Spoon River Anthology

From The Poetry Foundation:

Edgar Lee Masters was born in Garnett, Kansas, and he grew up in the small towns of Lewistown and Petersburg, Illinois. The author of 40 books of poetry and prose, Masters is best remembered for his great collection Spoon River Anthology (1915), a sequence of over 200 free-verse epitaphs spoken from the cemetery of the town of Spoon River. His honors include the Shelley Memorial Award, a grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Academy of American Poets Fellowship.

When Spoon River Anthology first saw publication in 1915, it caused a great sensation because of its forthrightness about sex, moral decay, and hypocrisy; but its cynical view of Midwestern small town values influenced a whole generation of writers and their works. “The volume,” said Herbert K. Russell in the Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, “became an international popular and critical success and introduced with a flourish what has since come to be known as the Chicago Renaissance”—a group of writers, including Masters, Carl Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay, and Theodore Dreiser, who disproved the notion held at the time that only on the East coast of the US were there writers capable of producing great literature. “It is safe to say,” declared Ernest Earnest in Western Humanities Review, “that no other volume of poetry except The Waste Land (1922) made such an impact during the first quarter of [the 20th] century.”

Masters was firmly rooted in the Midwestern society he both praised and criticized in Spoon River Anthology. The central Illinois area in which he grew up was especially revered for its historic association with Abraham Lincoln; Russell commented that Masters’ “hometown of Petersburg was but two miles from Lincoln’s New Salem; he knew personally William Herndon (Lincoln’s law partner), the Armstrong family (one of whom Lincoln had defended), and John McNamar (the man who jilted Ann Rutledge before her story became entwined with Lincoln’s).”

. . . .

Masters himself was trained for the law—he practiced as an attorney in Chicago for nearly 30 years, and for several years he was the law partner of Clarence Darrow, the lawyer later to become famous as the counsel for the defense at the 1925 Scopes trial—although he had long harbored literary ambitions. Using a variety of pseudonyms to avoid possible damage to his law practice, Masters began to publish poetry in magazines. By 1915 he had published four books of poetry, seven plays, and a collection of essays, but none of them had received much critical attention. Then, following the advice of Reedy’s Mirror publisher William Marion Reedy, Masters began to experiment with poetic form, bringing to life the sort of people he had known in his boyhood. The result was Spoon River Anthology, which mixed classical forms with innovative ones. It followed the example of the Greek Anthology, a collection of some 4500 Greek poems written between about 500 B.C. and 1000 A.D. Many of these poems, like those in Spoon River, took the form of epigrams—laconic sayings that harbor (or seem to harbor) a truth—and others were expressed as confessional epitaphs, in which the dead commented on their lives. Unlike the ancient Greeks, however, Masters made his dead recite their speeches in free verse.

Link to the rest at The Poetry Foundation

By coincidence, PG met Masters’ daughter, who was a older woman, when he was a sprout in college. She was a friend of PG’s favorite professor.

Here’s the introductory poem from Spoon River Anthology. As mentioned, Spoon River’s cemetery is on The Hill. (PG tip – If you read it out loud, you may get a better sense of the poem.)

The Hill

Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?
All, all are sleeping on the hill.

One passed in a fever,
One was burned in a mine,
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in a jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife —
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie and Edith,
The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud, the happy one? —
All, all are sleeping on the hill.

One died in shameful child-birth,
One of a thwarted love,
One at the hands of a brute in a brothel,
One of a broken pride, in the search for heart’s desire,
One after life in far-away London and Paris
Was brought to her little space by Ella and Kate and Mag —
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where are Uncle Isaac and Aunt Emily,
And old Towny Kincaid and Sevigne Houghton,
And Major Walker who had talked
With venerable men of the revolution? —
All, all are sleeping on the hill.

They brought them dead sons from the war,
And daughters whom life had crushed,
And their children fatherless, crying —
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where is Old Fiddler Jones
Who played with life all his ninety years,
Braving the sleet with bared breast,
Drinking, rioting, thinking neither of wife nor kin,
Nor gold, nor love, nor heaven?
Lo! he babbles of the fish-frys of long ago,
Of the horse-races of long ago at Clary’s Grove,
Of what Abe Lincoln said
One time at Springfield.

The Hill via The Poetry Foundation

To Sleep

O soft embalmer of the still midnight,
Shutting, with careful fingers and benign,
Our gloom-pleas’d eyes, embower’d from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine:
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close
In midst of this thine hymn my willing eyes,
Or wait the “Amen,” ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities.
Then save me, or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes,—
Save me from curious Conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed Casket of my Soul.

John Keats, 1816

Some scholars believe that Keats was an opium addict. It is known that at least one of his doctors treated Keats with mercury, attempting to stop a chronic sore throat and, perhaps, venereal disease.

Per one of Keats’ biographers, Nicholas Roe, “It is difficult to appreciate how commonplace an opium habit was in Keats’s lifetime.” Opium was dispensed “as a matter of course, and for a simple reason: it was the only painkiller that worked.” 

Keats had been a medical student and had professional knowledge of what treatments were commonly used to treat various conditions.

While some might demean Keats and his work because of the substances he ingested voluntarily or which were prescribed for him, PG thinks it’s amazing that he was able to compose such incredible poetry despite the effects of the horrible substances that he and others put into his body.

Stanzas Written in Dejection, Near Naples

The sun is warm, the sky is clear,
The waves are dancing fast and bright,
Blue isles and snowy mountains wear
The purple noon’s transparent might,
The breath of the moist earth is light,
Around its unexpanded buds;
Like many a voice of one delight,
The winds, the birds, the ocean floods,
The City’s voice itself, is soft like Solitude’s.

I see the Deep’s untrampled floor
With green and purple seaweeds strown;
I see the waves upon the shore,
Like light dissolved in star-showers, thrown:
I sit upon the sands alone,—
The lightning of the noontide ocean
Is flashing round me, and a tone
Arises from its measured motion,
How sweet! did any heart now share in my emotion.

Alas! I have nor hope nor health,
Nor peace within nor calm around,
Nor that content surpassing wealth
The sage in meditation found,
And walked with inward glory crowned—
Nor fame, nor power, nor love, nor leisure.
Others I see whom these surround—
Smiling they live, and call life pleasure;
To me that cup has been dealt in another measure.

Yet now despair itself is mild,
Even as the winds and waters are;
I could lie down like a tired child,
And weep away the life of care
Which I have borne and yet must bear,
Till death like sleep might steal on me,
And I might feel in the warm air
My cheek grow cold, and hear the sea
Breathe o’er my dying brain its last monotony.

Some might lament that I were cold,
As I, when this sweet day is gone,
Which my lost heart, too soon grown old,
Insults with this untimely moan;
They might lament—for I am one
Whom men love not,—and yet regret,
Unlike this day, which, when the sun
Shall on its stainless glory set,
Will linger, though enjoyed, like joy in memory yet.

 Percy Bysshe Shelley
Ponte de Tappia, Naples, About 1900, public domain, Wikimedia Commons
Basketmakers, Naples, 1906, Picryl, Public Domain
Picryl, Public Domain
Children in Naples, Italy. A group of little Italian boys pose. Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, August 1944. U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives, public domain

Mstyslav Chernov, 2008, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

An Epic Mother-Son Reunion in Italy

From Electric Lit:

There you were on my ancient doorstep, late, or early, unannounced, 
 in the thick black coat I bought you for Christmas. Of course, 
 you were on your way, but when would you arrive? As always, 
  
 no phone. Me, no extra-key or place to hide it, only two days into 
 my teaching abroad, Florence sodden, dark, full of shadows 
 and confusion. But you convinced the smoking college students 
  
 on the cobblestone street—who knew me as professor mom—
 to let you through the first two doors, and then you were at mine, 
 a one, two knock. Bearded, cold, smiling. It was February, and you’d 
  
 landed at Heathrow, taken a bus to the City of London airport. 
 Then the flight and travel path went something like Frankfurt 
 to Macedonia. Macedonia! You huddled on a frozen hill in the coat 
  
 and in a down sleeping bag. Then to a rickety communist era train 
 to Thessaloniki and on to Athens. Next a port town I can’t remember, 
 maybe Patras, and a night ferry to Ancona and another train 
  
 to Bologna and back to Florence until you found my building 
 with directions jotted on a ragged scrap of ferry napkin. Long ago, 
 you and I were alone together in the small house, your father student 
  
 teaching in another town, coming home on weekends. It was you 
 and me, day after day, me too young to mother properly, me 
 in charge of you, already smarter with a wicked baby smile. 
  
 But there we were in the dark mornings, the slog of the day. 
 We went to every free Wednesday at the merry-go-round, every 
 park. You and me together in the nighttime with fevers. Here, 
  
 in Florence, in the medieval building, in the odd apartment, you 
 and me again, planning meals of roasted eggplant and 
 brocolo romanesco, walking to the store pulling the cart 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Translators in the UK Call for Racial Equality in Literary Translation

From Publishing Perspectives:

In what has developed as a healthy debate, the Translators Association and the Society of Authors in the United Kingdom have stepped forward to take an eloquent stand on issues of race and access to work and opportunity in their profession.

. . . .

Briefly, the translators are writing to two points deeply important to workers across all the creative industries, fully inclusive of both international book publishing and literary translation.

  • First, they argue that anyone can translate anyone. That is to say, the rejection of one or another translator based on a factor such as race is, they say, unacceptable. (If you’ve ever stopped to admire how deftly a male translator like David Hackston can handle the most sensitive work of a female author like Finland’s Katja Kettu in The Midwife (Amazon Crossing, 2016), you know what they’re talking about). The translators write, “We believe an individual’s identity should never be a limiting factor.”
  • Second, the translators are addressing “structural racism and access to publishing” on a wider scale. As they phrase it, this involves “the urgent need for more openness and opportunities in publishing, more visibility of translators of color and more proactive intervention to help dismantle the institutional barriers faced by early-career translators.”

If anything, the arrival of this inflection point represents a kind of backfire on an attempt to impose limitations on literary work. And for those of us who know translators and work with them or cover their work, the moment is exhilarating because this discussion puts them at centerstage, for once, not cordially shooed to the sidelines.

. . . .

You may recall that in the January 20 inauguration in Washington of Joe Biden as the United States’ new president, the activist poet Amanda Gorman delivered her inaugural poem, The Hill We Climb.

When the Dutch publisher Meulenhoff in Amsterdam was preparing to have its Dutch edition of The Hill We Climb translated, it recommended to Gorman that the translation be made by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld. As Publishing Perspectives readers know, Rijneveld is the gifted author of De avond is ongemak (The Discomfort of Evening). Its English translation by Michele Hutchison won the 2020 International Booker Prize. The Discomfort of Evening is published in the United Kingdom by Faber & Faber, and in the United States by Graywolf.

Rijneveld, at 29, is the youngest author to have won the International Booker, and her book is the first debut effort to find top favor with the jury.

An objection to Rijneveld’s selection to translate Gorman, however, came from journalist Janice Deul in a piece at deVolkskrant. Deul, as Anna Holligan wrote from The Hague for BBC News last month, argued that a white translator for Gorman’s work was wrong.

In her column of February 25, Deul wrote, “Isn’t it—to say the least—a missed opportunity to hire Marieke Lucas Rijneveld for this job? … white, non-binary, has no experience in this field, but according to Meulenhoff still the ‘dream translator’?” (Rijneveld identifies as non-binary and prefers the pronouns they and them.)

“Nothing to the detriment of Rijneveld’s qualities,” Deul wrote, emphases hers, “but why not opt ​​for a translator who—just like Gorman—is a spoken word artist, young, woman, and: unapologetically Black ? We … are blind to the spoken word talent in [our] own country.”

Rijneveld would end up withdrawing from the Gorman translation assignment.

. . . .

Rijneveld’s step-aside from the translation work on Gorman was followed by news that the Catalan translator Victor Obiols, as he described it, was informed that his finished translation would not be used because, being a white man, he “was not suitable to translate it,” as reported by Sindya Bhanoo at the Washington Post on March 25.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Yet another problem facing traditional publishing. Fortunately, there is an alternative.

PG wonders whether anyone thought to ask the author of The Hill We Climb, Ms. Gorman, who she would like to have translate her poem into Dutch and whether she thought the translator should be an African-American like she is or whether a translator who is any other color that the large majority of the Dutch population would do.

PG recalls a friend he worked with many years ago who was Nigerian and had received his undergraduate degree from a Nigerian university and his MBA from a very good school in Chicago.

PG’s friend said he felt no affinity for anyone he had met in the large African-American community in Chicago. For him, the culture and values of Nigeria and the culture of the African-American community to which he had been exposed differed in many significant ways. They were not the same as all.

The roots of Nigerian culture reach back to a time when the Roman Empire was also developing. Islam reached Nigeria long before any European explorers and Christian missionaries appeared.

Suffice to say, culture and skin color/race are two different things. Russia has a different culture than France. Japan has a different culture than China. Scotland and Canada have different cultures than the United States.

So, who’s a better translator of a wonderful poem written by an African-American into Dutch – someone with a skin color other than white or someone who is experienced with the nuances of both the English and Dutch languages?

PG will conclude with an excerpt from Ms. Gorman’s poem which, to him, seemed apt for this discussion.

We are striving to forge a union with purpose,
to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man.
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us,
but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another.

Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”

Because I could not stop for Death

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 strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson – 1830-1886

Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, on December 10, 1830. Her father was a lawyer and, later, a politician. Little is known about her mother, Emily Norcross Dickinson.

Emily was the middle child between an older brother and a younger sister. She had a limited formal education, as was typical for girls and young women at that time. She attended a primary school in Amherst, then spent approximately seven years at Amherst Academy “for Young Ladies”, connected with Amherst College, and, beginning at age 15, one year at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (A seminary could be a preparatory school or offer a college education or graduate and professional training.)

Mt. Holyoke had a strong emphasis on Christian education. The young women were divided into three categories: those who were “established Christians,” those who “expressed hope,” and those who were “without hope.” Emily placed herself in the latter category.

A variety of possible reasons are put forth for Emily’s early departure from seminary, including her “without hope” status, but none has been widely accepted by Dickinson scholars.

As an unmarried young woman, Emily returned to her family home after leaving Mount Holyoke where she (as were other similarly-situated young women) were expected to demonstrate their dutiful nature by setting aside their own interests in order to meet the needs of the home.

While daily rounds of receiving and paying visits were deemed essential to social standing of families of a certain stature in Amherst, Emily baked bread and tended the garden, but strongly resisted dusting or visiting.

In the 19th century the sister was expected to act as moral guide to her brother; Dickinson rose to that requirement—but on her own terms. Known at school as a “wit,” she put a sharp edge on her sweetest remarks. In her early letters to Austin, she represented the eldest child as the rising hope of the family. From Dickinson’s perspective, Austin’s safe passage to adulthood depended on two aspects of his character. With the first she was in firm agreement with the wisdom of the century: the young man should emerge from his education with a firm loyalty to home. The second was Dickinson’s own invention: Austin’s success depended on a ruthless intellectual honesty. If he borrowed his ideas, he failed her test of character. There were to be no pieties between them, and when she detected his own reliance on conventional wisdom, she used her language to challenge what he had left unquestioned.

In her letters to Austin in the early 1850s, while he was teaching and in the mid 1850s during his three years as a law student at Harvard, she presented herself as a keen critic, using extravagant praise to invite him to question the worth of his own perceptions. She positioned herself as a spur to his ambition, readily reminding him of her own work when she wondered about the extent of his. Dickinson’s 1850s letters to Austin are marked by an intensity that did not outlast the decade. As Austin faced his own future, most of his choices defined an increasing separation between his sister’s world and his. Initially lured by the prospect of going West, he decided to settle in Amherst, apparently at his father’s urging. Not only did he return to his hometown, but he also joined his father in his law practice. Austin Dickinson gradually took over his father’s role: He too became the citizen of Amherst, treasurer of the College, and chairman of the Cattle Show. In only one case, and an increasingly controversial one, Austin Dickinson’s decision offered Dickinson the intensity she desired. His marriage to Susan Gilbert brought a new “sister” into the family, one with whom Dickinson felt she had much in common. That Gilbert’s intensity was of a different order Dickinson would learn over time, but in the early 1850s, as her relationship with Austin was waning, her relationship with Gilbert was growing. Gilbert would figure powerfully in Dickinson’s life as a beloved comrade, critic, and alter ego.

Born just nine days after Dickinson, Susan Gilbert entered a profoundly different world from the one she would one day share with her sister-in-law. The daughter of a tavern keeper, Sue was born at the margins of Amherst society. Her father’s work defined her world as clearly as Edward Dickinson’s did that of his daughters. Had her father lived, Sue might never have moved from the world of the working class to the world of educated lawyers. Sue’s mother died in 1837; her father, in 1841. After her mother’s death, she and her sister Martha were sent to live with their aunt in Geneva, New York. They returned periodically to Amherst to visit their older married sister, Harriet Gilbert Cutler. Sue, however, returned to Amherst to live and attend school in 1847. Enrolled at Amherst Academy while Dickinson was at Mount Holyoke, Sue was gradually included in the Dickinson circle of friends by way of her sister Martha.

[Emily] defined what was incontrovertibly precious to her. Not religion, but poetry; not the vehicle reduced to its tenor, but the process of making metaphor and watching the meaning emerge. As early as 1850 her letters suggest that her mind was turning over the possibility of her own work. Extending the contrast between herself and her friends, she described but did not specify an “aim” to her life. She announced its novelty (“I have dared to do strange things—bold things”), asserted her independence (“and have asked no advice from any”), and couched it in the language of temptation (“I have heeded beautiful tempters”). She described the winter as one long dream from which she had not yet awakened. That winter began with the gift of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Poems for New Year’s.” Her letters of the period are frequent and long. Their heightened language provided working space for herself as writer. In these passionate letters to her female friends, she tried out different voices. At times she sounded like the female protagonist from a contemporary novel; at times, she was the narrator who chastises her characters for their failure to see beyond complicated circumstances. She played the wit and sounded the divine, exploring the possibility of the new converts’ religious faith only to come up short against its distinct unreality in her own experience. And finally, she confronted the difference imposed by that challenging change of state from daughter/sister to wife.

Lacking the letters written to Dickinson, readers cannot know whether the language of her friends matched her own, but the freedom with which Dickinson wrote to Humphrey and to Fowler suggests that their own responses encouraged hers. Perhaps this sense of encouragement was nowhere stronger than with Gilbert. Although little is known of their early relations, the letters written to Gilbert while she was teaching at Baltimore speak with a kind of hope for a shared perspective, if not a shared vocation. Recent critics have speculated that Gilbert, like Dickinson, thought of herself as a poet. Several of Dickinson’s letters stand behind this speculation, as does one of the few pieces of surviving correspondence with Gilbert from 1861—their discussion and disagreement over the second stanza of Dickinson’s “Safe in their Alabaster Chambers.” Writing to Gilbert in 1851, Dickinson imagined that their books would one day keep company with the poets. They will not be ignominiously jumbled together with grammars and dictionaries (the fate assigned to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s in the local stationer’s). Sue and Emily, she reports, are “the only poets.”

Whatever Gilbert’s poetic aspirations were, Dickinson clearly looked to Gilbert as one of her most important readers, if not the most important. She sent Gilbert more than 270 of her poems. Gilbert may well have read most of the poems that Dickinson wrote. In many cases the poems were written for her. They functioned as letters, with perhaps an additional line of greeting or closing. Gilbert’s involvement, however, did not satisfy Dickinson. In 1850-1851 there had been some minor argument, perhaps about religion. In the mid 1850s a more serious break occurred, one that was healed, yet one that marked a change in the nature of the relationship. In a letter dated to 1854 Dickinson begins bluntly, “Sue—you can go or stay—There is but one alternative—We differ often lately, and this must be the last.” The nature of the difference remains unknown.

Dickinson’s own ambivalence toward marriage—an ambivalence so common as to be ubiquitous in the journals of young women—was clearly grounded in her perception of what the role of “wife” required. From her own housework as dutiful daughter, she had seen how secondary her own work became. In her observation of married women, her mother not excluded, she saw the failing health, the unmet demands, the absenting of self that was part of the husband-wife relationship. The “wife” poems of the 1860s reflect this ambivalence. The gold wears away; “amplitude” and “awe” are absent for the woman who meets the requirements of wife. The loss remains unspoken, but, like the irritating grain in the oyster’s shell, it leaves behind ample evidence.

Dickinson read widely among the contemporary authors on both sides of the Atlantic. Among the British were the Romantic poets, the Brontë sisters, the Brownings, and George Eliot. On the American side was the unlikely company of Longfellow, Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Emerson. With a knowledge-bound sentence that suggested she knew more than she revealed, she claimed not to have read Whitman. She read Thomas Carlyle, Charles Darwin, and Matthew Arnold. Her contemporaries gave Dickinson a kind of currency for her own writing, but commanding equal ground were the Bible and Shakespeare. While the authors were here defined by their inaccessibility, the allusions in Dickinson’s letters and poems suggest just how vividly she imagined her words in conversation with others.

The late 1850s marked the beginning of Dickinson’s greatest poetic period. By 1865 she had written nearly 1,100 poems. Bounded on one side by Austin and Susan Dickinson’s marriage and on the other by severe difficulty with her eyesight, the years between held an explosion of expression in both poems and letters. Her own stated ambitions are cryptic and contradictory. Later critics have read the epistolary comments about her own “wickedness” as a tacit acknowledgment of her poetic ambition. In contrast to joining the church, she joined the ranks of the writers, a potentially suspect group. Distrust, however, extended only to certain types. If Dickinson associated herself with the Wattses and the Cowpers, she occupied respected literary ground; if she aspired toward Pope or Shakespeare, she crossed into the ranks of the “libertine.” Dickinson’s poems themselves suggest she made no such distinctions—she blended the form of Watts with the content of Shakespeare. She described personae of her poems as disobedient children and youthful “debauchees.”

Her April 1862 letter to the well-known literary figure Thomas Wentworth Higginson certainly suggests a particular answer. Written as a response to his Atlantic Monthly article “Letter to a Young Contributor” –the lead article in the April issue—her intention seems unmistakable. She sent him four poems, one of which she had worked over several times. With this gesture she placed herself in the ranks of “young contributor,” offering him a sample of her work, hoping for its acceptance. Her accompanying letter, however, does not speak the language of publication. It decidedly asks for his estimate; yet, at the same time it couches the request in terms far different from the vocabulary of the literary marketplace:

Higginson himself was intrigued but not impressed. His first recorded comments about Dickinson’s poetry are dismissive. In a letter to Atlantic Monthly editor James T. Fields, Higginson complained about the response to his article: “I foresee that ‘Young Contributors’ will send me worse things than ever now. Two such specimens of verse as came yesterday & day before—fortunately not to be forwarded for publication!” He had received Dickinson’s poems the day before he wrote this letter. While Dickinson’s letters clearly piqued his curiosity, he did not readily envision a published poet emerging from this poetry, which he found poorly structured. As is made clear by one of Dickinson’s responses, he counseled her to work longer and harder on her poetry before she attempted its publication. Her reply, in turn, piques the later reader’s curiosity. She wrote, “I smile when you suggest that I delay ‘to publish’—that being foreign to my thought, as Firmament to Fin.” What lay behind this comment? The brave cover of profound disappointment? The accurate rendering of her own ambition? Sometime in 1863 she wrote her often-quoted poem about publication with its disparaging remarks about reducing expression to a market value. At a time when slave auctions were palpably rendered for a Northern audience, she offered another example of the corrupting force of the merchant’s world. The poem begins, “Publication – is the Auction / Of the Mind of Man” and ends by returning its reader to the image of the opening: “But reduce no Human Spirit / To Disgrace of Price -.”

Her poems circulated widely among her friends, and this audience was part and parcel of women’s literary culture in the 19th century. She sent poems to nearly all her correspondents; they in turn may well have read those poems with their friends. Dickinson’s poems were rarely restricted to her eyes alone. She continued to collect her poems into distinct packets. The practice has been seen as her own trope on domestic work: she sewed the pages together. Poetry was by no means foreign to women’s daily tasks—mending, sewing, stitching together the material to clothe the person. Unremarked, however, is its other kinship. Her work was also the minister’s. Preachers stitched together the pages of their sermons, a task they apparently undertook themselves.

Emily Dickinson died in Amherst in 1886. After her death her family members found her hand-sewn books, or “fascicles.” These fascicles contained nearly 1,800 poems. Though Mabel Loomis Todd and Higginson published the first selection of her poems in 1890, a complete volume did not appear until 1955. Edited by Thomas H. Johnson, the poems still bore the editorial hand of Todd and Higginson. It was not until R.W. Franklin’s version of Dickinson’s poems appeared in 1998 that her order, unusual punctuation and spelling choices were completely restored.

When the first volume of Emily’s poetry was published in 1890, four years after her death, it met with stunning success. Going through 11 editions in less than two years

PG obtained this information and the quoted portions of history and commentary from The Poetry Foundation where one and all can learn much more about this extraordinary woman and also make a donation to support the Foundation’s work.

I taste a liquor never brewed

I taste a liquor never brewed –
From Tankards scooped in Pearl –
Not all the Frankfort Berries
Yield such an Alcohol!

Inebriate of air – am I –
And Debauchee of Dew –
Reeling – thro’ 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!

Emily Dickinson, manuscript version, first published 1890

There Is No Frigate

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears a Human soul.

Emily Dickinson, 1886