The Soul Has Bandaged Moments

Main points

• A poem which really sums up much of Dickinson’s work. Why- deals with the two extremes of emotion in her poetry. On one hand great exhilaration and freedom, on the other hand, fear and feeling trapped. Both of these feelings/emotions run throughout her poetry.

• We see a tension and comparison here between imprisonment and escape. Think of her own life- always in her room but free in her poetry.

• Poem explores changing states of mind. How our souls are often captured, not free to seek our desires. But the poem also shows us there are moments of freedom.

• Sadly, the conclusion this poem makes is that these moments of freedom are just that, moments and that we end up captive to the horror again.

• Think of the poem as having 3 sections/moments. The first is “Bandaged moments” where the soul is injured. Then the “Soul has moments of escape” where it has freedom, finally “retaken” moments where the souls is captured again and has to face “The Horror”.

• Here again we see the poet dealing with a state of mind. She appears vulnerable and trapped. Unlike I felt a Funeral, there are moments of escape.


• Personification is a key element of this poem. We see “Fright” having human characteristics, approaching to look at the soul.

• The Soul is female, vulnerable and fearful.

• We see imagery of a strange courtship, as Fright is seen to “caress” the Soul. It is an eerie nightmarish image.

• Note the reference to “Lover hovered o’er”- was this a previous lover who only hovered because the soul was unworthy? Self-doubt? Recrimination? Not worthy of the lover.

• This courtship is mocking, only highlighting the insecurity and need for the Soul to be Bandaged due to injury.

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• Then we have a contrast- look at the energy of the verbs as we deal with the “moments of Escape”- “bursting”, “dances”.

• Also the reference to nature- the bee “Delirious borne” free form the “dungeon”

• Finally the return to doubt, fear etc. Image of the “felon” highlight the soul being treated like a criminal, once escaped it has now been caught again.

• The soul has “shackles” and is trapped, again.

• The final two lines stand alone, highlighting that unfortunately being trapped is the normal state of mind, that we are “led along” and cannot speak of the horror we endure.


This is one of the poems that can be read in a variety of ways: as a psychological insight into moods and mind (a ‘mindscape’ as it were), as a sexual statement or as a reflection about creativity.

At the level of psychological exploration, it deals with the different moods of the spirit, or ‘Soul’. In this case, great mood changes are evident, swinging between the mental paralysis and deep, shackled depression of stanzas 1 and 5 and the sheer elation of stanzas 3 and 4. To modern psychology, the violence and extreme nature of the change in moods might suggest manic depression.

In the first stanza, the ‘Soul’, or spirit, is portrayed as wounded, damaged, needing to be wrapped in self-protective and restraining bandages. In this shattered state the spirit is prey to all sorts of fantasies and nightmares, this time erotic in nature (‘ghastly Fright … Salute her – with long fingers –/Caress her freezing hair’). Why ‘freezing’? Perhaps with fright, suggesting her attitude, frigid with fright? This is a grotesque parody of love.

Sip, Goblin, from the very lips
The Lover – hovered – o’er –

There is something decadent about the image of the Goblin replacing her lover, the spectre kissing the lips her lover worshipped so much that he merely hovered over them, feeling unworthy to kiss. The grotesqueness of the scene is reinforced by the juxtaposition of the delicate action (‘Sip’) with the hideous Goblin. Perhaps there is also a hint of guilt as she recollects the delicacy and sensitivity of her lover at the very moment that she accepts the Goblin’s advances. These images provide a frightening glimpse into the mind’s darkness. They are images of truly gothic horror, demons from beyond the grave or, in this case, beneath the consciousness.

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Stanzas 3 and 4 portray the opposite mood (‘Escape –/When bursting all the doors’): unrestrained joy, the captive freed from depression, as the bee ‘Long Dungeoned from his Rose’ enjoys his sensuous liberty. The mood is equated with the joy of Paradise.

But even this elevation is fragile and dangerous (‘She dances like a Bomb’) and it is short-lived. The spirit is again weighed down with shackles and staples, like a felon. The cycle of sinking and lifting moods begins again, and the knowledge that it is cyclical makes the weight of pain all the more poignant (‘the Horror welcomes her, again’). Once again, the inappropriate juxtapositions of ‘Horror’ and ‘welcomes’ gives us some indication of her confusion and despair.

The final line of the poem emphasises the essential loneliness of the condition, the social stigma attached to mental illness. It is not talked about in public (‘not brayed of Tongue’). The connotations of brash, loud vulgarity in ‘bray’ suggest the discomfort any such talk would bring.

It has been suggested that this depression may be caused by a failure in love and that the main theme of this poem is an emotional loss, interrupted by brief glimpses of fulfilment in stanzas 3 and 4. There are cogent reasons to justify such a reading. The Soul of the first line is wounded with disappointment in love. We have already explored the erotic and sensual nature of her nightmares.

The elation too is of a sensual nature, as the bee sucks nectar from the rose and becomes delirious with pleasure. Noon probably symbolises the paradise of earthly love. Altogether, stanzas 3 and 4 paint a picture of sensual fulfilment. And when she is disappointed in love she feels guilty, like a criminal, a ‘Felon led along’, and she can no longer sing. Love’s song no longer soars: there are ‘staples, in the Song’.

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Cristanne Miller classified the poem as one of Dickinson’srape poems’. The caressing figure enjoys complete control over its apparently helpless victim. Sometimes she responds (‘Sip, Goblin’), but she eventually escapes from her tormentors. But there is a suggestion that this is a repeated sequence of events: capture, escape, recapture. This reading views the speaker as a sexual victim.

The poem has also been read as a reflection on creativity, the failure of poetic inspiration and the great elation when it is rediscovered. The imprisonment is verbal; the loss is one of words rather than of physical liberty. The ‘plumed feet’ (perhaps of Mercury, the messenger of the gods) are shackled, poetic inspiration is imprisoned (‘staples, in the Song’). However, this reading does not take account of the sensual and erotic element of the first two stanzas. If we are to incorporate the issue of creativity in a reading of the poem, then perhaps we should consider ‘communication and the loss of it’ as a suitable umbrella term. We could see the poem as dealing with communication at many levels: at the human sensuous level, at the level of creativity and also at
the level of mind where imagined horror is one of the mind’s possibilities.

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