just to prove that they are the gods and they have total control? At least that was a characteristic of Zeus I remember from other mythology or humanities courses. The words "naked Soul" at the end of line twelve couldn't have been a more perfect description. Think of the life that was battered and beaten during this poem - by the end there couldn't have possibly been anything left to show for it. Just to prove how useless the gods thought of this life - the last two lines express that no matter how many lives they take, the universe under their command, goes on without a care.