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Till the first friend dies, we think ecstasy impersonal, but then discover that he was the cup from which we drank it, itself as yet unknown

The Drift Called the Infinite: Emily Dickinson on Making Sense of Loss

My question:does impersonal define ecstasy as "unknown" and does "itself" refer to "ecstasy"?

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    Questions of interpretation of poetry are usually better on a different stack exchange such as literature.stackexchange.com – James K Jul 23 '17 at 7:26
  • @JamesK This is actually a quotation from a letter. It's prose, technically, but might as well be poetry. – P. E. Dant Jul 23 '17 at 7:37
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    Till the first friend dies, we think ecstasy impersonal, but then discover that he (the friend who died) was the cup from which we drank it (ecstasy), itself (the cup) as yet unknown (not recognized for what it was). – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 23 '17 at 12:55
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    I see no reason to have closed this question, since it is about how to parse the language, as indicated by the OP's comment. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 23 '17 at 13:00
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo agreed. The question should be fine after your latest edit. – Andrew Jul 23 '17 at 13:27
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Replacing all of the pronouns—except we, which has no referent in the sentence, but which probably refers to something like "a group of friends"—with their most likely referents, I get this version of the sentence:

Till the first friend dies, we think ecstasy [is] impersonal, but then [we] discover that [the now-dead first friend] was the cup from which we drank [ecstasy], [the cup—that is, the friend— being] as yet unknown [as the vessel of ecstasy].

The phrase "as yet unknown" seems to mean "not at that earlier time understood or recognized," and the sense of the sentence seems to be that we (a group of friends) don't realize the extent to which our experience of joy depends on every member of our group of friends, until the first member of the group dies and we feel it as if it were the loss of the vessel of our shared joy.

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Impersonal modifies ecstasy. Itself seems to be the cup.

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