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This report is taken from PN Review 227, Volume 42 Number 3, January - February 2016.

reads Emily Dickinson’s ‘Just once! Oh least Request!’

A Personal Reading
Thomas Kinsella

Just Once! Oh least Request!
Could Adamant refuse
So small a Grace
So scanty put,
Such agonizing terms?                 5
Would not a God of Flint
Be conscious of a sigh
As down His Heaven dropt remote
‘Just Once’ Sweet Deity?

Line 1: A passionate prayer for the satisfaction of a desire repeatedly denied, the tone hopeless.

lines 2/3: Rhetoric: denial would be unthinkable. An instance offered: Earth’s hardest matter rejecting so slight a mercy...

Line 4: humbly asked...

Line 5: ...out of such painful need.

Lines 6/7: A second instance offered – but with rejection accepted in the image: a god of absolute hardness, hearing – and not answering – the faintest, most resigned of prayers.

Lines 8/9: A dramatic visual image of the rejection: the prayer – a thing of substance, embodied in the two opening words of the poem – falling away from an unanswering god and dropping through his remoteness back to the pleading voice.

Line 9: Sweet Deity. Not the god of lines 6 and 8 – the deity introduced as an instance in the prayer’s hopelessness – but the being to whom the prayer is addressed.

In summary: an intense statement of an abject and hopeless request for the slightest satisfaction of an emotional need repeatedly denied – a need, in the tone of the poem, satisfied ordinarily for others. The nature of the need not given. The negative evidence – not ...

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