|"Except the smaller size no lives are round." ~ Emily Dickinson
< Early Feminist Essays | Emily Dickinson's Nature Mysticism >
"Emily Dickinson's Letters" by Thomas Wentworth Higginson -- (pg.8)|
text pub. Atlantic Monthly, October, 1891
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ometimes there would be a long pause, on my part, after which would come a
plaintive letter, always terse, like this : --
"Did I displease you? But won't you
tell me how?"
Or perhaps the announcement of some
event, vast to her small sphere, as this:
Would you instruct me now?
Or sometimes there would arrive an
exquisite little detached strain, every
word a picture, like this : --
A route of evanescence
With a revolving wheel;
A resonance of emerald;
A rush of cochineal.
And every blossom on the bush
Adjusts its tumbled head; --
The mail from Tunis, probably,
An easy morning's ride.
Nothing in literature, I am sure, so
condenses into a few words that gorgeous atom of life and fire of which
she here attempts the description. It is,
however, needless to conceal that many
of her brilliant fragments were less satisfying. She almost always grasped whatever she sought, but with some fracture
of grammar and dictionary on the way.
Often, too, she was obscure and sometimes inscrutable; and though obscurity
is sometimes, in Coleridge's phrase, a
compliment to the reader, yet it is never
safe to press this compliment too hard.
Sometimes, on the other hand, her
verses found too much favor for her
comfort, and she was urged to publish.
In such cases I was sometimes put forward as a defense; and the following
letter was the fruit of some such occasion: --
DEAR FRIEND, -- Thank you for the
advice. I shall implicitly follow it.
The one who asked me for the lines
I had never seen.
He spoke of "a charity." I refused,
but did not inquire. He again earnestly
urged, on the ground that in that way I
might "aid unfortunate children." The
name of "child" was a snare to me, and
I hesitated, choosing my most rudimentary, and without criterion.
I inquired of you. You can scarcely
estimate the opinion to one utterly guideless. Again thank you.
Again came this, on a similar theme:
DEAR FRIEND, -- Are you willing to
tell me what is right? Mrs. Jackson,
of Colorado [" H. H.," her early schoolmate], was with me a few moments this week, and wished me to write for this.
[A circular of the "No Name Series"
was inclosed.] I told her I was unwilling, and she asked me why? I said I
was incapable, and she seemed not to believe me and asked me not to decide for a few days. Meantime, she would write
me. She was so sweetly noble, I would
regret to estrange her, and if you would
be willing to give me a note saying you
disapproved it, and thought me unfit, she
would believe you. I am sorry to flee
so often to my safest friend, but hope
he permits me.
In all this time -- nearly eight years
-- we had never met, but she had sent
invitations like the following: --
DEAR FRIEND, -- Whom my dog understood could not elude others.
I should be so glad to see you, but
think it an apparitional pleasure, not to
be fulfilled. I am uncertain of Boston.
I had promised to visit my physician
for a few days in May, but father objects
because he is in the habit of me.
Is it more far to Amherst?
You will find a minute host, but a
If I still entreat you to teach me, are
you much displeased? I will be patient,
constant, never reject your knife, and
should my slowness goad you, you knew
before myself that
Except the smaller size
No lives are round.
These hurry to a sphere
And show and end.
The larger slower grow
And later hang;
The summers of Hesperides
Afterwards, came this : --
DEAR FRIEND, -- A letter always feels
to me like immortality because it is the
mind alone without corporeal friend.
Indebted in our talk to attitude and ac-
cent, there seems a spectral power in
thought that walks alone. I would like
to thank you for your great kindness,
but never try to lift the words which I
Should you come to Amherst, I might
then succeed, though gratitude is the
timid wealth of those who have nothing.
I am sure that you speak the truth, because the noble do, but your letters always surprise me.
My life has been too simple and stern
to embarrass any. "Seen of Angels,"
scarcely my responsibility.
It is difficult not to be fictitious in so
fair a place, but tests' severe repairs are
When a little girl I remember hearing that remarkable passage and prefer-
ring the "Power," not knowing at the
time that "Kingdom" and "Glory"
You noticed my dwelling alone. To
an emigrant, country is idle except it be
his own. You speak kindly of seeing
me; could it please your convenience to
come so far as Amherst, I should be very
glad, but I do not cross my father's
ground to any house or town.
Of our greatest acts we are ignorant.
You were not aware that you saved my
life. To thank you in person has been
since then one of my few requests....
You will excuse each that I say, because
no one taught me.
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