Poems (Dickinson)

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Poems  (1890) 
by Emily Dickinson
edited by Mabel Loomis Todd and T. W. Higginson.




Edited by two of her friends





Copyright, 1890,

By Roberts Brothers.

University Press :

John Wilson and Son, Cambridge.


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 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 conflict. And sometimes again we catch glimpses of a lyric strain, sustained perhaps but a for 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."



Preface iii
Prelude 9


I. Success 13
II. "Our share of night to bear" 14
III. Rouge et Noir 15
IV. Rouge gagne 16
V. "Glee! the storm is over" 17
VI. "If I can stop one heart from breaking" 18
VII. Almost 19
VIII. "A wounded deer leaps highest" 20
IX. "The heart asks pleasure first" 21
X. In a Library 22
XI. "Much madness is divinest sense" 24
XII. "I asked no other thing" 25
XIII. Exclusion 26
XIV. The Secret 27
XV. The Lonely House 28
XVI. "To fight aloud is very brave" 30
XVII. Dawn 31
XVIII. The Book of Martyrs 32
XIX. The Mystery of Pain 33
XX. "I taste a liquor never brewed" 34
XXI. A Book 35
XXII. "I had no time to hate, because" 36
XXIII. Unreturning 37
XXIV. "Whether my bark went down at sea" 38
XXV. "Belshazzar had a letter" 39
XXVI. "The brain within its groove" 40


I. Mine 43
II. Bequest 44
III. "Alter? When the hills do" 45
IV. Suspense 46
V. Surrender 47
VI. "If you were coming in the fall" 48
VII. With a Flower 50
VIII. Proof 51
IX. “Have you got a brook in your little heart?” 52
X. Transplanted 53
XI. The Outlet 54
XII. In Vain 55
XIII. Renunciation 58
XIV. Love's Baptism 60
XV. Resurrection 62
XVI. Apocalypse 63
XVII. The Wife 64
XVIII. Apotheosis 65


I. “New feet within my garden go” 69
II. May-Flower 70
III. Why? 71
IV. “Perhaps you ’d like to buy a flower” 72
V. “The pedigree of honey” 73
VI. A Service of Song 74
VII. “The bee is not afraid of me” 75
VIII. Summer's Armies 76
IX. The Grass 78
X. "A little road not made of man" 80
XI. Summer Shower 81
XII. Psalm of the Day 82
XIII. The Sea of Sunset 84
XIV. Purple Clover 85
XV. The Bee 87
XVI. "Presentiment is not long shadow" 88
XVII. "As children bid the guest good-night" 89
XVIII. "Angels in the early morning" 90
XIX. "So bashful when I spied her" 91
XX. Two Worlds 92
XXI. The Mountain 93
XXII. A Day 94
XXIII. "The butterfly's assumption-gown" 95
XXIV. The Wind 96
XXV. Death and Life 98
XXVI. "'T was later when the summer went" 99
XXVII. Indian Summer 100
XXVIII. Autumn 102
XXIX. Beclouded 103
XXX. The Hemlock 104
XXXI. "There's a certain slant of light" 106

BOOK IV.—Time and Eternity

I. "One dignity delays for all" 109
II. Too late 110
III. Astra Castra 112
IV. "Safe in their alabaster chambers" 113
V. "On this long storm the rainbow rose" 114
VI. From the Chrysalis 115
VII. Setting Sail 116
VIII. "Look back on time with kindly eyes" 117
IX. "A train went through a burial gate" 118
X. "I died for beauty, but was scarce" 119
XI. Troubled about many things 120
XII. Real 121
XIII. The Funeral 122
XIV. "I went to thank her" 123
XV. "I've seen a dying eye" 124
XVI. Refuge 125
XVII. "I never saw a moor" 126
XVIII. Playmates 127
XIX. "To know just how he suffered" 128
XX. "The last night that she lived" 130
XXI. The First Lesson 132
XXII. "The bustle in the house" 133
XXIII. "I reason, earth is short" 134
XXIV. "Afraid? Of whom am I afraid?" 135
XXV. Dying 136
XXVI. "Two swimmers wrestled on a spar" 137
XXVII. The Chariot 138
XXVIII. "She went as quiet as the dew" 140
XXIX. Resurgam 141
XXX. "Except to heave she is nought" 142
XXXI. "Death is a dialogue between" 143
XXXII. "It was too late for man" 144
XXXIII. Along the Potomac 145
XXXIV. "The daisy follows soft the Sun" 146
XXXV. Emancipation 147
XXXVI. Lost 148
XXXVII. "If I shouldn't be alive" 149
XXXVIII. "Sleep is supposed to be" 150
XXXIX. "I shall know why when time is over" 151
XL. "I never lost as much but twice" 152