The poem opens with a shocking line and continues in a cynical tone, leaving the readers unsure of whether the speaker is skeptical, realistic, or sincere. Somehow, I Gave Myself To Him, like some of Dickinson’s other poems, seems to be a balance of all three.
This is not a typical love poem. Dickinson ensures that all readers will know that this is not a typical sentimental poem by using a variety of financial terms. Usually, when speaking of true love, one would not do so by using financial language.
Yet, somehow, Dickinson is able to portray her feelings through the use of these words. By the end of the poem, the reader realizes that the author could be skeptical about the idea of true love, or she could believe in it. The tone and the specific words used in this poem leave room for various interpretations.
I gave myself to Him Emily Dickinson I gave myself to Him -- And took Himself, for Pay, The solemn contract of a Life Was ratified, this way -- The Wealth might disappoint -- Myself a poorer prove Than this great Purchaser suspect, The Daily Own -- of Love Depreciate the Vision -- But till the Merchant buy -- Still Fable -- in the Isles of Spice -- The subtle Cargoes -- lie -- At least -- 'tis Mutual -- Risk -- Some -- found it -- Mutual Gain -- Sweet Debt of Life -- Each Night to owe -- Insolvent -- every Noon --
I Gave Myself To Him Analysis
I gave myself to him
And took himself for pay
The solemn contract of a life
Was ratified this way
This poem opens in a typical way for an Emily Dickinson poem. She enjoys the shock factor with the opening of most of her poems, and this poem follows suit. In Dickinson’s time, it would have been shocking indeed to read such blatant words as these from the mouth of a woman. When she says, “I gave myself to him” she implies a sexual encounter but means much more than that. To refer to a sexual encounter, during Dickinson’s time period, would have been considered against social decorum.
However, the speaker in this poem is very open about this and blatantly tells her readers that she has given herself to a man. In return, she has taken him. Thus, the two have given themselves to each other. The speaker uses the word “pay” to describe what he gave her in return. This is also a bold move on the part of the speaker, for she is referring to a sexual experience in financial terms.
The tone and the context of the rest of the poem imply that this is not an actual financial transaction. This is not prostitution. However, the speaker chooses to refer to her experience in financial terms, which suggests that on some level, she feels that she has sold herself. Line three describes her relationship with this man as a “contract”. Because Dickinson herself never married, it is probable that the contract to which she refers is symbolic and not an actual marriage contract.
The wealth might disappoint
Myself a poorer prove
Than this great purchaser suspect
The daily own of Love
Through these words to I Gave Myself To Him, the speaker looks into the future. She suggests that her own wealth and success may end up being a disappointment to her lover. Her use of the word “poorer” in the second line reflects traditional marriage vows which state “for richer or for poorer”. The speaker, though she has already expressed that she has given herself fully, is not admitting to herself that she may not end up how her lover expects.
She may not find success or wealth, and thus end up poor. She then refers to her lover as a “great purchaser”. Her continual use of financial and legal terms to define her relationship puts a somewhat cynical tone on this work. This is rather typical for Emily Dickinson. The speaker believes that her lover, the “great purchaser” may not be prepared for the results of this love. She believes that she will be much poorer than he “suspect[s]”.
Depreciate the vision
But til the merchant buy
Still fable in the isles of spice
The subtle cargoes lie
In this stanza of I Gave Myself To Him, the speaker continues to compare herself to goods that are worth money. The use of the word “depreciate” suggests that she believes that her own worth may depreciate in value now that she has given herself to the one she loves and taken him to herself for payment. She compares herself to the spices on various islands.
These spices were often worth quite a bit of money, but as with all goods, supply and demand determined their price. The speaker compares herself to “subtle cargoe”. While she lied still as cargoe, unbought, the merchant did not know her worth. But now that she has given herself fully, she wonders if her worth will rise or if she will depreciate.
At least, ‘t is a mutual risk-
Some found it mutual gain
Sweet debt of Life- each night to owe
Insolvent every noon
In the last stanza of I Gave Myself To Him, the speaker acknowledges that she is not taking this risk alone. After all, the one she loves has also given himself fully. He also risks the possibility that his value to her will depreciate now that he has given himself over. The speaker talks about this kind of love as a risk. However, she also acknowledges that “some have found it mutual gain”. Her tone suggests that she does not necessarily expect her own love to end in mutual gain, but she certainly hopes for it. Either way, she calls this love the “sweet debt of life”.
Therefore, even if it does not end in gain, she still refers to it as “sweet”. She then describes this love between her and the one of whom she speaks as being one in which they owe love to one another “each night”. Yet, by noon the next day, each of them is “insolvent”. It is unclear whether the speaker says this as a positive or negative attribute of their relationship. The word “insolvent” follows suit with the speaker’s use of financial and legal words throughout the poem.
The word means to be unable to pay debts that are owed. If a company becomes insolvent, it is usually ruined. It is unclear whether the speaker is referring to herself and her lover as “ruined” or as simply so much in love that each will forever remain unable to repay the debt owed to the other.