Unpublished Letters of Emily Dickinson to her Brother's Family|
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Martha Dickinson Bianchi, Atlantic Monthly, #115, pub. 1915
~ An Annotated Study Edition ~
Emily Dickinson: Early Feminist Essays
Martha Dickinson Bianchi (Emily Dickinson's neice) begins her essay with a citation from ED letter 0178, composed when Emily was 24 years of age, and sent on February 28, 1855 to Susan Huntington Gilbert, who would marry Austin Dickinson, Emily's brother in 1856.
Extensive source notes for Emily Dickinson letters & poems cited in the essay appear in this sidebar . . . all numbers use 4 digits, for example, "letter 0625."
'Would you rather I wrote you what I am doing here or who I am loving there?' asked Emily Dickinson in a letter from Washington, where, as a girl, she went with her father during his Congressional term. And we who knew her best wish that she could write us now what she is 'doing there,' confident of her unique fitness to be the scribe of immortality.
|Her letters and notes to her brother's family, sacredly hoarded by them and denied publication, contain numberless phrases of universal truth, written as they were a lifetime ago by this sky recluse in her retired New England home, intrenched by lilacs and guarded by bumble-bees.|
|'A hedge away' from poem (J) 0014 (FR) 0005, "One sister have I in our house."||Though she dwelt only 'a hedge away,' as she put it, from our own home, with but a grass lawn between, crossed by a ribbon path, 'just wide enough for two who love,' she had the habit of sending her thoughts to us as other people would have spoken them. The gambol of her mind on paper was her pastime. Though never an invalid until the last two years of her life, she did not care to go beyond her own dooryard and garden, finding infinity in the horizon of her own soul. But she had her finger on the pulse of events and noted chosen phenomena unerringly for us, with her own comment. Through the medium of these written messages she spoke across the grass to us, entrusting them to a servant, a friend, one of us or one of them, as might happen. Whenever stirred, by whatever cause, she trapped her mood, then waited for her messenger, as vigilant as any spider.|
|She never showed to her own family what she wrote. They never dared ask to see. Her timidity awed their love, and New England reserve completed the deadlock. Once and once only my mother published a poem of her incognita, and when she showed it to Aunt Emily, in the darkness of entire privacy, she was terrified for the result of her experiment -- the little white moth fluttering helplessly, all a-tremble, ready to die of the experience and be found on the floor next morning a mere hint of winged dust.|
|She seemed to know the world by intuition, but she shrank from its knowing her; not from any feeling of impotence, not because she was deprived of anything at any disadvantage, but from a fierce unreasoning instinct like that which sends the soft bright-eyed wild things frying from us in the forest.|
|Cites letter 0392, to Susan Huntington Dickinson, 1873, these are the last two sentences of the letter.||
Yet her love for humanity was unfaltering, and she speaks for all lovers when she writes,
'Twilight touches Amherst with his yellow glove.
Miss me sometimes, dear, not on most occasions but in the seldoms of the mind.'
|Letter 1024 to Susan Huntington Dickinson, 1885||
And again when she sums life up in her own terms thus:
'The small heart cannot break. The ecstasy of its penalty solaces the large. Emerging from an abyss and reëntering it, that is Life, dear, is it not?'
|Not included as a letter in Johnson, but as a prose fragment PF 0017. Poem (J) 1699 (FR) 1729 cited here as prose. Manuscript lost, a slightly different version of the poem was transcribed by Susan. Both T. H. Johnson and R. W. Franklin skip this essay as a source for the poem.||
In the following lines does she not argue herself kin to the Bandit in Timon of Athens who claimed 'no time so miserable but a man may be true'?
'To do a magnanimous thing [/] and take one's self by surprise, [/] if one is not in the habit of him, [/] is precisely the finest of joys. [/] Not to do a magnanimous thing, [/] notwithstanding it never be known, [/] notwithstanding it cost us existence, [/] is rapture herself spurn.'
|Aunt Emily differed from all the women letter-writers of France and England in her scorn of detail, -- scarcely hitting the paper long enough to make her communication intelligible. How her fancy would have careened about the feat of wireless telegraphy, it is a revel to surmise! Sometimes her notes were a brief poem, a mere quatrain like this --|
|Letter 0625, Poem (J) 1455 (FR) 1495||
Opinion is a flitting thing|
But, truth outlasts the sun,
If then, we cannot own them both,
Possess the oldest one.
| Poem (J) 1706 (FR) 1737.|
L1: M. D. Bianchi changed "care" to "crave."
Or this one, --|
When we have ceased to crave
The gift is given
For which we gave the earth
And mortgaged heaven,
But so declined in worth --
'Tis ignominy now to look upon.
They were written, of course, apropos of universal or neighborhood events in their own epoch, but their application did not stop there. Who has not experienced the overtaking of fate as she has put it in these terse lines?
|Poem (J) 1457 (FR) 1497, |
L1: M. D. Bianchi changed "stealthy" to "stealthily."
It stole along so stealthily,|
Suspicion it was done
Was dim as to the wealthy
Beginning not to own!
|Letter 0310 (COMPLETE except signature) sent to Susan Huntington Dickinson, 1865, without address, signed, "Emily."||Life had for her an infinite and increasing fascination. 'Are you sure we are making the most of it?' She wrote on a slip of paper and sent over by hand, just because she was quick with the thrill of another day. Again she sent the following --|
|Letter 0756 (COMPLETE), to Susan Huntington Dickinson, 1882.||
A fresh morning of life and its impregnable chances, and the dew for you!
|Letter 0347 (COMPLETE), sent to Susan Huntington Dickinson, ca. 1870, without address or signature. T. H. Johnson skips this essay as the source for the letter's first publication.||Again this single exclamation: 'O matchless Earth, we underrate the chance to dwell in thee!'|
|Letter 0364 to Susan Huntington Dickinson, 1871. M.D. Bianchi dropped the name "Sue" in the first line. The citation is the beginning of a much longer letter, and which also includes poem (J) 1179 (FR) 1202 (see more in a second citation from letter 0364 below).||
Her devotion to those she loved was that of a knight for his lady. I quote a few of her letters for their depth of feeling and human appeal.
'To miss you [Sue] is power. The stimulus of loss makes most possessions mean. To live lasts always, but to love is finer than to live.'
|Letter 0587 (COMPLETE), sent to Susan Huntington Dickinson, 1878, without address or signature.||
'To the faithful absence is condensed presence.|
To the others -- but there are no others.'
|Letter 0393 (second and third paragraphs of a three-paragraph letter), to Susan Huntington Dickinson, 1873.||
'We remind Sue that we love her. Unimportant fact; though Dante did not think so, or Swift or Mirabeau.'|
'Could pathos compete with that simple statement, "Not that we first loved Him, but that He first loved us"?
|Poem (J) 1680 (FR) 1727 ("scarcer" edited to "scarcely" and "might" edited to "night" ?).||
Sometimes with the heart,|
Seldom with the soul,
Scarcely once with the night --
Few love at all.
|Letter 0324 (missing first sentence), to Susan Huntington Dickinson, 1868.||'So busy missing you I have not tasted Spring. Should there be other Aprils we will perhaps dine. Emily.|
|Letter 0581 (COMPLETE except signature, "Emily"), to Susan Huntington Dickinson, 1878.||'I must wait a few days before seeing you. You are too momentous; but remember it is idolatry, not indifference.'|
|Letter 0312 [two consecutive citations from a two-paragraph letter, missing only the first line, concluding with poem (J) 0825 (FR) 0898] to Susan Huntington Dickinson, 1865||
Once when she was deeply troubled and shrank from almost every one, she wrote, --|
'Thank you for tenderness. I find that is the only food the Will takes now, -- and that, not from general fingers.'
Let me quote just one more, to show her trick of concluding herself in verse: --
'I am glad you go.
'I seek you first in Amherst, then turn my thoughts without a whip, so well they follow you.
'An hour is a sea
Between a few and me.
With them would harbor be!'
|Cites letter 0291 (missing first & last sentence), to Edward "Ned" Dickinson, 1864.||Her notes to us as children were our keen delight. Who but our Aunt Emily would have written, 'Emily knows a man who drives a coach like a thimble and turns the wheel all day with his heel. His name is Bumble-bee.'|
|Letter 0398 (much longer, two sections skipped), to Edward "Ned" Dickinson, 1873.||At the close of a letter to my brother Ned, when away on a visit as a child, she says, 'Dear Ned-bird, it will be good to hear you. Not a voice in the woods is so sweet as yours. [...] The robins have gone, -- all but a few infirm ones, -- and the Cricket and I keep house for the frost. [...] Good-night, little brother, I would love to stay longer. Vinnie and Grandma and Maggie all give their love, Pussy her striped respects. Ned's most little Aunt Emily.'|
|Cites letter 0511 (COMPLETE), to Edward "Ned" Dickinson, 1877.||
Once when he had been badly stung by a wasp she wrote to him, --|
Dear Ned, You know I never did like you in those yellow jackets. Emily
|Letter 0571 (COMPLETE), to Edward "Ned" Dickinson, 1878||
Another time she wrote to him, --|
You know that pie you stole? Well, this is that pie's brother. Mother told me when I was a boy, that I must turn over a new leaf. I call that the foliage admonition. Shall I commend it to you?
|Citation from letter 0403 (skips two playful concluding lines), to Martha Dickinson Bianchi, ca. 1873. "I wish I had" may be the reflection of M.D. Bianchi, and misprinted as a continuation of the quoted ED letter -- it is not part of the original manuscript according to T. H. Johnson.||
To me with a knot of her tenderly guarded flowers from her conservatory, she sent this: --
'I am glad it is your birthday. It is this little bouquet's birthday too. Its father is a very old man by the name of Nature, whom you never saw. Be sure to live in vain, dear. I wish I had.'
|Letter 0664 (COMPLETE, except signature, "Emily"), to Susan Huntington Dickinson, ca. 1880.||
The following communication I give just as she sent it to my mother, after the rescue of a favorite cat by my Aunt Lavinia from my brother Gilbert.
Memoirs of Little Boys that Live --
'"Were n't you chasing Pussy?" said Vinnie to Gilbert.
'"No, she was chasing herself."
'"But wasn't she pretty fast?"
'"Well, some fast and some slow," said the beguiling Villain.
'Pussy's Nemesis quailed. Talk of hoary reprobates! Your urchin is more antique in wiles than the Egyptian Sphinx. Have you noticed Granville's letter to Lowell?
'"Her majesty has comtemplated you and reserved her decision."'
|Letter 1026 (COMPLETE, except signature, "Ever, Aunt Emily"), to Edward "Ned" Dickinson, 1885. T. H. Johnson shows a line break for each sentence.||
In response to some dainty carried to her by my brother Gilbert, she writes, 'What an Embassy! What an Ambassador! "And pays the heart for what his eyes eat only." Excuse the bearded pronoun. (1)'
[M.D.B. footnote (1) Antony and Cleopatra, Act II, scene 2.]
|It was but one of many illustrations of her familiarity with Shakespeare that kept us as children in excited research for her context. It was, as Colonel Higginson once remarked to me, 'a pretty rarified atmosphere for children not in their teens'; but we regarded Aunt Emily as a magical creature and were proud to be included among her grown-up friends and treated accordingly. We were brought up on her condensed forms and subtle epigram, her droll humor and stabbing pathos, until we felt a lively contempt for people who 'could not understand' Aunt Emily, when our mother read out sentences or poems of her to guests who begged to hear something she had written. We felt she was always on our side, a nimble as well as loving ally. She never dulled our sunshine with grown-up apprehensions for our good, or hindered our imagination, but rather flew before us like the steeds of Aurora, -- straight out into the ether of the Impossible, -- as dear to her as to us.|
|Sent to Ned about 1871, the poem forms the last 8 lines of (J) 1185 (FR) 1236. According to R. W. Franklin the postscript was added by M.D.B., constructed from letter 0320 sent to Susan in 1866.||
The following she sent my brother Ned after some reputed indiscretion reported of him by harder hearts: --|
The cat that in the corner sits --
Her martial time forgot --
The rat but a tradition now
Of her desireless lot,
Another class reminds me of --
Who neither please nor play,
But -- "not to make a bit of noise'
Adjure each little boy.
P.S. Grandma characteristically hopes Neddy will be good boy. Obtuse ambition of Grandma's!
|Letter 0787 (two lines missing), to Martha Dickinson Bianchi, 1882.||
On returning the photograph of a child in Kate Greenaway costume she wrote, --|
'That is the little girl I always meant to be and wasn't; the very hat I meant to wear and did n't!'
|Poem (J) 1246 (FR) 1305, signed "Emily" and probably sent to Susan.||
One verse she sent us which particularly hit our fancy was the following:
The butterfly in honored dust
Assuredly will lie,
But none will pass his catacomb
So chastened as the fly.
| A version of this poem was sent along with a letter (0674) to T. W. Higginson in 1880, asking for approval to send it and two others to a charity (Mission Circle's sale for the benefit of children in India and other Far Eastern countries (according to Johnson), held at First Church, November 30, 1882). ED titled it "Christ's Birthday." The three poems, with a fourth added in case the three did not meet TWH's approval:|
(J) 1487 (FR) 1538
"The saviour must have been"
(J) 0365 (FR) 0401
"Dare you see a Soul at the White Heat"
(J) 1463 (FR) 1489
"A Route of Evanescence"
(J) 1511 (FR) 1540
"My country need not change her gown"
Here is one she sent us at Christmastime, with one of her beautifully iced cakes: --
The Saviour must have been
A docile gentleman
To come so far, so cold a night,
For little fellow-men.
The road to Bethlehem --
Since he and I were boys --
Has leveled -- but for that 'twould be
A rugged billion miles.
|Letter 0712 (COMPLETE), Poem (J) 1522 (FR) 1547||
The next one she sent to my brother Gilbert, a child in kindergarten, accompanied by a dead bumble-bee: --
For Gilbert to carry to his Teacher from Emily
THE BUMBLE-BEE'S RELIGION
|Letter 0549 (COMPLETE) to Ned Dickinson, 1878. The name "Brooks of Sheffield" (from David Copperfield) designates someone who remains nameless.||
She furthered our childhood love of mystery and innocent intrigue on every occasion. With a box of maple sugar purloined for us from the family supply, she sent these laconic instructions, --|
Omit to return box. Omit to know you received box.
BROOKS OF SHEFFIELD
|The drollery of Dickens was congenial to her own taste and she was much fascinated with David Copperfield, published when she was twenty-one; many quotations from it became household words. I have often heard her fling back over her shoulder, as she fled form unwelcome visitors, 'Donkeys, Agnes!' And 'Barkis is willin'' is a message that I have carried from her to my mother, before I was old enough to understand what it meannt to them.|
|"The joys of theft..."|
Letter 0580 (COMPLETE, except signature, "Emily" and addressed on fold: "Susan"), 1878 to Susan Dickinson.
"How inspiring to the clandestine..."
Letter 0853, 1883, to Susan Dickinson, incomplete, missing the included poem (J) 1537, (FR) 1608 "Candor -- my tepid friend" which MDB had published the previous year in The Single Hound. MDB changed "inspiriting" to "inspiring." The scripture reference is Matthew 11:25.
|Again, with stolen sweets smuggled over to us, she wrote, 'The joys of theft are two: first, theft; second, superiority to detection.' Again, under the same piratical circumstances, 'How inspiring to the clandestine mind those words of scripture, "We thank thee, Lord, that thou hast hid these things!"'|
|Prose fragment PF 0006. Johnson neglects this article as a published source for the fragment.||
She did a deal of brilliant trifling in these notes of hers. Here is her comment on the death of the wife of a local doctor whom she disliked: --
I should think she would rather be the Bride of the Lamb than that old Pill-box!
|Poem (J) 1267 (FR) 1304. Sent to Susan Dickinson, 1873. R.W, Franklin says: "the poem may refer to the visit in 1873 of ED's childhood friend Abby Wood Bliss, newly returned from Beirut. An account of their interview was later supplied by her husband, the Reverend Daniel Bliss in his Reminiscences (1920)||
After meeding a friend she had not seen for some years she wrote, --
I saw that the flake was upon it,
But plotted with Time to dispute,
'Unchanged,' I urged,
With a candor
That cost me my honest heart.
'But you,' she returned, with a valor
Sagacious of my mistake --
'Have altered, --
Accept the pillage
For the progress sake!'
|Letter 1010 (COMPLETE, except address) to Sara Colson (Gillett), a friend of Martha Dickinson, 1885. (Also published in Amherst Monthly, May 1910, by F. J. Pohl.)||
With a Cape jasmine sent to a guest of our inner circle, she wrote,--|
'M[attie] -- will place this little flower in her friend's hand. Should she ask who sent it, tell her as Desdemona did when they asked who slew her -- nobody -- Myself.'
|Poem (J) 1539 (FR) 1575, sent to Susan Dickinson, about 1882. No account of the letter in Johnson.||
After the death of a strictly dull acquaintance of no vital essence, she wrote,--
'With Variations --
Now I lay thee down to sleep
I pray the lord thy dust to keep,
If thou should live before thy wake,
I pray the Lord thy soul to make.!'
|Poem (J) 1403 (FR) 1463, sent to Susan about 1878.||
This scrap is Emily at her most audacious.
My Maker let me be
Enamoured most of Thee
But nearer this
I more should miss!
|Letter 0998 (COMPLETE), sent to Susan Dickinson, 1885||
With the gift of a young chicken from the family poultry yard, she sends, --
Accept this firstling of my flock, to whom also the Lastling is due. To broil our benefits perhaps is not the highest way?
|Letter 0708 (COMPLETE) to Susan Dickinson, about 1881. Proverbs 27:1, with a change only of "thyself" to "myself" and "day" to "noon."||In a panic lest some cherished plan fall through, she sends this. 'Boast not myself of to-morrow, for I "knowest" not what a noon may bring forth.'|
|Letter 0583, missing first paragraph. Sent to Susan about 1878.||This too is Emily to the core: 'Cherish power, dear; remember that it stands in the Bible between the kingdom and the glory because it is wilder than either.'|
|Letter 0176, second paragraph in part only. To Susan Dickinson, 1854||
Here is her description of her societal life as a girl:--
'We go out very little; once in a month or two we both set sail in silks, touch at the principal points and then put into port again. Vinnie cruises about some to transact commerce, but coming to anchor is most I can do.'
George Eliot (1819-1880), engraving by Paul Adolphe Rajon, after Sir Frederick William Burton
But Aunt Emily's intimacies were not not confined to visible friends and family: her books and their authors were a vital part of her everyday life and happiness. On the walls of her own room hung framed portraits of Mrs. Browning, George Eliot and Carlyle. I well remember the diffident question of an old American retainer assisting in the house at the time of Aunt Emily's death, who asked me, after some hesitation, if those people were 'relatives on the Norcross side,' -- adding hastily, 'I knew they could not be Dickinsons, for I have seen all of them, and they are all good-looking.'
I was both glad and sorry to assure her that their greatness was beyond us to claim for either branch of our family tree.
|Letter 0456 (COMPLETE) except signature, "Emily", sent to Susan Dickinson, about March 1876. Extant letters by ED which mention George Eliot by name:
|One little note to my mother was simply this: 'Thank you, dear, for the Eliot. She is the lane to the Indies Columbus was trying to find.'|
|Letter 0320, sent to Susan Dickinson about August 1866 (citation is near the closing, letter is much longer).||Again: 'Dreamed of your meeting Tennyson at Ticknor and Fields last night. Where the treasure is there the brain is also.'|
|Letter 0075 to Austin Dickinson, missing first paragraph, about 1852.||She was a fond reader of Ik Marvel; on receiving a copy of Dream Life, she wrote, 'Dream Life is no nearly so great a book as the Reveries of a Bachelor, yet I think it full of the very sweetest faincies, and more exquisite language I defy any man to use. On the whole I enjoyed it very much, but I can't help wishing that he had been translated like Enoch of old, after his bachelor reverie, and chariot of fire and the horsemen thereof were all that had been seen of him ever after.'|
|Letter 0714 (COMPLETE) sent to Susan Dickinson about 1881.||
When Mr. Howells first appeared in the magazine of which Dr. Hollard was then the editor, my mother asked Aunt Emily how it happened, the Hollands being intimate in my grandfather's family. A few nights after, Aunt Emily sent over the following correspondence: --
How did you snare Howells?
Case of bribery. Money did it.
Letter 0908, to Susan Dickinson, about 1884 (missing the first and last two paragraphs, although MDB quotes the closing line later in the article... "Remember Dear, an unfaltering yes is my only reply to your utmost question.").|
In the orginal letter, the last lines here are actually the beginning of poem (J) 1599 (FR) 1592, which is included also in yet another letter (1036):
Though the Great Waters sleep,
That they are still the Deep,
We cannot doubt --
No vacillating God
Ignited this Abode
To put it out.
When the Life and Letters of Samuel Bowles, her life-long friend, were all but published in 1885, she wrote, --|
Dear Sue, I can scarcely believe the wondrous book to be written at last, and it seems like a Memoir of the Sun when the Noon is gone. You remember his swift was of wringing and flinging away a theme, and others picking it up and gazing bewildered after him, and the prance that crossed his eye at such times was unrepeatable. Though the Great Waters sleep, that they are still the Deep we cannot doubt.
|Letter 305 (COMPLETE, except address and signature). The postscript-poem cited here is not part of the previous letter, but was sent separately, addressed "Dear Sue, and signed "Emily," on the occasion of the death of Susan Dickinson's sister Harriet Cutler, in March 1865.|
The Poem (J) 0809 (FR) 0951 is edited with "the dead" in L1 instead of ED's original "the Loved." (Another version of the poem also has a second stanza).
Then as if in postscript she adds,--|
Unable are the dead to die
For love is immortality,
Nay it is Deity.
The joy of mere words was to Aunt Emily like the red and yellow balls to the juggler. The animate verb for the inanimate thing, the ludicrous adjective that turned a sentence mountebank in an instant, the stringing of her meaning like a taut bow with just the economy of verbiage possible, the unusual redeemed from usage by her single selected specimen of her vocabulary,-- all this was part of her zestful preoccupation.|
These instances are characteristic.
|Letter 0722, missing 2nd paragraph. Sent to Susan Dickinson, end of summer 1881.||'It was like a breath from Gibraltar to hear your voice again, Sue. Your impregnable syllables need no prop to stand.'|
| Letter 0585 (COMPLETE, addressed to Susan, unsigned). Second paragraph is
Poem (J) 1366 (FR) 1462|
Sister of Ophir --
Ah, Peru --
Subtle the Sum
That purchase you --
'I dreamed of you last night and send a carnation to endorse it.'|
'Sister of Ophir. Ah, Peru! subtle the sum that purchase you.'
|Letter 0913, signed "Emily." MDB edited "Sister's" to "Susan's" and "adores" to "loves," (otherwise complete). Sent to Susan Dickinson, about 1884.||'No words ripple like Susan's. Their silver genealogy is very sweet to trace: amalgams are abundant, but the lone student of the mines loves alloyless things.'|
|Letter 0625 (COMPLETE), but with added poem (J) 1455 (FR) 1495, "Opinion is a flitting thing," already cited in Part II above.||'Emily is sorry for Susan's day. To be singular under plural circumstances is a becoming heroism.'|
|Letter 0554, first of four sentences only.||'Susan knows she is a Siren and at a word from her Emily would forfeit righeousness --|
|Letter 0679, (COMPLETE, except signature, "Emily"), about 1880 sent to Susan Dickinson, probably on Sue's 50th birthday, December 19. Poem (J) 1488 (FR) 1541.||
'Birthday of but a single pang,|
That there are less to come --
Afflicitive is the adjective
Though affluent the doom.'
|Letter 0856, missing a second sentence. Sent to Susan Dickinson about 1883.||'Your little mental gallantries are sweet as chivalry, -- which is to me a shining word though I don't know what it means.'|
|Here are three of those Nature touches which are to be found in her every note or letter of more than a single phrase: --|
|Letter 0294, one paragraph of a much longer letter, and last sentence. Sent to Susan Dickinson, September 1864, from Cambridge, where ED was getting treatment for eye problems..||
'It would be good to see the grass and hear the wind blow that wide way through the orchard. Are the apples ripe? Have the wild geese crossed? And did you save the seed of the pond-lily?
Do not cease, dear. Should I turn in my long night I should murmur "Sue"'
|Letter 0364, one paragraph from a much longer letter (see another citation above). The comment cited is followed by poem (J) 1179 (FR) 1202, published in The Single Hound:|
Of so divine a loss
We enter but the gain,
Indemnity for loneliness
That such a bliss has been.
|'Nothing is gone, dear, or no one that you knew. The forests are at home, the mountains intimate at night and arrogant at noon. A lonesome fluency abroad, like suspended music.'|
|Letter 0333, two sections combined (elipsis added), from a much longer letter. Sent to Susan Dickinson, autumn 1869.||'To take you away leaves but a lower world, your firmamental quality our more familiar sky. It is not Nature, dear, but those who stand for Nature. The bird would be a soundless thing without expositor. Come home and see your weather; the hills are full of shawls. [. . .] We have a new man whose name is "Tim," Father calls him "Timothy" and the barn sounds like the Bible!'|
|Her passion for brevity deducted relentlessly. She refuses an invitation thus,--|
|Letter 0303 (COMPLETE). Johnson neglects this article as a published source for the letter. Sent to Susan Dickinson 1865?||
Thank Sue, but not to-night. Further nights. |
|Letter 0335 (COMPLETE, except addressed to Sue: "Don't do such things, dear Sue --"), about 1869.||After some flash of pleasure, given her by my mother, she wrote, 'Don't do such things. The Arabian Nights unfits the heart for its arithmetic.'|
|I quote at random a few passages from her notes to us.|
|Letter 0663 (COMPLETE, signed "Emily"), sent to Susan Dickinson about 1880.||'A spell cannot be tattered and mended like a coat.'|
|Prose Fragment, PF 0011 (COMPLETE). Johnson neglects this article as a published source for the fragment.||'No message is the utmost message, for what we tell is done.'|
|Letter 0365 (COMPLETE) to Susan Dickinson, signed "Emily" about 1871. Johnson neglects this article as a published source for the letter.||'Trust is better than contract, for one is still, the other moves.'|
|Letter 0467 (COMPLETE) to Susan Dickinson, signed "Emily" about 1876.||'The ignominy to receive is eased by the reflection that interchange of infamies is either's antidote.'|
|Letter 0429 (COMPLETE, with change from "as actually as" to "as well as." Sent to Susan Dickinson about 1874.||'To lose what we never owned might seem an eccentric bereavement, but Presumption has its own affliction as well as claim.'|
|Poem (J) 1208 (FR) 1267, included in letter 0381, to T.W. Higginson, 1872.||'Our own possessions, though our own, 't is well to hoard anew, remembering the dimensions of possibility.'|
|Letter 0334 (COMPLETE, with change from "knew before" to "know best.") Sent to Susan Dickinson 1869.||'The things of which we want the proof are those we know the best.'|
|Letter 0541, first part but COMPLETE with second part separated below. Sent to Susan Dickinson about 1878, signed "Emily."||'Where we owe but little we pay. Where we owe so much it defies money, we are blandly insolvent.'|
|Letter 0294, incomplete, another quotation from it appears above. To Susan Dickinson, about September 1864.||'Those that are worthy of life are of miracle, for life is miracle and death is harmless as a bee except to those who run.'|
|Letter 0366 (COMPLETE) To Susan Dickinson, signed "Emily," about 1871.||'Has All a codicil?'|
|Letter 0541, second part but COMPLETE with first part separated above. Sent to Susan Dickinson about 1878, signed "Emily."||'Adulation is inexpensive, except to him who accepts it. It costs him Himself.'|
|Letter 0288, incomplete, beginning of a longer letter to Susan Dickinson from Cambridge, 1864.||'There is no first nor last in Forever. It is Centre there all the time. To believe is enough and the right of supposing.'|
|Letter 0586 (incomplete) to Susan Dickinson, about 1878.||'In a life that stopped guessing you and I should not feel at home.'|
|Letter 0911 (incomplete) to Susan Dickinson about 1884.||'Tasting the honey and the sting should have ceased with Eden.[. . . ] Pang is the past of peace.'|
Letter 0868, (COMPLETE, except one line -- see below). One of four letters ED sent to Susan Dickinson after Gilbert's death, October 1883. The quatrain beginning "His life was like a bugle" was originally composed as prose. Alternately a poem (which also appears in a later letter 0972) is hid in the last paragraph (J) 1564 (FR) 1624:|
[Without a speculation, one little Ajax spans the whole --]
Pass to thy rendez-vous of Light,
pangless except for us
who slowly ford the mystery
which thou hast leapt across!
My brother Gilbert, idolized by Aunt Emily, died at the age of eight years. After days of stricken silence she sent this message to my mother:--
The vision of immortal life has been fulfilled. How simply at the last the fathom comes! The passenger, and not the sea, we find surprises us. Gilbert rejoiced in secrets. His life was panting with them. With what menace of light he cried, 'Don't tell, Aunt Emily!'
My ascended playmate must instruct me now. Show us, prattling preceptor, but the way to thee! He knew no niggard moment. His life was full of boon. The playthings of Dervish were not so wild as his. No crescent was this creature -- he traveled free from the Full. Such soar, but never set. I see him in the star and meet his sweet velocity in everything that flies.
His life was like a bugle
Which winds itself away,
His elegy and echo,
His requiem ecstasy.
Dawn and meridian in one, wherefore should he wait, wronged only of night which he left for us? Pass to thy rendez-vous of Light, pangless except for us who slowly ford the mystery which thou hast leapt across!
|Letter 1025, closing lines, incomplete. Sent to Susan Dickinson late 1885.||During the illness which was to prove her last, when unable to see any one, but still with devotion unabated, she wrote, 'How tenderly I thank you, Sue, for every solace! [. . .] Beneath the Alps the Danube runs.'|
|Letter 0908 (see more of this letter quoted earlier in the article). Signed: "With constancy -- Emily."||And the last line she sent, not long before her death, in response to an entreaty for assuranceof her certaintly of our love and continuance of her own, was this: 'Remember, dear that an unmitigated Yes is my only reply to your utmost question.'|
|Excerpt from the obituary written by Susan Dickinson and published in The Springfield Republican, May 18, 1886||
After her death my mother wrote of her:--
'A Damascus blade gleaming and glancing in the sun, was her wit;--her swift poetic rapture the long glistening note of the bird one hears in June woods at high noon. Like a magician she caught the shadowy apparitions of her brain and tossed them in startling picturesqueness to her friends. So intimate and passionate was her love of Nature, she seemed herself part of the high March sky or the midsummer day. To her, Life as all aglow with God and immortality. With no creed, no formulated faith, hardly knowing the names of dogmas, she walked this life with the gentleness and reverence of old Saints, with the firm stip of Martyrs who sing while they suffer.'
Emily Dickinson: Early Feminist Essays|
Emily Dickinson Letters by Thomas Wentworth Higginson
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