This is a rather long poem from Emily’s collection, wistful with her enchantment, devotion for the world of books. Here, she speaks for the ageless bibliophile. It’s refined eroticism is a nod to sapiosexuality at its finest. A book is personified as a man in “just” the dress his century wore (togas perhaps). Meeting him is precious, yet mouldering, pretty much like the butterflies in our stomach just before a date.
This is a poem where we look back at Emily, looking back in time. We see history unfold through Emily’s mind, as she knows a book. In Bible, the word “know” denotes sexual behavior. Knowing a book is subtly alluded to an erotic endeavor in these lines. By knowing them, facts come alive. Even in her choice of literary figures, one can see the element of desire (Sappho and Dante & Beatrice, both brings an amorous air). “Old books ‘shake’ their ‘vellum’ heads, tantalizing, just so.” is a suggestive line.
Emily finds love in her love for reading. Any reader would identify with her, who understands that reading is an act of love, that defies the convention of space-time. It is a connection between a writer in retrospect and the reader. The reader validates the authority of the author. Reading rejuvenates the written word. The reader and the writer, through the mutual reverberations of the written word looks in the same direction.
Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.Antoine de Saint-Exupery