The lilting sounds of the poem, “Mine — by the Right of the White Election!” draws me in, even though I think Emily Dickinson reveals in the very first line the poem’s intent to mock demagoguery.

The rhythm, repetition and language of the times underscore the seduction implicit in the language of self-interest. 

Mine — by the Right of the White Election!

Mine — by the Royal Seal!

Mine —  by the sign in the Scarlet prison — 

Bars — cannot conceal!

 

Mine — here — in Vision — and in Veto!

Mine — by the Grave’s Repeal — 

Titled — Confirmed — 

Delirious Charter!

Mine — long as Ages steal!

Written at a time when Civil War forced everyone to take sides, regardless of the perceptions of others, the poem is timeless in its exposure of some of our worst impules. Reading the poem uncovers a latent urge to demand what I want, regardless of its practicality, or fairness. Such full-throated grasping leads to a feeling of shame, without releasing its power to entice.

Even as White Election echoes some of the best language of the civil rights movement, Royal Seal can mean anything from a marriage license to a gun permit. If they become weapons against someone who I am using for my own satisfaction, imprisonment cannot reveal how wrong I am and “Bars — cannot conceal!”.

In the second and final stanza, the mood is of finality. Just as selfishness in any form attempts to use authority, such as that embodied in government, laws, or religion, and “ancient writings” to convince others of its predestination, any “Delirious Charter!” can be misused by those who would exploit others. 

Demagoguery, finally, is so similar to the language of fairness we may not see until the final words of the poem, “long as Ages steal!” what is really at work.

 

Digest A  Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way

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