Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
2012Type of Work
......."Safe in Their Alabaster Chambers” is
a lyric poem focusing on the peace of deceased
Christians lying at rest in their tombs. A lyric
poem presents the feelings of the author whereas a
narrative poem presents a story.
.......The first version of “Safe in Their
Alabaster Chambers” was published as “The Sleeping” in
the March 1, 1862, issue of the Springfield Daily
Republican, a Massachusetts newspaper. This
version contained the first two stanzas. A second
version, containing the first and third stanzas,
appeared in 1861. The final version—published on this
page—appeared in Poems by Emily Dickinson,
edited by Mabel Loomis Todd and T.W. Higginson. Little,
Brown, and Company of Boston and New York published this
work in four volumes in 1912.
.......The tone of the poem is
calm and unafraid even though the topic is death.
Dickinson wrote often of death, sometimes regarding it
as a friend.Summary
.......The Christian dead lie
at rest in their tombs of alabaster.
Directly above them is a ceiling of satin and, above
that ceiling, the roof of the tomb. The dead do not know
the time of day—whether it is morning, noon, or night.
Outside the tomb, the breeze blows, bees hum, and birds
chirp. Years go by. Kings and queens and other rulers
fall from power. But the hubbub of the outside world
does not disturb the sleeping dead. (See also Theme.)
in Their Alabaster Chambers
By Emily Dickinson
Safe in their alabaster1 chambers,
Untouched by morning and untouched by noon,
Sleep the meek members of the resurrection,
Rafter of satin, and roof of stone.
Light laughs the breeze in her castle of sunshine ;
Babbles the bee in a stolid2 ear ;
Pipe the sweet birds in ignorant cadence,—3
sagacity4 perished here
Grand go the years in the crescent5 above them ;
Worlds6 scoop their
Diadems drop and Doges9 surrender,
Soundless as dots on a disk of snow.10
White gypsum that may be translucent or opaque. It is
used to make monuments and statues.
Impassive; showing little emotion.
Skies; arching vault of the heavens.
Elected rulers of Venice, Italy, until 1797 and Genoa,
Italy, until 1805.
10..dots . . .
snow: This phrase sounds good but the meaning is
.......The theme of the poem is that a person's
belief in the resurrected Christ turns death into a
friend that receives the faithful departed into homes of
stone (alabaster, line 1) with satin ceilings and
quiet bedrooms (chambers, line 1), the Christians
loyal to Christ rest in eternal peace and serenity,
undisturbed by all that happens around them: the
movements of the sun, the laughter of the wind, the
buzzing of bees, the chirping of birds. Inversion
.......Extraordinary political events in the world of
the living—including the downfall of kingdoms and
empires—do not resonate with the sleepers. Their souls
are attentive now only to the supernatural.
.......Are they already in paradise—that is, are
their alabaster chambers a metaphor for heaven? Or, as
line 3 suggests, are they awaiting the resurrection of
their bodies? Either interpretation suffices. The point
is that they have died in God's good graces; they need
no longer undergo earthly pain and suffering. They have
.......Dickinson uses inverted word order in each
stanza to heighten the poetic effect. For example, in the
first stanza, the lines say, “Safe in their alabaster
chambers . . . sleep the meek members” instead of
“the meek members sleep in their alabaster chambers.”
.......Dickinson also uses inversion in lines 5, 6, 7,
.......Lines 2 and 4 of each stanza rhyme. However,
lines 2 and 4 contain a special type of rhyme called
consonance, in which pairs of words with different vowel
sounds have the same final consonant sounds.
examples of figures of speech in the poem. For definitions
of figures of speech, click
alabaster chambers (line 1)Anaphora
meek members of the resurrection (line 3)
satin, and roof of stone
Soundless as dots on a disk of snow
Untouched by morning and
untouched by noonMetaphor
Safe in their alabaster chambers,Metonymy
Untouched by morning and untouched by noon,
the meek members of the resurrection
of the tombs to bedrooms (chambers)
of diadems (crowns) to represent rulers
laughs the breeze in her castle of sunshineStudy Questions and Essay
comparison of the breeze to a person
comparison of sunshine to a castle
- Write a short poem with a structure
like that of Dickinson's poem (three four-line stanzas
and similar end rhyme). The subject is open.
- Identify an example of alliteration
not included under Figures of
- Identify an example of onomatopoeia in
- Write an informative essay centering
on Dickinson's religious beliefs and her views on the