by EMILY DICKINSON
Edited by two of her friends
MABEL LOOMIS TODD and T.W. HIGGINSON
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 brought 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 struggle. And sometimes again we catch glimpses of a lyric strain, sustained perhaps but for a 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."
—-Thomas Wentworth Higginson
As is well documented, Emily Dickinson's poems were edited in these early editions by her friends, better to fit the conventions of the times. In particular, her dashes, often small enough to appear as dots, became commas and semi-colons.
In the second series of poems published, a facsimile of her handwritten poem which her editors titled "Renunciation" is given, and I here transcribe that manuscript as faithfully as I can, showing underlined words thus.
There came a day - at Summer's full - Entirely for me - I thought that such were for the Saints - Where Resurrections - be -
The sun - as common - went abroad - The flowers - accustomed - blew, As if no soul - that solstice passed - Which maketh all things - new -
The time was scarce profaned - by speech - The falling of a word Was needless - as at Sacrament - The Wardrobe - of our Lord!
Each was to each - the sealed church - Permitted to commune - this time - Lest we too awkward show At Supper of "the Lamb."
The hours slid fast - as hours will - Clutched tight - by greedy hands - So - faces on two Decks look back - Bound to opposing lands.
And so, when all the time had leaked, Without external sound, Each bound the other's Crucifix - We gave no other bond -
Sufficient troth - that we shall rise, Deposed - at length the Grave - To that new marriage - Justified - through Calvaries - of Love!
From the handwriting, it is not always clear which are dashes, which are commas and which are periods, nor it is entirely clear which initial letters are capitalized.
However, this transcription may be compared with the edited version in the main text to get a flavor of the changes made in these early editions.
This is my letter to the world, That never wrote to me, — The simple news that Nature told, With tender majesty.
Her message is committed To hands I cannot see; For love of her, sweet countrymen, Judge tenderly of me!
[Published in "A Masque of Poets" at the request of "H.H.," the author's fellow-townswoman and friend.]
Success is counted sweetest By those who ne'er succeed. To comprehend a nectar Requires sorest need.
Not one of all the purple host Who took the flag to-day Can tell the definition, So clear, of victory,
As he, defeated, dying, On whose forbidden ear The distant strains of triumph Break, agonized and clear!
Our share of night to bear, Our share of morning, Our blank in bliss to fill, Our blank in scorning.
Here a star, and there a star, Some lose their way. Here a mist, and there a mist, Afterwards — day!
ROUGE ET NOIR.
Soul, wilt thou toss again? By just such a hazard Hundreds have lost, indeed, But tens have won an all.
Angels' breathless ballot Lingers to record thee; Imps in eager caucus Raffle for my soul.
'T is so much joy! 'T is so much joy! If I should fail, what poverty! And yet, as poor as I Have ventured all upon a throw; Have gained! Yes! Hesitated so This side the victory!
Life is but life, and death but death! Bliss is but bliss, and breath but breath! And if, indeed, I fail, At least to know the worst is sweet. Defeat means nothing but defeat, No drearier can prevail!
And if I gain, — oh, gun at sea, Oh, bells that in the steeples be, At first repeat it slow! For heaven is a different thing Conjectured, and waked sudden in, And might o'erwhelm me so!
Glee! The great storm is over! Four have recovered the land; Forty gone down together Into the boiling sand.
Ring, for the scant salvation! Toll, for the bonnie souls, — Neighbor and friend and bridegroom, Spinning upon the shoals!
How they will tell the shipwreck When winter shakes the door, Till the children ask, "But the forty? Did they come back no more?"
Then a silence suffuses the story, And a softness the teller's eye; And the children no further question, And only the waves reply.
If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain; If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin Unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.
Within my reach! I could have touched! I might have chanced that way! Soft sauntered through the village, Sauntered as soft away! So unsuspected violets Within the fields lie low, Too late for striving fingers That passed, an hour ago.
A wounded deer leaps highest, I've heard the hunter tell; 'T is but the ecstasy of death, And then the brake is still.
The smitten rock that gushes, The trampled steel that springs; A cheek is always redder Just where the hectic stings!
Mirth is the mail of anguish, In which it cautions arm, Lest anybody spy the blood And "You're hurt" exclaim!
The heart asks pleasure first, And then, excuse from pain; And then, those little anodynes That deaden suffering;
And then, to go to sleep; And then, if it should be The will of its Inquisitor, The liberty to die.
IN A LIBRARY.
A precious, mouldering pleasure 't is To meet an antique book, In just the dress his century wore; A privilege, I think,
His venerable hand to take, And warming in our own, A passage back, or two, to make To times when he was young.
His quaint opinions to inspect, His knowledge to unfold On what concerns our mutual mind, The literature of old;
What interested scholars most, What competitions ran When Plato was a certainty. And Sophocles a man;
When Sappho was a living girl, And Beatrice wore The gown that Dante deified. Facts, centuries before,
He traverses familiar, As one should come to town And tell you all your dreams were true; He lived where dreams were sown.
His presence is enchantment, You beg him not to go; Old volumes shake their vellum heads And tantalize, just so.
Much madness is divinest sense To a discerning eye; Much sense the starkest madness. 'T is the majority In this, as all, prevails. Assent, and you are sane; Demur, — you're straightway dangerous, And handled with a chain. XII.
I asked no other thing, No other was denied. I offered Being for it; The mighty merchant smiled.
Brazil? He twirled a button, Without a glance my way: "But, madam, is there nothing else That we can show to-day?"
The soul selects her own society, Then shuts the door; On her divine majority Obtrude no more.
Unmoved, she notes the chariot's pausing At her low gate; Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling Upon her mat.
I've known her from an ample nation Choose one; Then close the valves of her attention Like stone.
Some things that fly there be, — Birds, hours, the bumble-bee: Of these no elegy.
Some things that stay there be, — Grief, hills, eternity: Nor this behooveth me.
There are, that resting, rise. Can I expound the skies? How still the riddle lies!
THE LONELY HOUSE.
I know some lonely houses off the road A robber 'd like the look of, — Wooden barred, And windows hanging low, Inviting to A portico, Where two could creep: One hand the tools, The other peep To make sure all's asleep. Old-fashioned eyes, Not easy to surprise!
How orderly the kitchen 'd look by night, With just a clock, — But they could gag the tick, And mice won't bark; And so the walls don't tell, None will.
A pair of spectacles ajar just stir — An almanac's aware. Was it the mat winked, Or a nervous star? The moon slides down the stair To see who's there.
There's plunder, — where? Tankard, or spoon, Earring, or stone, A watch, some ancient brooch To match the grandmamma, Staid sleeping there.
Day rattles, too, Stealth's slow; The sun has got as far As the third sycamore. Screams chanticleer, "Who's there?" And echoes, trains away, Sneer — "Where?" While the old couple, just astir, Fancy the sunrise left the door ajar!
To fight aloud is very brave, But gallanter, I know, Who charge within the bosom, The cavalry of woe.
Who win, and nations do not see, Who fall, and none observe, Whose dying eyes no country Regards with patriot love.
We trust, in plumed procession, For such the angels go, Rank after rank, with even feet And uniforms of snow.
When night is almost done, And sunrise grows so near That we can touch the spaces, It 's time to smooth the hair
And get the dimples ready, And wonder we could care For that old faded midnight That frightened but an hour.
THE BOOK OF MARTYRS.
Read, sweet, how others strove, Till we are stouter; What they renounced, Till we are less afraid; How many times they bore The faithful witness, Till we are helped, As if a kingdom cared!
Read then of faith That shone above the fagot; Clear strains of hymn The river could not drown; Brave names of men And celestial women, Passed out of record Into renown!
THE MYSTERY OF PAIN.
Pain has an element of blank; It cannot recollect When it began, or if there were A day when it was not.
It has no future but itself, Its infinite realms contain Its past, enlightened to perceive New periods of pain.
I taste a liquor never brewed, From tankards scooped in pearl; Not all the vats upon the Rhine Yield such an alcohol!
Inebriate of air am I, And debauchee of dew, Reeling, through endless summer days, From inns of molten blue.
When landlords turn the drunken bee Out of the foxglove's door, When butterflies renounce their drams, I shall but drink the more!
Till seraphs swing their snowy hats, And saints to windows run, To see the little tippler Leaning against the sun!
He ate and drank the precious words, His spirit grew robust; He knew no more that he was poor, Nor that his frame was dust. He danced along the dingy days, And this bequest of wings Was but a book. What liberty A loosened spirit brings!
I had no time to hate, because The grave would hinder me, And life was not so ample I Could finish enmity.
Nor had I time to love; but since Some industry must be, The little toil of love, I thought, Was large enough for me.
'T was such a little, little boat That toddled down the bay! 'T was such a gallant, gallant sea That beckoned it away!
'T was such a greedy, greedy wave That licked it from the coast; Nor ever guessed the stately sails My little craft was lost!
Whether my bark went down at sea, Whether she met with gales, Whether to isles enchanted She bent her docile sails;
By what mystic mooring She is held to-day, — This is the errand of the eye Out upon the bay.
Belshazzar had a letter, — He never had but one; Belshazzar's correspondent Concluded and begun In that immortal copy The conscience of us all Can read without its glasses On revelation's wall.
The brain within its groove Runs evenly and true; But let a splinter swerve, 'T were easier for you To put the water back When floods have slit the hills, And scooped a turnpike for themselves, And blotted out the mills!
Mine by the right of the white election! Mine by the royal seal! Mine by the sign in the scarlet prison Bars cannot conceal!
Mine, here in vision and in veto! Mine, by the grave's repeal Titled, confirmed, — delirious charter! Mine, while the ages steal!
You left me, sweet, two legacies, — A legacy of love A Heavenly Father would content, Had He the offer of;
You left me boundaries of pain Capacious as the sea, Between eternity and time, Your consciousness and me.
Alter? When the hills do. Falter? When the sun Question if his glory Be the perfect one.
Surfeit? When the daffodil Doth of the dew: Even as herself, O friend! I will of you!
Elysium is as far as to The very nearest room, If in that room a friend await Felicity or doom.
What fortitude the soul contains, That it can so endure The accent of a coming foot, The opening of a door!
Doubt me, my dim companion! Why, God would be content With but a fraction of the love Poured thee without a stint. The whole of me, forever, What more the woman can, — Say quick, that I may dower thee With last delight I own!
It cannot be my spirit, For that was thine before; I ceded all of dust I knew, — What opulence the more Had I, a humble maiden, Whose farthest of degree Was that she might, Some distant heaven, Dwell timidly with thee!
If you were coming in the fall, I'd brush the summer by With half a smile and half a spurn, As housewives do a fly.
If I could see you in a year, I'd wind the months in balls, And put them each in separate drawers, Until their time befalls.
If only centuries delayed, I'd count them on my hand, Subtracting till my fingers dropped Into Van Diemen's land.
If certain, when this life was out, That yours and mine should be, I'd toss it yonder like a rind, And taste eternity.
But now, all ignorant of the length Of time's uncertain wing, It goads me, like the goblin bee, That will not state its sting.
WITH A FLOWER.
I hide myself within my flower, That wearing on your breast, You, unsuspecting, wear me too — And angels know the rest.
I hide myself within my flower, That, fading from your vase, You, unsuspecting, feel for me Almost a loneliness.
That I did always love, I bring thee proof: That till I loved I did not love enough.
That I shall love alway, I offer thee That love is life, And life hath immortality.
This, dost thou doubt, sweet? Then have I Nothing to show But Calvary.
Have you got a brook in your little heart, Where bashful flowers blow, And blushing birds go down to drink, And shadows tremble so?
And nobody knows, so still it flows, That any brook is there; And yet your little draught of life Is daily drunken there.
Then look out for the little brook in March, When the rivers overflow, And the snows come hurrying from the hills, And the bridges often go.
And later, in August it may be, When the meadows parching lie, Beware, lest this little brook of life Some burning noon go dry!
As if some little Arctic flower, Upon the polar hem, Went wandering down the latitudes, Until it puzzled came To continents of summer, To firmaments of sun, To strange, bright crowds of flowers, And birds of foreign tongue! I say, as if this little flower To Eden wandered in — What then? Why, nothing, only, Your inference therefrom!
My river runs to thee: Blue sea, wilt welcome me?
My river waits reply. Oh sea, look graciously!
I'll fetch thee brooks From spotted nooks, —
Say, sea, Take me!
I cannot live with you, It would be life, And life is over there Behind the shelf
The sexton keeps the key to, Putting up Our life, his porcelain, Like a cup
Discarded of the housewife, Quaint or broken; A newer Sevres pleases, Old ones crack.
I could not die with you, For one must wait To shut the other's gaze down, — You could not.
And I, could I stand by And see you freeze, Without my right of frost, Death's privilege?
Nor could I rise with you, Because your face Would put out Jesus', That new grace
Glow plain and foreign On my homesick eye, Except that you, than he Shone closer by.
They'd judge us — how? For you served Heaven, you know, Or sought to; I could not,
Because you saturated sight, And I had no more eyes For sordid excellence As Paradise.
And were you lost, I would be, Though my name Rang loudest On the heavenly fame.
And were you saved, And I condemned to be Where you were not, That self were hell to me.
So we must keep apart, You there, I here, With just the door ajar That oceans are, And prayer, And that pale sustenance, Despair!
There came a day at summer's full Entirely for me; I thought that such were for the saints, Where revelations be.
The sun, as common, went abroad, The flowers, accustomed, blew, As if no soul the solstice passed That maketh all things new.
The time was scarce profaned by speech; The symbol of a word Was needless, as at sacrament The wardrobe of our Lord.
Each was to each the sealed church, Permitted to commune this time, Lest we too awkward show At supper of the Lamb.
The hours slid fast, as hours will, Clutched tight by greedy hands; So faces on two decks look back, Bound to opposing lands.
And so, when all the time had failed, Without external sound, Each bound the other's crucifix, We gave no other bond.
Sufficient troth that we shall rise — Deposed, at length, the grave — To that new marriage, justified Through Calvaries of Love!
I'm ceded, I've stopped being theirs; The name they dropped upon my face With water, in the country church, Is finished using now, And they can put it with my dolls, My childhood, and the string of spools I've finished threading too.
Baptized before without the choice, But this time consciously, of grace Unto supremest name, Called to my full, the crescent dropped, Existence's whole arc filled up With one small diadem.
My second rank, too small the first, Crowned, crowing on my father's breast, A half unconscious queen; But this time, adequate, erect, With will to choose or to reject. And I choose — just a throne.
'T was a long parting, but the time For interview had come; Before the judgment-seat of God, The last and second time
These fleshless lovers met, A heaven in a gaze, A heaven of heavens, the privilege Of one another's eyes.
No lifetime set on them, Apparelled as the new Unborn, except they had beheld, Born everlasting now.
Was bridal e'er like this? A paradise, the host, And cherubim and seraphim The most familiar guest.
I'm wife; I've finished that, That other state; I'm Czar, I'm woman now: It's safer so.
How odd the girl's life looks Behind this soft eclipse! I think that earth seems so To those in heaven now.
This being comfort, then That other kind was pain; But why compare? I'm wife! stop there!
She rose to his requirement, dropped The playthings of her life To take the honorable work Of woman and of wife.
If aught she missed in her new day Of amplitude, or awe, Or first prospective, or the gold In using wore away,
It lay unmentioned, as the sea Develops pearl and weed, But only to himself is known The fathoms they abide.
Come slowly, Eden! Lips unused to thee, Bashful, sip thy jasmines, As the fainting bee,
Reaching late his flower, Round her chamber hums, Counts his nectars — enters, And is lost in balms!
New feet within my garden go, New fingers stir the sod; A troubadour upon the elm Betrays the solitude.
New children play upon the green, New weary sleep below; And still the pensive spring returns, And still the punctual snow!
Pink, small, and punctual, Aromatic, low, Covert in April, Candid in May,
Dear to the moss, Known by the knoll, Next to the robin In every human soul.
Bold little beauty, Bedecked with thee, Nature forswears Antiquity.
The murmur of a bee A witchcraft yieldeth me. If any ask me why, 'T were easier to die Than tell.
The red upon the hill Taketh away my will; If anybody sneer, Take care, for God is here, That's all.
The breaking of the day Addeth to my degree; If any ask me how, Artist, who drew me so, Must tell!
Perhaps you'd like to buy a flower? But I could never sell. If you would like to borrow Until the daffodil
Unties her yellow bonnet Beneath the village door, Until the bees, from clover rows Their hock and sherry draw,
Why, I will lend until just then, But not an hour more!
The pedigree of honey Does not concern the bee; A clover, any time, to him Is aristocracy.
A SERVICE OF SONG.
Some keep the Sabbath going to church; I keep it staying at home, With a bobolink for a chorister, And an orchard for a dome.
Some keep the Sabbath in surplice; I just wear my wings, And instead of tolling the bell for church, Our little sexton sings.
God preaches, — a noted clergyman, — And the sermon is never long; So instead of getting to heaven at last, I'm going all along!
The bee is not afraid of me, I know the butterfly; The pretty people in the woods Receive me cordially.
The brooks laugh louder when I come, The breezes madder play. Wherefore, mine eyes, thy silver mists? Wherefore, O summer's day?
Some rainbow coming from the fair! Some vision of the world Cashmere I confidently see! Or else a peacock's purple train, Feather by feather, on the plain Fritters itself away!
The dreamy butterflies bestir, Lethargic pools resume the whir Of last year's sundered tune. From some old fortress on the sun Baronial bees march, one by one, In murmuring platoon!
The robins stand as thick to-day As flakes of snow stood yesterday, On fence and roof and twig. The orchis binds her feather on For her old lover, Don the Sun, Revisiting the bog!
Without commander, countless, still, The regiment of wood and hill In bright detachment stand. Behold! Whose multitudes are these? The children of whose turbaned seas, Or what Circassian land?
The grass so little has to do, — A sphere of simple green, With only butterflies to brood, And bees to entertain,
And stir all day to pretty tunes The breezes fetch along, And hold the sunshine in its lap And bow to everything;
And thread the dews all night, like pearls, And make itself so fine, — A duchess were too common For such a noticing.
And even when it dies, to pass In odors so divine, As lowly spices gone to sleep, Or amulets of pine.
And then to dwell in sovereign barns, And dream the days away, — The grass so little has to do, I wish I were the hay!
A little road not made of man, Enabled of the eye, Accessible to thill of bee, Or cart of butterfly.
If town it have, beyond itself, 'T is that I cannot say; I only sigh, — no vehicle Bears me along that way.
A drop fell on the apple tree, Another on the roof; A half a dozen kissed the eaves, And made the gables laugh.
A few went out to help the brook, That went to help the sea. Myself conjectured, Were they pearls, What necklaces could be!
The dust replaced in hoisted roads, The birds jocoser sung; The sunshine threw his hat away, The orchards spangles hung.
The breezes brought dejected lutes, And bathed them in the glee; The East put out a single flag, And signed the fete away.
PSALM OF THE DAY.
A something in a summer's day, As slow her flambeaux burn away, Which solemnizes me.
A something in a summer's noon, — An azure depth, a wordless tune, Transcending ecstasy.
And still within a summer's night A something so transporting bright, I clap my hands to see;
Then veil my too inspecting face, Lest such a subtle, shimmering grace Flutter too far for me.
The wizard-fingers never rest, The purple brook within the breast Still chafes its narrow bed;
Still rears the East her amber flag, Guides still the sun along the crag His caravan of red,
Like flowers that heard the tale of dews, But never deemed the dripping prize Awaited their low brows;
Or bees, that thought the summer's name Some rumor of delirium No summer could for them;
Or Arctic creature, dimly stirred By tropic hint, — some travelled bird Imported to the wood;
Or wind's bright signal to the ear, Making that homely and severe, Contented, known, before
The heaven unexpected came, To lives that thought their worshipping A too presumptuous psalm.
THE SEA OF SUNSET.
This is the land the sunset washes, These are the banks of the Yellow Sea; Where it rose, or whither it rushes, These are the western mystery!
Night after night her purple traffic Strews the landing with opal bales; Merchantmen poise upon horizons, Dip, and vanish with fairy sails.
There is a flower that bees prefer, And butterflies desire; To gain the purple democrat The humming-birds aspire.
And whatsoever insect pass, A honey bears away Proportioned to his several dearth And her capacity.
Her face is rounder than the moon, And ruddier than the gown Of orchis in the pasture, Or rhododendron worn.
She doth not wait for June; Before the world is green Her sturdy little countenance Against the wind is seen,
Contending with the grass, Near kinsman to herself, For privilege of sod and sun, Sweet litigants for life.
And when the hills are full, And newer fashions blow, Doth not retract a single spice For pang of jealousy.
Her public is the noon, Her providence the sun, Her progress by the bee proclaimed In sovereign, swerveless tune.
The bravest of the host, Surrendering the last, Nor even of defeat aware When cancelled by the frost.
Like trains of cars on tracks of plush I hear the level bee: A jar across the flowers goes, Their velvet masonry
Withstands until the sweet assault Their chivalry consumes, While he, victorious, tilts away To vanquish other blooms.
His feet are shod with gauze, His helmet is of gold; His breast, a single onyx With chrysoprase, inlaid.
His labor is a chant, His idleness a tune; Oh, for a bee's experience Of clovers and of noon!
Presentiment is that long shadow on the lawn Indicative that suns go down; The notice to the startled grass That darkness is about to pass.
As children bid the guest good-night, And then reluctant turn, My flowers raise their pretty lips, Then put their nightgowns on.
As children caper when they wake, Merry that it is morn, My flowers from a hundred cribs Will peep, and prance again.
Angels in the early morning May be seen the dews among, Stooping, plucking, smiling, flying: Do the buds to them belong?
Angels when the sun is hottest May be seen the sands among, Stooping, plucking, sighing, flying; Parched the flowers they bear along.
So bashful when I spied her, So pretty, so ashamed! So hidden in her leaflets, Lest anybody find;
So breathless till I passed her, So helpless when I turned And bore her, struggling, blushing, Her simple haunts beyond!
For whom I robbed the dingle, For whom betrayed the dell, Many will doubtless ask me, But I shall never tell!
It makes no difference abroad, The seasons fit the same, The mornings blossom into noons, And split their pods of flame.
Wild-flowers kindle in the woods, The brooks brag all the day; No blackbird bates his jargoning For passing Calvary.
Auto-da-fe and judgment Are nothing to the bee; His separation from his rose To him seems misery.
The mountain sat upon the plain In his eternal chair, His observation omnifold, His inquest everywhere.
The seasons prayed around his knees, Like children round a sire: Grandfather of the days is he, Of dawn the ancestor.
I'll tell you how the sun rose, — A ribbon at a time. The steeples swam in amethyst, The news like squirrels ran.
The hills untied their bonnets, The bobolinks begun. Then I said softly to myself, "That must have been the sun!"
* * *
But how he set, I know not. There seemed a purple stile Which little yellow boys and girls Were climbing all the while
Till when they reached the other side, A dominie in gray Put gently up the evening bars, And led the flock away.
The butterfly's assumption-gown, In chrysoprase apartments hung, This afternoon put on.
How condescending to descend, And be of buttercups the friend In a New England town!
Of all the sounds despatched abroad, There's not a charge to me Like that old measure in the boughs, That phraseless melody
The wind does, working like a hand Whose fingers brush the sky, Then quiver down, with tufts of tune Permitted gods and me.
When winds go round and round in bands, And thrum upon the door, And birds take places overhead, To bear them orchestra,
I crave him grace, of summer boughs, If such an outcast be, He never heard that fleshless chant Rise solemn in the tree,
As if some caravan of sound On deserts, in the sky, Had broken rank, Then knit, and passed In seamless company.
DEATH AND LIFE.
Apparently with no surprise To any happy flower, The frost beheads it at its play In accidental power. The blond assassin passes on, The sun proceeds unmoved To measure off another day For an approving God.
'T WAS later when the summer went Than when the cricket came, And yet we knew that gentle clock Meant nought but going home.
'T was sooner when the cricket went Than when the winter came, Yet that pathetic pendulum Keeps esoteric time.
These are the days when birds come back, A very few, a bird or two, To take a backward look.
These are the days when skies put on The old, old sophistries of June, — A blue and gold mistake.
Oh, fraud that cannot cheat the bee, Almost thy plausibility Induces my belief,
Till ranks of seeds their witness bear, And softly through the altered air Hurries a timid leaf!
Oh, sacrament of summer days, Oh, last communion in the haze, Permit a child to join,
Thy sacred emblems to partake, Thy consecrated bread to break, Taste thine immortal wine!
The morns are meeker than they were, The nuts are getting brown; The berry's cheek is plumper, The rose is out of town.
The maple wears a gayer scarf, The field a scarlet gown. Lest I should be old-fashioned, I'll put a trinket on.
The sky is low, the clouds are mean, A travelling flake of snow Across a barn or through a rut Debates if it will go.
A narrow wind complains all day How some one treated him; Nature, like us, is sometimes caught Without her diadem.
I think the hemlock likes to stand Upon a marge of snow; It suits his own austerity, And satisfies an awe
That men must slake in wilderness, Or in the desert cloy, — An instinct for the hoar, the bald, Lapland's necessity.
The hemlock's nature thrives on cold; The gnash of northern winds Is sweetest nutriment to him, His best Norwegian wines.
To satin races he is nought; But children on the Don Beneath his tabernacles play, And Dnieper wrestlers run.
There's a certain slant of light, On winter afternoons, That oppresses, like the weight Of cathedral tunes.
Heavenly hurt it gives us; We can find no scar, But internal difference Where the meanings are.
None may teach it anything, ' T is the seal, despair, — An imperial affliction Sent us of the air.
When it comes, the landscape listens, Shadows hold their breath; When it goes, 't is like the distance On the look of death.
IV. TIME AND ETERNITY.
One dignity delays for all, One mitred afternoon. None can avoid this purple, None evade this crown.
Coach it insures, and footmen, Chamber and state and throng; Bells, also, in the village, As we ride grand along.
What dignified attendants, What service when we pause! How loyally at parting Their hundred hats they raise!
How pomp surpassing ermine, When simple you and I Present our meek escutcheon, And claim the rank to die!
Delayed till she had ceased to know, Delayed till in its vest of snow Her loving bosom lay. An hour behind the fleeting breath, Later by just an hour than death, — Oh, lagging yesterday!
Could she have guessed that it would be; Could but a crier of the glee Have climbed the distant hill; Had not the bliss so slow a pace, — Who knows but this surrendered face Were undefeated still?
Oh, if there may departing be Any forgot by victory In her imperial round, Show them this meek apparelled thing, That could not stop to be a king, Doubtful if it be crowned!
Departed to the judgment, A mighty afternoon; Great clouds like ushers leaning, Creation looking on.
The flesh surrendered, cancelled, The bodiless begun; Two worlds, like audiences, disperse And leave the soul alone.
Safe in their alabaster chambers, Untouched by morning and untouched by noon, Sleep the meek members of the resurrection, Rafter of satin, and roof of stone.
Light laughs the breeze in her castle of sunshine; Babbles the bee in a stolid ear; Pipe the sweet birds in ignorant cadence, — Ah, what sagacity perished here!
Grand go the years in the crescent above them; Worlds scoop their arcs, and firmaments row, Diadems drop and Doges surrender, Soundless as dots on a disk of snow.
On this long storm the rainbow rose, On this late morn the sun; The clouds, like listless elephants, Horizons straggled down.
The birds rose smiling in their nests, The gales indeed were done; Alas! how heedless were the eyes On whom the summer shone!
The quiet nonchalance of death No daybreak can bestir; The slow archangel's syllables Must awaken her.
FROM THE CHRYSALIS.
My cocoon tightens, colors tease, I'm feeling for the air; A dim capacity for wings Degrades the dress I wear.
A power of butterfly must be The aptitude to fly, Meadows of majesty concedes And easy sweeps of sky.
So I must baffle at the hint And cipher at the sign, And make much blunder, if at last I take the clew divine.
Exultation is the going Of an inland soul to sea, — Past the houses, past the headlands, Into deep eternity!
Bred as we, among the mountains, Can the sailor understand The divine intoxication Of the first league out from land?
Look back on time with kindly eyes, He doubtless did his best; How softly sinks his trembling sun In human nature's west!
A train went through a burial gate, A bird broke forth and sang, And trilled, and quivered, and shook his throat Till all the churchyard rang;
And then adjusted his little notes, And bowed and sang again. Doubtless, he thought it meet of him To say good-by to men.
I died for beauty, but was scarce Adjusted in the tomb, When one who died for truth was lain In an adjoining room.
He questioned softly why I failed? "For beauty," I replied. "And I for truth, — the two are one; We brethren are," he said.
And so, as kinsmen met a night, We talked between the rooms, Until the moss had reached our lips, And covered up our names.
"TROUBLED ABOUT MANY THINGS."
How many times these low feet staggered, Only the soldered mouth can tell; Try! can you stir the awful rivet? Try! can you lift the hasps of steel?
Stroke the cool forehead, hot so often, Lift, if you can, the listless hair; Handle the adamantine fingers Never a thimble more shall wear.
Buzz the dull flies on the chamber window; Brave shines the sun through the freckled pane; Fearless the cobweb swings from the ceiling — Indolent housewife, in daisies lain!
I like a look of agony, Because I know it 's true; Men do not sham convulsion, Nor simulate a throe.
The eyes glaze once, and that is death. Impossible to feign The beads upon the forehead By homely anguish strung.
That short, potential stir That each can make but once, That bustle so illustrious 'T is almost consequence,
Is the eclat of death. Oh, thou unknown renown That not a beggar would accept, Had he the power to spurn!
I went to thank her, But she slept; Her bed a funnelled stone, With nosegays at the head and foot, That travellers had thrown,
Who went to thank her; But she slept. 'T was short to cross the sea To look upon her like, alive, But turning back 't was slow.
I've seen a dying eye Run round and round a room In search of something, as it seemed, Then cloudier become; And then, obscure with fog, And then be soldered down, Without disclosing what it be, 'T were blessed to have seen.
The clouds their backs together laid, The north begun to push, The forests galloped till they fell, The lightning skipped like mice; The thunder crumbled like a stuff — How good to be safe in tombs, Where nature's temper cannot reach, Nor vengeance ever comes!
I never saw a moor, I never saw the sea; Yet know I how the heather looks, And what a wave must be.
I never spoke with God, Nor visited in heaven; Yet certain am I of the spot As if the chart were given.
God permits industrious angels Afternoons to play. I met one, — forgot my school-mates, All, for him, straightway.
God calls home the angels promptly At the setting sun; I missed mine. How dreary marbles, After playing Crown!
To know just how he suffered would be dear; To know if any human eyes were near To whom he could intrust his wavering gaze, Until it settled firm on Paradise.
To know if he was patient, part content, Was dying as he thought, or different; Was it a pleasant day to die, And did the sunshine face his way?
What was his furthest mind, of home, or God, Or what the distant say At news that he ceased human nature On such a day?
And wishes, had he any? Just his sigh, accented, Had been legible to me. And was he confident until Ill fluttered out in everlasting well?
And if he spoke, what name was best, What first, What one broke off with At the drowsiest?
Was he afraid, or tranquil? Might he know How conscious consciousness could grow, Till love that was, and love too blest to be, Meet — and the junction be Eternity?
The last night that she lived, It was a common night, Except the dying; this to us Made nature different.
We noticed smallest things, — Things overlooked before, By this great light upon our minds Italicized, as 't were.
That others could exist While she must finish quite, A jealousy for her arose So nearly infinite.
We waited while she passed; It was a narrow time, Too jostled were our souls to speak, At length the notice came.
She mentioned, and forgot; Then lightly as a reed Bent to the water, shivered scarce, Consented, and was dead.
And we, we placed the hair, And drew the head erect; And then an awful leisure was, Our faith to regulate.
THE FIRST LESSON.
Not in this world to see his face Sounds long, until I read the place Where this is said to be But just the primer to a life Unopened, rare, upon the shelf, Clasped yet to him and me.
And yet, my primer suits me so I would not choose a book to know Than that, be sweeter wise; Might some one else so learned be, And leave me just my A B C, Himself could have the skies.
The bustle in a house The morning after death Is solemnest of industries Enacted upon earth, —
The sweeping up the heart, And putting love away We shall not want to use again Until eternity.
I reason, earth is short, And anguish absolute, And many hurt; But what of that?
I reason, we could die: The best vitality Cannot excel decay; But what of that?
I reason that in heaven Somehow, it will be even, Some new equation given; But what of that?
Afraid? Of whom am I afraid? Not death; for who is he? The porter of my father's lodge As much abasheth me.
Of life? 'T were odd I fear a thing That comprehendeth me In one or more existences At Deity's decree.
Of resurrection? Is the east Afraid to trust the morn With her fastidious forehead? As soon impeach my crown!
The sun kept setting, setting still; No hue of afternoon Upon the village I perceived, — From house to house 't was noon.
The dusk kept dropping, dropping still; No dew upon the grass, But only on my forehead stopped, And wandered in my face.
My feet kept drowsing, drowsing still, My fingers were awake; Yet why so little sound myself Unto my seeming make?
How well I knew the light before! I could not see it now. 'T is dying, I am doing; but I'm not afraid to know.
Two swimmers wrestled on the spar Until the morning sun, When one turned smiling to the land. O God, the other one!
The stray ships passing spied a face Upon the waters borne, With eyes in death still begging raised, And hands beseeching thrown.
Because I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me; The carriage held but just ourselves And Immortality.
We slowly drove, he knew no haste, And I had put away My labor, and my leisure too, For his civility.
We passed the school where children played, Their lessons scarcely done; We passed the fields of gazing grain, We passed the setting sun.
We paused before a house that seemed A swelling of the ground; The roof was scarcely visible, The cornice but a mound.
Since then 't is centuries; but each Feels shorter than the day I first surmised the horses' heads Were toward eternity.
She went as quiet as the dew From a familiar flower. Not like the dew did she return At the accustomed hour!
She dropt as softly as a star From out my summer's eve; Less skilful than Leverrier It's sorer to believe!
At last to be identified! At last, the lamps upon thy side, The rest of life to see! Past midnight, past the morning star! Past sunrise! Ah! what leagues there are Between our feet and day!
Except to heaven, she is nought; Except for angels, lone; Except to some wide-wandering bee, A flower superfluous blown;
Except for winds, provincial; Except by butterflies, Unnoticed as a single dew That on the acre lies.
The smallest housewife in the grass, Yet take her from the lawn, And somebody has lost the face That made existence home!
Death is a dialogue between The spirit and the dust. "Dissolve," says Death. The Spirit, "Sir, I have another trust."
Death doubts it, argues from the ground. The Spirit turns away, Just laying off, for evidence, An overcoat of clay.
It was too late for man, But early yet for God; Creation impotent to help, But prayer remained our side.
How excellent the heaven, When earth cannot be had; How hospitable, then, the face Of our old neighbor, God!
ALONG THE POTOMAC.
When I was small, a woman died. To-day her only boy Went up from the Potomac, His face all victory,
To look at her; how slowly The seasons must have turned Till bullets clipt an angle, And he passed quickly round!
If pride shall be in Paradise I never can decide; Of their imperial conduct, No person testified.
But proud in apparition, That woman and her boy Pass back and forth before my brain, As ever in the sky.
The daisy follows soft the sun, And when his golden walk is done, Sits shyly at his feet. He, waking, finds the flower near. "Wherefore, marauder, art thou here?" "Because, sir, love is sweet!"
We are the flower, Thou the sun! Forgive us, if as days decline, We nearer steal to Thee, — Enamoured of the parting west, The peace, the flight, the amethyst, Night's possibility!
No rack can torture me, My soul's at liberty Behind this mortal bone There knits a bolder one
You cannot prick with saw, Nor rend with scymitar. Two bodies therefore be; Bind one, and one will flee.
The eagle of his nest No easier divest And gain the sky, Than mayest thou,
Except thyself may be Thine enemy; Captivity is consciousness, So's liberty.
I lost a world the other day. Has anybody found? You'll know it by the row of stars Around its forehead bound.
A rich man might not notice it; Yet to my frugal eye Of more esteem than ducats. Oh, find it, sir, for me!
If I shouldn't be alive When the robins come, Give the one in red cravat A memorial crumb.
If I couldn't thank you, Being just asleep, You will know I'm trying With my granite lip!
Sleep is supposed to be, By souls of sanity, The shutting of the eye.
Sleep is the station grand Down which on either hand The hosts of witness stand!
Morn is supposed to be, By people of degree, The breaking of the day.
Morning has not occurred! That shall aurora be East of eternity;
One with the banner gay, One in the red array, — That is the break of day.
I shall know why, when time is over, And I have ceased to wonder why; Christ will explain each separate anguish In the fair schoolroom of the sky.
He will tell me what Peter promised, And I, for wonder at his woe, I shall forget the drop of anguish That scalds me now, that scalds me now.
I never lost as much but twice, And that was in the sod; Twice have I stood a beggar Before the door of God!
Angels, twice descending, Reimbursed my store. Burglar, banker, father, I am poor once more!
by EMILY DICKINSON
Edited by two of her friends
MABEL LOOMIS TODD and T.W. HIGGINSON
The eagerness with which the first volume of Emily Dickinson's poems has been read shows very clearly that all our alleged modern artificiality does not prevent a prompt appreciation of the qualities of directness and simplicity in approaching the greatest themes,—life and love and death. That "irresistible needle-touch," as one of her best critics has called it, piercing at once the very core of a thought, has found a response as wide and sympathetic as it has been unexpected even to those who knew best her compelling power. This second volume, while open to the same criticism as to form with its predecessor, shows also the same shining beauties.
Although Emily Dickinson had been in the habit of sending occasional poems to friends and correspondents, the full extent of her writing was by no means imagined by them. Her friend "H.H." must at least have suspected it, for in a letter dated 5th September, 1884, she wrote:—
MY DEAR FRIEND,— What portfolios full of verses you must have! It is a cruel wrong to your "day and generation" that you will not give them light.
If such a thing should happen as that I should outlive you, I wish you would make me your literary legatee and executor. Surely after you are what is called "dead" you will be willing that the poor ghosts you have left behind should be cheered and pleased by your verses, will you not? You ought to be. I do not think we have a right to withhold from the world a word or a thought any more than a deed which might help a single soul. . . .
The "portfolios" were found, shortly after Emily Dickinson's death, by her sister and only surviving housemate. Most of the poems had been carefully copied on sheets of note-paper, and tied in little fascicules, each of six or eight sheets. While many of them bear evidence of having been thrown off at white heat, still more had received thoughtful revision. There is the frequent addition of rather perplexing foot-notes, affording large choice of words and phrases. And in the copies which she sent to friends, sometimes one form, sometimes another, is found to have been used. Without important exception, her friends have generously placed at the disposal of the Editors any poems they had received from her; and these have given the obvious advantage of comparison among several renderings of the same verse.
To what further rigorous pruning her verses would have been subjected had she published them herself, we cannot know. They should be regarded in many cases as merely the first strong and suggestive sketches of an artist, intended to be embodied at some time in the finished picture.
Emily Dickinson appears to have written her first poems in the winter of 1862. In a letter to oone of the present Editors the April following, she says, "I made no verse, but one or two, until this winter."
The handwriting was at first somewhat like the delicate, running Italian hand of our elder gentlewomen; but as she advanced in breadth of thought, it grew bolder and more abrupt, until in her latest years each letter stood distinct and separate from its fellows. In most of her poems, particularly the later ones, everything by way of punctuation was discarded, except numerous dashes; and all important words began with capitals. The effect of a page of her more recent manuscript is exceedingly quaint and strong. The fac-simile given in the present volume is from one of the earlier transition periods. Although there is nowhere a date, the handwriting makes it possible to arrange the poems with general chronologic accuracy.
As a rule, the verses were without titles; but "A Country Burial," "A Thunder-Storm," "The Humming-Bird," and a few others were named by their author, frequently at the end,—sometimes only in the accompanying note, if sent to a friend.
The variation of readings, with the fact that she often wrote in pencil and not always clearly, have at times thrown a good deal of responsibility upon her Editors. But all interference not absolutely inevitable has been avoided. The very roughness of her rendering is part of herself, and not lightly to be touched; for it seems in many cases that she intentionally avoided the smoother and more usual rhymes.
Like impressionist pictures, or Wagner's rugged music, the very absence of conventional form challenges attention. In Emily Dickinson's exacting hands, the especial, intrinsic fitness of a particular order of words might not be sacrificed to anything virtually extrinsic; and her verses all show a strange cadence of inner rhythmical music. Lines are always daringly constructed, and the "thought-rhyme" appears frequently,—appealing, indeed, to an unrecognized sense more elusive than hearing.
Emily Dickinson scrutinized everything with clear-eyed frankness. Every subject was proper ground for legitimate study, even the sombre facts of death and burial, and the unknown life beyond. She touches these themes sometimes lightly, sometimes almost humorously, more often with weird and peculiar power; but she is never by any chance frivolous or trivial. And while, as one critic has said, she may exhibit toward God "an Emersonian self-possession," it was because she looked upon all life with a candor as unprejudiced as it is rare.
She had tried society and the world, and found them lacking. She was not an invalid, and she lived in seclusion from no love-disappointment. Her life was the normal blossoming of a nature introspective to a high degree, whose best thought could not exist in pretence.
Storm, wind, the wild March sky, sunsets and dawns; the birds and bees, butterflies and flowers of her garden, with a few trusted human friends, were sufficient companionship. The coming of the first robin was a jubilee beyond crowning of monarch or birthday of pope; the first red leaf hurrying through "the altered air," an epoch. Immortality was close about her; and while never morbid or melancholy, she lived in its presence.
MABEL LOOMIS TODD.
AMHERST, MASSACHUSETTS, August, I891.
My nosegays are for captives; Dim, long-expectant eyes, Fingers denied the plucking, Patient till paradise,
To such, if they should whisper Of morning and the moor, They bear no other errand, And I, no other prayer.
I'm nobody! Who are you? Are you nobody, too? Then there 's a pair of us — don't tell! They 'd banish us, you know.
How dreary to be somebody! How public, like a frog To tell your name the livelong day To an admiring bog!
I bring an unaccustomed wine To lips long parching, next to mine, And summon them to drink.
Crackling with fever, they essay; I turn my brimming eyes away, And come next hour to look.
The hands still hug the tardy glass; The lips I would have cooled, alas! Are so superfluous cold,
I would as soon attempt to warm The bosoms where the frost has lain Ages beneath the mould.
Some other thirsty there may be To whom this would have pointed me Had it remained to speak.
And so I always bear the cup If, haply, mine may be the drop Some pilgrim thirst to slake, —
If, haply, any say to me, "Unto the little, unto me," When I at last awake.
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 That brews that rare variety.
We play at paste, Till qualified for pearl, Then drop the paste, And deem ourself a fool. The shapes, though, were similar, And our new hands Learned gem-tactics Practising sands.
I found the phrase to every thought I ever had, but one; And that defies me, — as a hand Did try to chalk the sun
To races nurtured in the dark; — How would your own begin? Can blaze be done in cochineal, Or noon in mazarin?
Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul, And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard; And sore must be the storm That could abash the little bird That kept so many warm.
I 've heard it in the chillest land, And on the strangest sea; Yet, never, in extremity, It asked a crumb of me.
THE WHITE HEAT.
Dare you see a soul at the white heat? Then crouch within the door. Red is the fire's common tint; But when the vivid ore
Has sated flame's conditions, Its quivering substance plays Without a color but the light Of unanointed blaze.
Least village boasts its blacksmith, Whose anvil's even din Stands symbol for the finer forge That soundless tugs within,
Refining these impatient ores With hammer and with blaze, Until the designated light Repudiate the forge.
Who never lost, are unprepared A coronet to find; Who never thirsted, flagons And cooling tamarind.
Who never climbed the weary league — Can such a foot explore The purple territories On Pizarro's shore?
How many legions overcome? The emperor will say. How many colors taken On Revolution Day?
How many bullets bearest? The royal scar hast thou? Angels, write "Promoted" On this soldier's brow!
I can wade grief, Whole pools of it, — I 'm used to that. But the least push of joy Breaks up my feet, And I tip — drunken. Let no pebble smile, 'T was the new liquor, — That was all!
Power is only pain, Stranded, through discipline, Till weights will hang. Give balm to giants, And they 'll wilt, like men. Give Himmaleh, — They 'll carry him!
I never hear the word "escape" Without a quicker blood, A sudden expectation, A flying attitude.
I never hear of prisons broad By soldiers battered down, But I tug childish at my bars, — Only to fail again!
For each ecstatic instant We must an anguish pay In keen and quivering ratio To the ecstasy.
For each beloved hour Sharp pittances of years, Bitter contested farthings And coffers heaped with tears.
Through the straight pass of suffering The martyrs even trod, Their feet upon temptation, Their faces upon God.
A stately, shriven company; Convulsion playing round, Harmless as streaks of meteor Upon a planet's bound.
Their faith the everlasting troth; Their expectation fair; The needle to the north degree Wades so, through polar air.
I meant to have but modest needs, Such as content, and heaven; Within my income these could lie, And life and I keep even.
But since the last included both, It would suffice my prayer But just for one to stipulate, And grace would grant the pair.
And so, upon this wise I prayed, — Great Spirit, give to me A heaven not so large as yours, But large enough for me.
A smile suffused Jehovah's face; The cherubim withdrew; Grave saints stole out to look at me, And showed their dimples, too.
I left the place with all my might, — My prayer away I threw; The quiet ages picked it up, And Judgment twinkled, too,
That one so honest be extant As take the tale for true That "Whatsoever you shall ask, Itself be given you."
But I, grown shrewder, scan the skies With a suspicious air, — As children, swindled for the first, All swindlers be, infer.
The thought beneath so slight a film Is more distinctly seen, — As laces just reveal the surge, Or mists the Apennine.
The soul unto itself Is an imperial friend, — Or the most agonizing spy An enemy could send.
Secure against its own, No treason it can fear; Itself its sovereign, of itself The soul should stand in awe.
Surgeons must be very careful When they take the knife! Underneath their fine incisions Stirs the culprit, — Life!
THE RAILWAY TRAIN.
I like to see it lap the miles, And lick the valleys up, And stop to feed itself at tanks; And then, prodigious, step
Around a pile of mountains, And, supercilious, peer In shanties by the sides of roads; And then a quarry pare
To fit its sides, and crawl between, Complaining all the while In horrid, hooting stanza; Then chase itself down hill
And neigh like Boanerges; Then, punctual as a star, Stop — docile and omnipotent — At its own stable door.
The show is not the show, But they that go. Menagerie to me My neighbor be. Fair play — Both went to see.
Delight becomes pictorial When viewed through pain, — More fair, because impossible That any gain.
The mountain at a given distance In amber lies; Approached, the amber flits a little, — And that 's the skies!
A thought went up my mind to-day That I have had before, But did not finish, — some way back, I could not fix the year,
Nor where it went, nor why it came The second time to me, Nor definitely what it was, Have I the art to say.
But somewhere in my soul, I know I 've met the thing before; It just reminded me — 't was all — And came my way no more.
Is Heaven a physician? They say that He can heal; But medicine posthumous Is unavailable.
Is Heaven an exchequer? They speak of what we owe; But that negotiation I 'm not a party to.
Though I get home how late, how late! So I get home, 't will compensate. Better will be the ecstasy That they have done expecting me, When, night descending, dumb and dark, They hear my unexpected knock. Transporting must the moment be, Brewed from decades of agony!
To think just how the fire will burn, Just how long-cheated eyes will turn To wonder what myself will say, And what itself will say to me, Beguiles the centuries of way!
A poor torn heart, a tattered heart, That sat it down to rest, Nor noticed that the ebbing day Flowed silver to the west, Nor noticed night did soft descend Nor constellation burn, Intent upon the vision Of latitudes unknown.
The angels, happening that way, This dusty heart espied; Tenderly took it up from toil And carried it to God. There, — sandals for the barefoot; There, — gathered from the gales, Do the blue havens by the hand Lead the wandering sails.
I should have been too glad, I see, Too lifted for the scant degree Of life's penurious round; My little circuit would have shamed This new circumference, have blamed The homelier time behind.
I should have been too saved, I see, Too rescued; fear too dim to me That I could spell the prayer I knew so perfect yesterday, — That scalding one, "Sabachthani," Recited fluent here.
Earth would have been too much, I see, And heaven not enough for me; I should have had the joy Without the fear to justify, — The palm without the Calvary; So, Saviour, crucify.
Defeat whets victory, they say; The reefs in old Gethsemane Endear the shore beyond. 'T is beggars banquets best define; 'T is thirsting vitalizes wine, — Faith faints to understand.
It tossed and tossed, — A little brig I knew, — O'ertook by blast, It spun and spun, And groped delirious, for morn.
It slipped and slipped, As one that drunken stepped; Its white foot tripped, Then dropped from sight.
Ah, brig, good-night To crew and you; The ocean's heart too smooth, too blue, To break for you.
Victory comes late, And is held low to freezing lips Too rapt with frost To take it. How sweet it would have tasted, Just a drop! Was God so economical? His table 's spread too high for us Unless we dine on tip-toe. Crumbs fit such little mouths, Cherries suit robins; The eagle's golden breakfast Strangles them. God keeps his oath to sparrows, Who of little love Know how to starve!
God gave a loaf to every bird, But just a crumb to me; I dare not eat it, though I starve, — My poignant luxury To own it, touch it, prove the feat That made the pellet mine, — Too happy in my sparrow chance For ampler coveting.
It might be famine all around, I could not miss an ear, Such plenty smiles upon my board, My garner shows so fair. I wonder how the rich may feel, — An Indiaman — an Earl? I deem that I with but a crumb Am sovereign of them all.
Experiment to me Is every one I meet. If it contain a kernel? The figure of a nut
Presents upon a tree, Equally plausibly; But meat within is requisite, To squirrels and to me.
MY COUNTRY'S WARDROBE.
My country need not change her gown, Her triple suit as sweet As when 't was cut at Lexington, And first pronounced "a fit."
Great Britain disapproves "the stars;" Disparagement discreet, — There 's something in their attitude That taunts her bayonet.
Faith is a fine invention For gentlemen who see; But microscopes are prudent In an emergency!
Except the heaven had come so near, So seemed to choose my door, The distance would not haunt me so; I had not hoped before.
But just to hear the grace depart I never thought to see, Afflicts me with a double loss; 'T is lost, and lost to me.
Portraits are to daily faces As an evening west To a fine, pedantic sunshine In a satin vest.
I took my power in my hand. And went against the world; 'T was not so much as David had, But I was twice as bold.
I aimed my pebble, but myself Was all the one that fell. Was it Goliath was too large, Or only I too small?
A shady friend for torrid days Is easier to find Than one of higher temperature For frigid hour of mind.
The vane a little to the east Scares muslin souls away; If broadcloth breasts are firmer Than those of organdy,
Who is to blame? The weaver? Ah! the bewildering thread! The tapestries of paradise So notelessly are made!
Each life converges to some centre Expressed or still; Exists in every human nature A goal,
Admitted scarcely to itself, it may be, Too fair For credibility's temerity To dare.
Adored with caution, as a brittle heaven, To reach Were hopeless as the rainbow's raiment To touch,
Yet persevered toward, surer for the distance; How high Unto the saints' slow diligence The sky!
Ungained, it may be, by a life's low venture, But then, Eternity enables the endeavoring Again.
Before I got my eye put out, I liked as well to see As other creatures that have eyes, And know no other way.
But were it told to me, to-day, That I might have the sky For mine, I tell you that my heart Would split, for size of me.
The meadows mine, the mountains mine, — All forests, stintless stars, As much of noon as I could take Between my finite eyes.
The motions of the dipping birds, The lightning's jointed road, For mine to look at when I liked, — The news would strike me dead!
So safer, guess, with just my soul Upon the window-pane Where other creatures put their eyes, Incautious of the sun.
Talk with prudence to a beggar Of 'Potosi' and the mines! Reverently to the hungry Of your viands and your wines!
Cautious, hint to any captive You have passed enfranchised feet! Anecdotes of air in dungeons Have sometimes proved deadly sweet!
He preached upon "breadth" till it argued him narrow, — The broad are too broad to define; And of "truth" until it proclaimed him a liar, — The truth never flaunted a sign.
Simplicity fled from his counterfeit presence As gold the pyrites would shun. What confusion would cover the innocent Jesus To meet so enabled a man!
Good night! which put the candle out? A jealous zephyr, not a doubt. Ah! friend, you little knew How long at that celestial wick The angels labored diligent; Extinguished, now, for you!
It might have been the lighthouse spark Some sailor, rowing in the dark, Had importuned to see! It might have been the waning lamp That lit the drummer from the camp To purer reveille!
When I hoped I feared, Since I hoped I dared; Everywhere alone As a church remain; Spectre cannot harm, Serpent cannot charm; He deposes doom, Who hath suffered him.
A deed knocks first at thought, And then it knocks at will. That is the manufacturing spot, And will at home and well.
It then goes out an act, Or is entombed so still That only to the ear of God Its doom is audible.
Mine enemy is growing old, — I have at last revenge. The palate of the hate departs; If any would avenge, —
Let him be quick, the viand flits, It is a faded meat. Anger as soon as fed is dead; 'T is starving makes it fat.
Remorse is memory awake, Her companies astir, — A presence of departed acts At window and at door.
It's past set down before the soul, And lighted with a match, Perusal to facilitate Of its condensed despatch.
Remorse is cureless, — the disease Not even God can heal; For 't is his institution, — The complement of hell.
The body grows outside, — The more convenient way, — That if the spirit like to hide, Its temple stands alway
Ajar, secure, inviting; It never did betray The soul that asked its shelter In timid honesty.
Undue significance a starving man attaches To food Far off; he sighs, and therefore hopeless, And therefore good.
Partaken, it relieves indeed, but proves us That spices fly In the receipt. It was the distance Was savory.
Heart not so heavy as mine, Wending late home, As it passed my window Whistled itself a tune, —
A careless snatch, a ballad, A ditty of the street; Yet to my irritated ear An anodyne so sweet,
It was as if a bobolink, Sauntering this way, Carolled and mused and carolled, Then bubbled slow away.
It was as if a chirping brook Upon a toilsome way Set bleeding feet to minuets Without the knowing why.
To-morrow, night will come again, Weary, perhaps, and sore. Ah, bugle, by my window, I pray you stroll once more!
I many times thought peace had come, When peace was far away; As wrecked men deem they sight the land At centre of the sea,
And struggle slacker, but to prove, As hopelessly as I, How many the fictitious shores Before the harbor lie.
Unto my books so good to turn Far ends of tired days; It half endears the abstinence, And pain is missed in praise.
As flavors cheer retarded guests With banquetings to be, So spices stimulate the time Till my small library.
It may be wilderness without, Far feet of failing men, But holiday excludes the night, And it is bells within.
I thank these kinsmen of the shelf; Their countenances bland Enamour in prospective, And satisfy, obtained.
This merit hath the worst, — It cannot be again. When Fate hath taunted last And thrown her furthest stone,
The maimed may pause and breathe, And glance securely round. The deer invites no longer Than it eludes the hound.
I had been hungry all the years; My noon had come, to dine; I, trembling, drew the table near, And touched the curious wine.
'T was this on tables I had seen, When turning, hungry, lone, I looked in windows, for the wealth I could not hope to own.
I did not know the ample bread, 'T was so unlike the crumb The birds and I had often shared In Nature's dining-room.
The plenty hurt me, 't was so new, — Myself felt ill and odd, As berry of a mountain bush Transplanted to the road.
Nor was I hungry; so I found That hunger was a way Of persons outside windows, The entering takes away.
I gained it so, By climbing slow, By catching at the twigs that grow Between the bliss and me. It hung so high, As well the sky Attempt by strategy.
I said I gained it, — This was all. Look, how I clutch it, Lest it fall, And I a pauper go; Unfitted by an instant's grace For the contented beggar's face I wore an hour ago.
To learn the transport by the pain, As blind men learn the sun; To die of thirst, suspecting That brooks in meadows run;
To stay the homesick, homesick feet Upon a foreign shore Haunted by native lands, the while, And blue, beloved air —
This is the sovereign anguish, This, the signal woe! These are the patient laureates Whose voices, trained below,
Ascend in ceaseless carol, Inaudible, indeed, To us, the duller scholars Of the mysterious bard!
I years had been from home, And now, before the door, I dared not open, lest a face I never saw before
Stare vacant into mine And ask my business there. My business, — just a life I left, Was such still dwelling there?
I fumbled at my nerve, I scanned the windows near; The silence like an ocean rolled, And broke against my ear.
I laughed a wooden laugh That I could fear a door, Who danger and the dead had faced, But never quaked before.
I fitted to the latch My hand, with trembling care, Lest back the awful door should spring, And leave me standing there.
I moved my fingers off As cautiously as glass, And held my ears, and like a thief Fled gasping from the house.
Prayer is the little implement Through which men reach Where presence is denied them. They fling their speech
By means of it in God's ear; If then He hear, This sums the apparatus Comprised in prayer.
I know that he exists Somewhere, in silence. He has hid his rare life From our gross eyes.
'T is an instant's play, 'T is a fond ambush, Just to make bliss Earn her own surprise!
But should the play Prove piercing earnest, Should the glee glaze In death's stiff stare,
Would not the fun Look too expensive? Would not the jest Have crawled too far?
Musicians wrestle everywhere: All day, among the crowded air, I hear the silver strife; And — waking long before the dawn — Such transport breaks upon the town I think it that "new life!"
It is not bird, it has no nest; Nor band, in brass and scarlet dressed, Nor tambourine, nor man; It is not hymn from pulpit read, — The morning stars the treble led On time's first afternoon!
Some say it is the spheres at play! Some say that bright majority Of vanished dames and men! Some think it service in the place Where we, with late, celestial face, Please God, shall ascertain!
Just lost when I was saved! Just felt the world go by! Just girt me for the onset with eternity, When breath blew back, And on the other side I heard recede the disappointed tide!
Therefore, as one returned, I feel, Odd secrets of the line to tell! Some sailor, skirting foreign shores, Some pale reporter from the awful doors Before the seal!
Next time, to stay! Next time, the things to see By ear unheard, Unscrutinized by eye.
Next time, to tarry, While the ages steal, — Slow tramp the centuries, And the cycles wheel.
Of all the souls that stand create I have elected one. When sense from spirit files away, And subterfuge is done;
When that which is and that which was Apart, intrinsic, stand, And this brief tragedy of flesh Is shifted like a sand;
When figures show their royal front And mists are carved away, — Behold the atom I preferred To all the lists of clay!
I have no life but this, To lead it here; Nor any death, but lest Dispelled from there;
Nor tie to earths to come, Nor action new, Except through this extent, The realm of you.
Your riches taught me poverty. Myself a millionnaire In little wealths, — as girls could boast, — Till broad as Buenos Ayre,
You drifted your dominions A different Peru; And I esteemed all poverty, For life's estate with you.
Of mines I little know, myself, But just the names of gems, — The colors of the commonest; And scarce of diadems
So much that, did I meet the queen, Her glory I should know: But this must be a different wealth, To miss it beggars so.
I 'm sure 't is India all day To those who look on you Without a stint, without a blame, — Might I but be the Jew!
I 'm sure it is Golconda, Beyond my power to deem, — To have a smile for mine each day, How better than a gem!
At least, it solaces to know That there exists a gold, Although I prove it just in time Its distance to behold!
It 's far, far treasure to surmise, And estimate the pearl That slipped my simple fingers through While just a girl at school!
I gave myself to him, And took himself for pay. The solemn contract of a life Was ratified this way.
The wealth might disappoint, Myself a poorer prove Than this great purchaser suspect, The daily own of Love
Depreciate the vision; But, till the merchant buy, Still fable, in the isles of spice, The subtle cargoes lie.
At least, 't is mutual risk, — Some found it mutual gain; Sweet debt of Life, — each night to owe, Insolvent, every noon.
"GOING to him! Happy letter! Tell him — Tell him the page I didn't write; Tell him I only said the syntax, And left the verb and the pronoun out. Tell him just how the fingers hurried, Then how they waded, slow, slow, slow; And then you wished you had eyes in your pages, So you could see what moved them so.
"Tell him it wasn't a practised writer, You guessed, from the way the sentence toiled; You could hear the bodice tug, behind you, As if it held but the might of a child; You almost pitied it, you, it worked so. Tell him — No, you may quibble there, For it would split his heart to know it, And then you and I were silenter.
"Tell him night finished before we finished, And the old clock kept neighing 'day!' And you got sleepy and begged to be ended — What could it hinder so, to say? Tell him just how she sealed you, cautious, But if he ask where you are hid Until to-morrow, — happy letter! Gesture, coquette, and shake your head!"
The way I read a letter 's this: 'T is first I lock the door, And push it with my fingers next, For transport it be sure.
And then I go the furthest off To counteract a knock; Then draw my little letter forth And softly pick its lock.
Then, glancing narrow at the wall, And narrow at the floor, For firm conviction of a mouse Not exorcised before,
Peruse how infinite I am To — no one that you know! And sigh for lack of heaven, — but not The heaven the creeds bestow.
Wild nights! Wild nights! Were I with thee, Wild nights should be Our luxury!
Futile the winds To a heart in port, — Done with the compass, Done with the chart.
Rowing in Eden! Ah! the sea! Might I but moor To-night in thee!
The night was wide, and furnished scant With but a single star, That often as a cloud it met Blew out itself for fear.
The wind pursued the little bush, And drove away the leaves November left; then clambered up And fretted in the eaves.
No squirrel went abroad; A dog's belated feet Like intermittent plush were heard Adown the empty street.
To feel if blinds be fast, And closer to the fire Her little rocking-chair to draw, And shiver for the poor,
The housewife's gentle task. "How pleasanter," said she Unto the sofa opposite, "The sleet than May — no thee!"
Did the harebell loose her girdle To the lover bee, Would the bee the harebell hallow Much as formerly?
Did the paradise, persuaded, Yield her moat of pearl, Would the Eden be an Eden, Or the earl an earl?
A charm invests a face Imperfectly beheld, — The lady dare not lift her veil For fear it be dispelled.
But peers beyond her mesh, And wishes, and denies, — Lest interview annul a want That image satisfies.
The rose did caper on her cheek, Her bodice rose and fell, Her pretty speech, like drunken men, Did stagger pitiful.
Her fingers fumbled at her work, — Her needle would not go; What ailed so smart a little maid It puzzled me to know,
Till opposite I spied a cheek That bore another rose; Just opposite, another speech That like the drunkard goes;
A vest that, like the bodice, danced To the immortal tune, — Till those two troubled little clocks Ticked softly into one.
In lands I never saw, they say, Immortal Alps look down, Whose bonnets touch the firmament, Whose sandals touch the town, —
Meek at whose everlasting feet A myriad daisies play. Which, sir, are you, and which am I, Upon an August day?
The moon is distant from the sea, And yet with amber hands She leads him, docile as a boy, Along appointed sands.
He never misses a degree; Obedient to her eye, He comes just so far toward the town, Just so far goes away.
Oh, Signor, thine the amber hand, And mine the distant sea, — Obedient to the least command Thine eyes impose on me.
He put the belt around my life, — I heard the buckle snap, And turned away, imperial, My lifetime folding up Deliberate, as a duke would do A kingdom's title-deed, — Henceforth a dedicated sort, A member of the cloud.
Yet not too far to come at call, And do the little toils That make the circuit of the rest, And deal occasional smiles To lives that stoop to notice mine And kindly ask it in, — Whose invitation, knew you not For whom I must decline?
THE LOST JEWEL.
I held a jewel in my fingers And went to sleep. The day was warm, and winds were prosy; I said: "'T will keep."
I woke and chid my honest fingers, — The gem was gone; And now an amethyst remembrance Is all I own.
What if I say I shall not wait? What if I burst the fleshly gate And pass, escaped, to thee? What if I file this mortal off, See where it hurt me, — that 's enough, — And wade in liberty?
They cannot take us any more, — Dungeons may call, and guns implore; Unmeaning now, to me, As laughter was an hour ago, Or laces, or a travelling show, Or who died yesterday!
Nature, the gentlest mother, Impatient of no child, The feeblest or the waywardest, — Her admonition mild
In forest and the hill By traveller is heard, Restraining rampant squirrel Or too impetuous bird.
How fair her conversation, A summer afternoon, — Her household, her assembly; And when the sun goes down
Her voice among the aisles Incites the timid prayer Of the minutest cricket, The most unworthy flower.
When all the children sleep She turns as long away As will suffice to light her lamps; Then, bending from the sky
With infinite affection And infiniter care, Her golden finger on her lip, Wills silence everywhere.
OUT OF THE MORNING.
Will there really be a morning? Is there such a thing as day? Could I see it from the mountains If I were as tall as they?
Has it feet like water-lilies? Has it feathers like a bird? Is it brought from famous countries Of which I have never heard?
Oh, some scholar! Oh, some sailor! Oh, some wise man from the skies! Please to tell a little pilgrim Where the place called morning lies!
At half-past three a single bird Unto a silent sky Propounded but a single term Of cautious melody.
At half-past four, experiment Had subjugated test, And lo! her silver principle Supplanted all the rest.
At half-past seven, element Nor implement was seen, And place was where the presence was, Circumference between.
The day came slow, till five o'clock, Then sprang before the hills Like hindered rubies, or the light A sudden musket spills.
The purple could not keep the east, The sunrise shook from fold, Like breadths of topaz, packed a night, The lady just unrolled.