Some keep the Sabbath by going to church

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church BY EMILY DICKINSON

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –

I keep it, staying at Home –

With a Bobolink for a Chorister –

And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –

I, just wear my Wings –

And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,

Our little Sexton – sings.


God preaches, a noted Clergyman –

And the sermon is never long,

So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –

I’m going, all along.


I have liked poems for a long time, and I love taking the time to read and analyze one now and then. The other day I came across one of Emily Dickinson’s poems, “Some keep the Sabbath going to church.”  At first glance, this appears to be a poem encouraging the reader to attend church, but it does not take long to discover the real meaning.  Emily, in fact, is decrying the ritualistic attendance of church in favor of staying at home.  She says that some go to church, but she prefers to stay home.  In the following line, she says the sounds of a Bobolink (A migratory bird) is the chorus, and an orchard serves as the roof or “dome” of her “home church.”

In the following stanza, she refers to the “surplice,” a piece of cloth worn by ministers and singers in some churches, and contrasts that with the freedom she has not to dress up.  Instead of the sexton (person who maintains the church) ringing the bells to announce church, either the song of the Bobolink does, or maybe she sings as she is doing housework.  The first line of the final stanza presents a difficulty since she could be referring to God’s word as the noted clergyman (my opinion) or, as some believe, she could be referring to preachers at the pulpit.  The poem’s intensity definitely increases, and one can sense the tension as she continues by saying the sermon is never too long – she can pray or read as long as she wants.  In the last sentence, she says that people believe that going to church ends by them going to heaven, but she believes that even worshipping at home can achieve that same result.

Is Dickinson saying we should not attend church? Sadly, for those who use this poem as evidence that church is not unnecessary as some were teaching in her day, she is not entirely decrying attend service. Instead, what she is saying is that she can find salvation outside of a church building as well.   Should we attend church? Absolutely (Hebrews 10:24-25) but believing that church attendance alone saves you is a mistake.

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