Saturday, February 7, 2015

Love Poems by Emily Dickinson

Further Poems of Emily Dickinson Withheld from Publication by Her Sister Lavina, Edited by Her Niece Martha Dickinson Bianchi and Alfred Leete Hampson, was published by Little, Brown, and Company in 1929. Many years ago I came into possession of a copy of this book.

A good history of the publication of Dickinson's poems can be found at where Martha Dickinson Bianchi's role in bringing Emily's poetry to publication is mentioned:
When Mabel Loomis Todd ceased her work on Dickinson’s poems, a period of quiet ensued in the publication story. Lavinia Dickinson, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and Susan Dickinson all died, and Martha Dickinson Bianchi began to assume a larger role in shaping her aunt's legacy. Having inherited Dickinson’s manuscripts from both Lavinia and Susan, Martha edited at least six volumes of Dickinson’s poetry. With a lighter editorial hand than her predecessors, Bianchi did not title the poems and kept their rhyme schemes intact. Incensed by publications about her aunt that she judged inaccurate, Bianchi wrote several memoirs to assert her unique perspective as “the one person now living who saw [Emily Dickinson] face to face” (Bianchi, p. xxii).
Most of my favorite Emily Dickinson poems appear in this book. Such as,

To fill a gap--
Insert the thing that caused it.
Block it up
With other and 't will yawn
The more;
You cannot solder an abyss
With Air.

Amherst by William Nicholson suggests that Emily heard her brother Austin's lovemaking with his mistress in her family's home parlor. Some have written that Emily was in love with Austin's wife--her "Sister Sue"-- or that she loved Austin's lover Mable Loomis Todd. There is supposition that Emily loved Thomas Wentworth Higginson to whom she shared her poems, or her father's friend Judge Otis Phillips Lord, or family friend Samuel Bowles, or any number of people.


The question of Emily's love interest remains conjecture. Emily tells of her great love in these poems from the book. It is obvious why they were withheld from publication by her sister Lavinia. They are so personal, telling a story unbefitting to the Victorian image of womankind.

Why do I love thee, Sir?
Require the grass
To answer wherefore, when
He pass,
She cannot keep her place.

The lightning never asked
An eye
Wherefore she shut when
he was by--
Because he knows
She cannot speak,
And reasons not contained
Of talk
There be--preferred by daintier folk.
Renunciation is a piercing virtue,
The letting go
A presence for an expectation--
Not now.

So well that I can live without--
I love Thee; then how well
Is that?
As well as Jesus?
Prove it me
That He loved men
As I love Thee.
If he were living--dare I ask?
And how if her were dead?
And so around the words I went
Of meeting them afraid.

I hinted changes, lapse of time,
The surfaces of years
I touched with caution, lest they slit
And show me to my fears.

Reverted to adjoining lives
Adroitly turning out
Wherever I suspected graces--
'T'was prudenter, I though.

And He--I rushed with sudden force
In face of the suspense--
"Was buried"--Buried!"
My life just holds the trench.
After great pain a formal feeling comes--
The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs;
The stiff Heart questions--was it He that bore?
And yesterday--or centuries before?

The feet mechanical go round
A wooden way
Of ground or air or Ought,
Regardless grown,
A quartz contentment like a stone.

This is the hour of lead
Remembered if outlived
As freezing persons recollect
The snow--
First chill, then stupor, then
The letting go.
There is a pain so utter
It swallows Being up
Then covers the abyss with trance
So memory can step
Around, across, upon it,
As One within a swoon
Goes steady, when an open eye
Would drop him bone by bone.
I tie my hat, I crease my shawl,
Life's little duties do precisely
As the very least
Were infinite to me.

I put new blossoms in the glass,
And throw the old away,
I push a petal from my gown
That anchored there--I weigh

The time 't will be till six o'clock,
I have so much to do--
And get [sic; should be yet] existence some way back,
Stopped, struck, my ticking through.

We cannot put ourselves away
As a completed man
Or woman--when the errand's done
We came to flesh upon.

There may be miles on miles of nought
Of action,--sicker far,
To simulate is stinging work
To cover what we are

From Science and from surgery,
Too telescopic eyes
To bear on us unshaded,
For their sake, not for ours.
I got so I could hear his name
Tremendous gain!--
That stop-sensation in my soul,
And thunder in the room.

I got so I could walk across
That angle in the floor
Where he turned--so--and I
And all our sinew tore.

I got so I could stir the box
In which
His letters grew,
Without that forcing in my breath
As staples driven through.

Could dimly recollect a Grace--
I think
They called it "God",
Renowned to ease extremity
When formula had failed--

And shape my hands
Petition's way--
Too ignorant of word
That Ordination utters--
My business with the cloud.
Staples driven through! Our sinews torn! We tie our hats and go about daily business, dead inside. After great pain Emily wrote the most exquisite verses resounds through the centuries to pierce our hearts with sympathy. She understood all we have experienced.

What did Lavinia know, what caused her to keep back these poems? It is the untold stories that most capture our imaginations.

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