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Emily Dickinson
< Early Feminist Essays   |   Emily Dickinson's Nature Mysticism >
"Emily Dickinson's Letters" by Thomas Wentworth Higginson -- (pg.2)
text pub. Atlantic Monthly, October, 1891
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(page 2)

Then came one which I have always classed among the most exquisite of her productions, with a singular felicity of phrase and an aerial lift that bears the ear upward with the bee it traces --

     The nearest dream recedes unrealized.
              The heaven we chase,
              Like the June bee
     Before the school-boy,
              Invites the race,
              Stoops to an easy clover --
     Dips -- evades -- teases -- deploys --
              Then to the royal clouds
              Lifts his light pinnace,
              Heedless of the boy
     Staring, bewildered, at the mocking sky.

     Homesick for steadfast honey, --
              Ah! the bee flies not
     Which brews that rare variety.

The impression of a wholly new and original poetic genius was as distinct on my mind at the first reading of these four poems as it is now, after thirty years of further knowledge; and with it came the problem never yet solved, what place ought to be assigned in literature to what is so remarkable, yet so elusive of criticism. The bee himself did not evade the schoolboy more than she evaded me; and even at this day I still stand somewhat bewildered, like the boy.

Circumstances, however, soon brought me in contact with an uncle of Emily Dickinson, a gentelman not now living; a prominent citizen of Worcester, a man of integrity and character, who shared her abruptness and impulsiveness but certainly not her poetic temperament, from which he was indeed singularly remote. He could tell but little of her, she being evidently an enigma to him, as to me. It is hard to say what answer was made by me, under these circumstances, to this letter. It is probable that the adviser sought to gain time a little and find out with what strange creature he was dealing. I remember to have ventured on some criticism which she afterwards called "surgery," and on some questions, part of which she evaded, as will be seen, with a naïve skill such as the most experienced and worldly coquette might envy. Her second letter (received April 26, 1862) was as follows --

        MR. HIGGINSON, -- Your kindness claimed earlier gratitude, but I was ill, and write to-day from my pillow.
        Thank you for the surgery; it was not so painful as I supposed. I bring you others, as you ask, though they might not differ. While my thought is undressed, I can make the distinction; but when I put them in the gown, they look alike and numb.
        You aksed how old I was? I made no verse, but one or two, until this winter, sir.
        I had a terror since September, I could tell to none; and so I sing, as the boy does of the burying ground, because I am afraid.
        You inquire my books. For poets, I have Keats, and Mr. and Mrs. Browning. For prose, Mr. Ruskin, Sir Thomas Browne, and the Revelations. I went to school, but in your manner of the phrase had no education. When a little girl, I had a friend who taught me Immortality; but venturing too near, himself, he never returned. Soon after my tutor died, and for several years my lexicon was my only companion. Then I found one more, but he was not contented I be his scholar, so he left the land.
        You ask my companions, Hills, sir, and the sundown, and a dog large as myself that my father bought me. They are better than beings because they know but do not tell; and the noise in the pool at noon excels my piano.
        I have a brother and sister; my mother does not care for thought, and father, too busy with his briefs to notice what we do. He buys me many books, but begs me not to read them, because he fears they joggle the mind. They are religious, except me, and address an eclipse, every morning, whom they call their "Father."
        But I fear my story fatigues you. I would like to learn. Could you tell me how to grow, or is it unconveyed, like melody or witchcraft?
        You speak of Mr. Whitman, I never read his book, but was told that it was disgraceful.
        I read Miss Prescott's Circumstance, but it followed me in the dark, so I avoided her.
        Two editors of journals came to my father's house this winter, and asked me for my mind, and when I asked them "why" they said I was penurious, and they would use it for the world.
        I could not weigh myself, myself. My size felt small to me. I read your chapters in the "Atlantic," and experienced honor for you. I was sure you would not reject a confiding question.
        Is this, sir, what you asked me to tell you? Your friend,

    E. DICKINSON.      

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