Index of First Lines
Edited by two of her friends
MABEL LOOMIS TODD and T.W. HIGGINSON
The verses of Emily Dickinson belong emphatically to what Emerson long since called "the Poetry of the Portfolio,"—something produced absolutely without the thought of publication, and solely by way of expression of the writer's own mind. Such verse must inevitably forfeit whatever advantage lies in the discipline of public criticism and the enforced conformity to accepted ways. On the other hand, it may often gain something through the habit of freedom and the unconventional utterance of daring thoughts. In the case of the present author, there was absolutely no choice in the matter; she must write thus, or not at all. A recluse by temperament and habit, literally spending years without setting her foot beyond the doorstep, and many more years during which her walks were strictly limited to her father's grounds, she habitually concealed her mind, like her person, from all but a very few friends; and it was with great difficulty that she was persuaded to print, during her lifetime, three or four poems. Yet she wrote verses in great abundance; and though brought curiously indifferent to all conventional rules, had yet a rigorous literary standard of her own, and often altered a word many times to suit an ear which had its own tenacious fastidiousness.
Miss Dickinson was born in Amherst, Mass., Dec. 10, 1830, and died there May 15, 1886. Her father, Hon. Edward Dickinson, was the leading lawyer of Amherst, and was treasurer of the well-known college there situated. It was his custom once a year to hold a large reception at his house, attended by all the families connected with the institution and by the leading people of the town. On these occasions his daughter Emily emerged from her wonted retirement and did her part as gracious hostess; nor would any one have known from her manner, I have been told, that this was not a daily occurrence. The annual occasion once past, she withdrew again into her seclusion, and except for a very few friends was as invisible to the world as if she had dwelt in a nunnery. For myself, although I had corresponded with her for many years, I saw her but twice face to face, and brought away the impression of something as unique and remote as Undine or Mignon or Thekla.
This selection from her poems is published to meet the desire of her personal friends, and especially of her surviving sister. It is believed that the thoughtful reader will find in these pages a quality more suggestive of the poetry of William Blake than of anything to be elsewhere found,—flashes of wholly original and profound insight into nature and life; words and phrases exhibiting an extraordinary vividness of descriptive and imaginative power, yet often set in a seemingly whimsical or even rugged frame. They are here published as they were written, with very few and superficial changes; although it is fair to say that the titles have been assigned, almost invariably, by the editors. In many cases these verses will seem to the reader like poetry torn up by the roots, with rain and dew and earth still clinging to them, giving a freshness and a fragrance not otherwise to be conveyed. In other cases, as in the few poems of shipwreck or of mental conflict, we can only wonder at the gift of vivid imagination by which this recluse woman can delineate, by a few touches, the very crises of physical or mental struggle. And sometimes again we catch glimpses of a lyric strain, sustained perhaps but for a line or two at a time, and making the reader regret its sudden cessation. But the main quality of these poems is that of extraordinary grasp and insight, uttered with an uneven vigor sometimes exasperating, seemingly wayward, but really unsought and inevitable. After all, when a thought takes one's breath away, a lesson on grammar seems an impertinence. As Ruskin wrote in his earlier and better days, "No weight nor mass nor beauty of execution can outweigh one grain or fragment of thought."
—-Thomas Wentworth Higginson
This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me, —
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!
Edited by two of her friends
MABEL LOOMIS TODD and T.W. HIGGINSON
The eagerness with which the first volume of Emily Dickinson's poems has been read shows very clearly that all our alleged modern artificiality does not prevent a prompt appreciation of the qualities of directness and simplicity in approaching the greatest themes,—life and love and death. That "irresistible needle-touch," as one of her best critics has called it, piercing at once the very core of a thought, has found a response as wide and sympathetic as it has been unexpected even to those who knew best her compelling power. This second volume, while open to the same criticism as to form with its predecessor, shows also the same shining beauties.
Although Emily Dickinson had been in the habit of sending occasional poems to friends and correspondents, the full extent of her writing was by no means imagined by them. Her friend "H.H." must at least have suspected it, for in a letter dated 5th September, 1884, she wrote:—
MY DEAR FRIEND,— What portfolios full of verses you must have! It is a cruel wrong to your "day and generation" that you will not give them light.
If such a thing should happen as that I should outlive you, I wish you would make me your literary legatee and executor. Surely after you are what is called "dead" you will be willing that the poor ghosts you have left behind should be cheered and pleased by your verses, will you not? You ought to be. I do not think we have a right to withhold from the world a word or a thought any more than a deed which might help a single soul. . . .
The "portfolios" were found, shortly after Emily Dickinson's death, by her sister and only surviving housemate. Most of the poems had been carefully copied on sheets of note-paper, and tied in little fascicules, each of six or eight sheets. While many of them bear evidence of having been thrown off at white heat, still more had received thoughtful revision. There is the frequent addition of rather perplexing foot-notes, affording large choice of words and phrases. And in the copies which she sent to friends, sometimes one form, sometimes another, is found to have been used. Without important exception, her friends have generously placed at the disposal of the Editors any poems they had received from her; and these have given the obvious advantage of comparison among several renderings of the same verse.
To what further rigorous pruning her verses would have been subjected had she published them herself, we cannot know. They should be regarded in many cases as merely the first strong and suggestive sketches of an artist, intended to be embodied at some time in the finished picture.
Emily Dickinson appears to have written her first poems in the winter of 1862. In a letter to one of the present Editors the April following, she says, "I made no verse, but one or two, until this winter."
The handwriting was at first somewhat like the delicate, running Italian hand of our elder gentlewomen; but as she advanced in breadth of thought, it grew bolder and more abrupt, until in her latest years each letter stood distinct and separate from its fellows. In most of her poems, particularly the later ones, everything by way of punctuation was discarded, except numerous dashes; and all important words began with capitals. The effect of a page of her more recent manuscript is exceedingly quaint and strong. The fac-simile given in the present volume is from one of the earlier transition periods. Although there is nowhere a date, the handwriting makes it possible to arrange the poems with general chronologic accuracy.
As a rule, the verses were without titles; but "A Country Burial," "A Thunder-Storm," "The Humming-Bird," and a few others were named by their author, frequently at the end,—sometimes only in the accompanying note, if sent to a friend.
The variation of readings, with the fact that she often wrote in pencil and not always clearly, have at times thrown a good deal of responsibility upon her Editors. But all interference not absolutely inevitable has been avoided. The very roughness of her rendering is part of herself, and not lightly to be touched; for it seems in many cases that she intentionally avoided the smoother and more usual rhymes.
Like impressionist pictures, or Wagner's rugged music, the very absence of conventional form challenges attention. In Emily Dickinson's exacting hands, the especial, intrinsic fitness of a particular order of words might not be sacrificed to anything virtually extrinsic; and her verses all show a strange cadence of inner rhythmical music. Lines are always daringly constructed, and the "thought-rhyme" appears frequently,—appealing, indeed, to an unrecognized sense more elusive than hearing.
Emily Dickinson scrutinized everything with clear-eyed frankness. Every subject was proper ground for legitimate study, even the sombre facts of death and burial, and the unknown life beyond. She touches these themes sometimes lightly, sometimes almost humorously, more often with weird and peculiar power; but she is never by any chance frivolous or trivial. And while, as one critic has said, she may exhibit toward God "an Emersonian self-possession," it was because she looked upon all life with a candor as unprejudiced as it is rare.
She had tried society and the world, and found them lacking. She was not an invalid, and she lived in seclusion from no love-disappointment. Her life was the normal blossoming of a nature introspective to a high degree, whose best thought could not exist in pretence.
Storm, wind, the wild March sky, sunsets and dawns; the birds and bees, butterflies and flowers of her garden, with a few trusted human friends, were sufficient companionship. The coming of the first robin was a jubilee beyond crowning of monarch or birthday of pope; the first red leaf hurrying through "the altered air," an epoch. Immortality was close about her; and while never morbid or melancholy, she lived in its presence.
MABEL LOOMIS TODD.
My nosegays are for captives;
Dim, long-expectant eyes,
Fingers denied the plucking,
Patient till paradise,
To such, if they should whisper
Of morning and the moor,
They bear no other errand,
And I, no other prayer.
MABEL LOOMIS TODD
It's all I have to bring to-day,
This, and my heart beside,
This, and my heart, and all the fields,
And all the meadows wide.
Be sure you count, should I forget, —
Some one the sum could tell, —
This, and my heart, and all the bees
Which in the clover dwell.
The intellectual activity of Emily Dickinson was so great that a large and characteristic choice is still possible among her literary material, and this third volume of her verses is put forth in response to the repeated wish of the admirers of her peculiar genius. Much of Emily Dickinson's prose was rhythmic, —even rhymed, though frequently not set apart in lines.
Also many verses, written as such, were sent to friends in letters; these were published in 1894, in the volumes of her Letters. It has not been necessary, however, to include them in this Series, and all have been omitted, except three or four exceptionally strong ones, as "A Book," and "With Flowers."
There is internal evidence that many of the poems were simply spontaneous flashes of insight, apparently unrelated to outward circumstance. Others, however, had an obvious personal origin; for example, the verses "I had a Guinea golden," which seem to have been sent to some friend travelling in Europe, as a dainty reminder of letter-writing delinquencies. The surroundings in which any of Emily Dickinson's verses are known to have been written usually serve to explain them clearly; but in general the present volume is full of thoughts needing no interpretation to those who apprehend this scintillating spirit.
M. L. T.
AMHERST, October, 1896.
A bird came down the walk:
A charm invests a face
A clock stopped — not the mantel's;
A death-blow is a life-blow to some
A deed knocks first at thought,
A dew sufficed itself
A door just opened on a street —
A drop fell on the apple tree,
A face devoid of love or grace,
A lady red upon the hill
A light exists in spring
A little road not made of man,
A long, long sleep, a famous sleep
A modest lot, a fame petite,
A murmur in the trees to note,
A narrow fellow in the grass
A poor torn heart, a tattered heart,
A precious, mouldering pleasure 't is
A route of evanescence
A sepal, petal, and a thorn
A shady friend for torrid days
A sickness of this world it most occasions
A sloop of amber slips away
A solemn thing it was, I said,
A something in a summer's day,
A spider sewed at night
A thought went up my mind to-day
A throe upon the features
A toad can die of light!
A word is dead
A wounded deer leaps highest,
Adrift! A little boat adrift!
Afraid? Of whom am I afraid?
After a hundred years
All overgrown by cunning moss,
Alter? When the hills do.
Ample make this bed.
An altered look about the hills;
An awful tempest mashed the air,
An everywhere of silver,
Angels in the early morning
Apparently with no surprise
Arcturus is his other name, —
Are friends delight or pain?
As by the dead we love to sit,
As children bid the guest good-night,
As far from pity as complaint,
As if some little Arctic flower,
As imperceptibly as grief
Ashes denote that fire was;
At half-past three a single bird
At last to be identified!
At least to pray is left, is left.
Because I could not stop for Death,
Before I got my eye put out,
Before the ice is in the pools,
Before you thought of spring,
Belshazzar had a letter, —
Bereaved of all, I went abroad,
Besides the autumn poets sing,
Blazing in gold and quenching in purple,
Bless God, he went as soldiers,
Bring me the sunset in a cup,
Come slowly, Eden!
Could I but ride indefinite,
Could mortal lip divine
Dare you see a soul at the white heat?
Dear March, come in!
Death is a dialogue between
Death is like the insect
Death sets a thing significant
Delayed till she had ceased to know,
Delight becomes pictorial
Departed to the judgment,
Did the harebell loose her girdle
Doubt me, my dim companion!
Drab habitation of whom?
Drowning is not so pitiful
Each life converges to some centre
Each that we lose takes part of us;
Elysium is as far as to
Essential oils are wrung:
Except the heaven had come so near,
Except to heaven, she is nought;
Experiment to me
Exultation is the going
Far from love the Heavenly Father
Farther in summer than the birds,
Fate slew him, but he did not drop;
Father, I bring thee not myself, —
Few get enough, — enough is one;
Finite to fail, but infinite to venture.
For each ecstatic instant
Forbidden fruit a flavor has
Frequently the woods are pink,
From all the jails the boys and girls
From cocoon forth a butterfly
From us she wandered now a year,
Given in marriage unto thee,
Glee! The great storm is over!
God gave a loaf to every bird,
God made a little gentian;
God permits industrious angels
Going to heaven!
"Going to him! Happy letter! Tell him —
Good night! which put the candle out?
Great streets of silence led away
Have you got a brook in your little heart,
He ate and drank the precious words,
He fumbles at your spirit
He preached upon "breadth" till it argued him narrow, —
He put the belt around my life, —
He touched me, so I live to know
Heart not so heavy as mine,
Heart, we will forget him!
Heaven is what I cannot reach!
Her final summer was it,
High from the earth I heard a bird;
His bill an auger is,
Hope is a subtle glutton;
Hope is the thing with feathers
How dare the robins sing,
How happy is the little stone
How many times these low feet staggered,
How still the bells in steeples stand,
How the old mountains drip with sunset,
I asked no other thing,
I breathed enough to learn the trick,
I bring an unaccustomed wine
I can wade grief,
I cannot live with you,
I died for beauty, but was scarce
I dreaded that first robin so,
I envy seas whereon he rides,
I felt a clearing in my mind
I felt a funeral in my brain,
I found the phrase to every thought
I gained it so,
I gave myself to him,
I had a daily bliss
I had a guinea golden;
I had been hungry all the years;
I had no cause to be awake,
I had no time to hate, because
I have a king who does not speak;
I have no life but this,
I have not told my garden yet,
I heard a fly buzz when I died;
I held a jewel in my fingers
I hide myself within my flower,
I know a place where summer strives
I know some lonely houses off the road
I know that he exists
I like a look of agony,
I like to see it lap the miles,
I live with him, I see his face;
I lived on dread; to those who know
I lost a world the other day.
I many times thought peace had come,
I meant to find her when I came;
I meant to have but modest needs,
I measure every grief I meet
I never hear the word "escape"
I never lost as much but twice,
I never saw a moor,
I noticed people disappeared,
I read my sentence steadily,
I reason, earth is short,
I shall know why, when time is over,
I should have been too glad, I see,
I should not dare to leave my friend,
I sing to use the waiting,
I started early, took my dog,
I stepped from plank to plank
I taste a liquor never brewed,
I think just how my shape will rise
I think the hemlock likes to stand
I took my power in my hand.
I went to heaven, —
I went to thank her,
I wish I knew that woman's name,
I wonder if the sepulchre
I worked for chaff, and earning wheat
I years had been from home,
I'll tell you how the sun rose, —
I'm ceded, I've stopped being theirs;
I'm nobody! Who are you?
I'm wife; I've finished that,
I've got an arrow here;
I've seen a dying eye
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
If I may have it when it's dead
If I should die,
If I shouldn't be alive
If anybody's friend be dead,
If recollecting were forgetting,
If the foolish call them 'flowers,'
If tolling bell I ask the cause.
If you were coming in the fall,
Immortal is an ample word
In lands I never saw, they say,
Is Heaven a physician?
Is bliss, then, such abyss
It can't be summer, — that got through;
It dropped so low in my regard
It is an honorable thought,
It makes no difference abroad,
It might be easier
It sifts from leaden sieves,
It sounded as if the streets were running,
It struck me every day
It tossed and tossed, —
It was not death, for I stood up,
It was too late for man,
It's like the light, —
It's such a little thing to weep,
Just lost when I was saved!
Lay this laurel on the one
Let down the bars, O Death!
Let me not mar that perfect dream
Life, and Death, and Giants
Like mighty footlights burned the red
Like trains of cars on tracks of plush
Look back on time with kindly eyes,
Love is anterior to life,
Me! Come! My dazzled face
Mine by the right of the white election!
Mine enemy is growing old, —
Morning is the place for dew,
Morns like these we parted;
Much madness is divinest sense
Musicians wrestle everywhere:
My cocoon tightens, colors tease,
My country need not change her gown,
My friend must be a bird,
My life closed twice before its close;
My river runs to thee:
My worthiness is all my doubt,
Nature rarer uses yellow
Nature, the gentlest mother,
New feet within my garden go,
No brigadier throughout the year
No rack can torture me,
Not any higher stands the grave
Not in this world to see his face
Not knowing when the dawn will come
Not with a club the heart is broken,
Of all the souls that stand create
Of all the sounds despatched abroad,
Of bronze and blaze
Of tribulation these are they
On such a night, or such a night,
On the bleakness of my lot
On this long storm the rainbow rose,
On this wondrous sea,
One blessing had I, than the rest
One day is there of the series
One dignity delays for all,
One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One of the ones that Midas touched,
Our journey had advanced;
Our lives are Swiss, —
Our share of night to bear,
Pain has an element of blank;
Perhaps you'd like to buy a flower?
Pigmy seraphs gone astray,
Pink, small, and punctual,
Pompless no life can pass away;
Poor little heart!
Portraits are to daily faces
Prayer is the little implement
Presentiment is that long shadow on the lawn
Proud of my broken heart since thou didst break it,
Read, sweet, how others strove,
Remembrance has a rear and front, —
Remorse is memory awake,
Safe in their alabaster chambers,
She died, — this was the way she died;
She laid her docile crescent down,
She rose to his requirement, dropped
She slept beneath a tree
She sweeps with many-colored brooms,
She went as quiet as the dew
Sleep is supposed to be,
So bashful when I spied her,
So proud she was to die
Softened by Time's consummate plush,
Some keep the Sabbath going to church;
Some rainbow coming from the fair!
Some things that fly there be, —
Some, too fragile for winter winds,
Soul, wilt thou toss again?
South winds jostle them,
Split the lark and you'll find the music,
Step lightly on this narrow spot!
Success is counted sweetest
Summer for thee grant I may be
Superfluous were the sun
Superiority to fate
Surgeons must be very careful
Sweet hours have perished here;
Sweet is the swamp with its secrets,
Taken from men this morning,
Talk with prudence to a beggar
That I did always love,
That is solemn we have ended, —
That short, potential stir
That such have died enables us
The bat is dun with wrinkled wings
The bee is not afraid of me,
The body grows outside, —
The bone that has no marrow;
The brain is wider than the sky,
The brain within its groove
The bustle in a house
The butterfly's assumption-gown,
The clouds their backs together laid,
The cricket sang,
The daisy follows soft the sun,
The day came slow, till five o'clock,
The distance that the dead have gone
The dying need but little, dear, —
The farthest thunder that I heard
The gentian weaves her fringes,
The grass so little has to do, —
The grave my little cottage is,
The heart asks pleasure first,
The last night that she lived,
The leaves, like women, interchange
The moon is distant from the sea,
The moon was but a chin of gold
The morns are meeker than they were,
The mountain sat upon the plain
The murmur of a bee
The murmuring of bees has ceased;
The mushroom is the elf of plants,
The nearest dream recedes, unrealized.
The night was wide, and furnished scant
The one that could repeat the summer day
The only ghost I ever saw
The past is such a curious creature,
The pedigree of honey
The rat is the concisest tenant.
The reticent volcano keeps
The robin is the one
The rose did caper on her cheek,
The show is not the show,
The skies can't keep their secret!
The sky is low, the clouds are mean,
The soul selects her own society,
The soul should always stand ajar,
The soul unto itself
The spider as an artist
The springtime's pallid landscape
The stimulus, beyond the grave
The sun just touched the morning;
The sun kept setting, setting still;
The thought beneath so slight a film
The way I read a letter 's this:
The wind begun to rock the grass
Their height in heaven comforts not,
There came a day at summer's full
There came a wind like a bugle;
There is a flower that bees prefer,
There is a shame of nobleness
There is a word
There is no frigate like a book
There's a certain slant of light,
There's been a death in the opposite house
There's something quieter than sleep
These are the days when birds come back,
They dropped like flakes, they dropped like stars,
They say that 'time assuages,' —
They won't frown always, — some sweet day
This is my letter to the world,
This is the land the sunset washes,
This merit hath the worst, —
This was in the white of the year,
This world is not conclusion;
Though I get home how late, how late!
Three weeks passed since I had seen her, —
Through the straight pass of suffering
'T is so much joy! 'T is so much joy!
'T is sunrise, little maid, hast thou
'T is whiter than an Indian pipe,
Tie the strings to my life, my Lord,
To fight aloud is very brave,
To hang our head ostensibly,
To hear an oriole sing
To help our bleaker parts
To know just how he suffered would be dear;
To learn the transport by the pain,
To lose one's faith surpasses
To lose thee, sweeter than to gain
To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, —
To my quick ear the leaves conferred;
To venerate the simple days
Triumph may be of several kinds.
'T is little I could care for pearls
'T was a long parting, but the time
'T was just this time last year I died.
'T was later when the summer went
'T was such a little, little boat
Two butterflies went out at noon
Two swimmers wrestled on the spar
Undue significance a starving man attaches
Unto my books so good to turn
Upon the gallows hung a wretch,
Victory comes late,
Wait till the majesty of Death
Water is taught by thirst;
We cover thee, sweet face.
We learn in the retreating
We like March, his shoes are purple,
We never know how high we are
We never know we go, — when we are going
We outgrow love like other things
We play at paste,
We thirst at first, — 't is Nature's act;
Went up a year this evening!
What if I say I shall not wait?
What inn is this
What mystery pervades a well!
What soft, cherubic creatures
When I hoped I feared,
When I was small, a woman died.
When night is almost done,
When roses cease to bloom, dear,
Where every bird is bold to go,
Where ships of purple gently toss
Whether my bark went down at sea,
While I was fearing it, it came,
Who has not found the heaven below
Who never lost, are unprepared
Who never wanted, — maddest joy
Who robbed the woods,
"Whose are the little beds," I asked,
Wild nights! Wild nights!
Will there really be a morning?
Within my reach!
You cannot put a fire out;
You left me, sweet, two legacies, —
You've seen balloons set, haven't you?
Your riches taught me poverty.