The Civil War, Class, & the...

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Fascicle 24, c. 1862

I have a little manuscript volume with a few of your verses in it--and I read them very often--You are a great poet--and it is wrong to the day you live in, that you will not sing aloud. When you are what men call dead, you will be sorry you were so stingy.

- Helen Hunt Jackson (Ramona) to Emily Dickinson, 1875

...So much of Dickinson at her strongest. . .compels us to begin again in rethinking our relation to poems, and to the equally troubling and dynamic relation of poems to our world of appearances...

- Harold Bloom (The Anxiety of Influence), 1985

Yes, I do think of the construction [of a book of poems] in a certain way. Frost said somewhere . . . that if there are twenty-five poems in a book, the book itself ought to be the twenty-sixth poem.

- James Wright

Your manuscript book, my old friend Emily D., has been wounded. All of them have, of course, for Mabel Loomis Todd removed their threads, disassembled them, and there they lay for the first three-quarters of the twentieth century. Ralph W. Franklin put them back together, as well as can be expected, I suppose, but only you know whether they are together the way you left them on May 15, 1886. This book, Franklin’s #24, is definitely not back together the way you left it, nor will it ever be. With poems removed, leaves torn, its wound can never be healed. Its scars are constitutive parts of the texts we know as those of Emily Dickinson, for we have never known your writings without them. But I find myself wondering if this particular book is not an extended rumination on the wounds that still fester in these United States and that, during your lifetime, erupted into the puss we know as the Civil War.

- Martha Nell Smith


It sifts from Leaden Sieves -
It ponders all the Field -
It fills with Alabaster Wool
The Wrinkles of the Road -


It makes an even face of
Of Mountain - and of Plain -
Unbroken Forehead from the East
Unto the East - again -


It reaches to the Fence -
It wraps it, Rail by Rail,
Till it is lost in Fleeces -
It +*flings a Crystal Vail


On Stump - and Stack - and
Stem -
The Summer's Empty Room -
Acres of +*Joints - Where Harvests
were -
Recordless - but for them -


It Ruffles Wrists of Posts -
As Ancles of a Queen -
Then stills it's +Artisans - like
+Swans -
Denying they have been -
+* deals celestial Vail -
+ Myrmidons + Ghosts -
+* Acres of Seams -


Like Mighty Foot Lights - burned
the Red
At Bases of the Trees -
The far Theatricals of Day
Exhibiting - to These -


'twas Universe - that did + Applaud -
While Chiefest -+of the Crowd -
Enabled by his Royal Dress -
Myself distinguished God -
+ attend + in -


A Pit - but Heaven over it -
And Heaven beside, and Heaven abroad;
And yet a Pit -
With Heaven over it.

To stir would be to slip -
To look would be to drop -
To dream - to sap the Prop
That holds my chances up.
Ah! Pit! With Heaven over it!

The depth is all my thought -
I dare not ask my feet -
'Twould start us where we sit
So straight you'd scarce suspect

It was a Pit - with fathoms under it
Its Circuit just the same
Whose Doom to whom


A curious Cloud surprised the Sky,
'Twas like a sheet with Horns;
The sheet was Blue -
The Antlers Gray -
It almost touched the Lawns.

So low it leaned - then statelier drew -
And trailed like robes away;
A Queen adown a satin aisle,
Had not the majesty.


              [no manuscript copy of either poem exists]

Of Brussels - it was not -
Of Kidderminster? Nay -
The Winds did buy it of
the Woods -
+They - sold it unto me

It was a gentle price -
The poorest - could afford -
It was within the frugal
Of Beggar - or of Bird -

Of small and spicy +Yards -
In hue - a Mellow Dun -
Of Sunshine - and of Sere -
Composed -
But, principally - of Sun -

The Wind - unrolled it fast -
And spread it on the Ground -
Upholsterer of the Pines - is
He -
Upholsterer - of the Pond -
+ then - sell it + Breadths -
+ of the Sea + of the land -
+ Hills -


He found my Being - set
it up -
Adjusted it to place -
+Then carved his name - upon it -
+And bade it to the East

Be faithful - in his Absence -
And he would come again -
With Equipage of Amber -
That time - to take it Home
+ He wrote + then -


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
With Banquettings 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 Kid
Enamor - in Prospective -
And satisfy - obtained -
+ Homely -        [these are written sideways alongside the last 3 ll.]
+ Forgets - for -


The Spider holds a Silver Ball
In unperceived Hands -
+as He knits
And +dancing softly +to Himself
His +Yarn of Pearl +unwinds -
+expends -

He plies from Nought to Nought -
In unsubstantial Trade -
Supplants our Tapestries with His -
In half the period -

An Hour to rear Supreme
His +Continents of Light -
Then +dangle from the Housewife's
Broom -
His +Boundaries - forgot -
+ Pursues his pearl, strands - + Coil -
+ Theories + perish by + Sophistries -
Three times - we parted -
Breath - and I -
Three times - He would not go -
But strove to stir the
+lifeless Fan
The Waters - strove to stay -

Three times - the Billows+ threw
me up -
Then caught me - like a Ball -
Then made Blue faces in my 
face -
And pushed away a Sail

That crawled Leagues off -
I liked to see -
For thinking - While I die -
How pleasant to behold a
Where Human faces - be -

The + Waves grew sleepy -
Breath - did not -
The Winds - like Children -
lulled -
Then Sunrise kissed my
Chrysalis -
And I stood up - and lived -

+ flickering fan + tossed +
the Ocean - tired - wearied -


There is a pain - so utter -
It swallows +substance up -
Then covers the Abyss with Trance -
So Memory can step
Around - Across - upon it -
As One within A Swoon -
Goes +safely - where an Open Eye -
Would drop Him - Bone by Bone -
+ Being        [these are written sideways alongside the last 4 ll.]
+ Steady -
+ Spill Him -
It troubled me as once I was -
For I was once a Child -
+Deciding -
+Concluding how an Atom - fell -
And yet the Heavens - held -

+were the weightiest - far -
The Heavens +weighed the most -
by far - + easy
Yet Blue - and +solid - stood -
Without a Bolt - that I could
prove -
+Would Giants - understand?
+ did - might

Life set me larger - problems -
+ save solve
Some I shall keep to prove
+ where
+Till Algebra is easier -
Or simpler proved - above -

There - too - be comprehended -
What sorer - puzzled me -
Why Heaven did not break away -
And tumble - Blue - on me -


A still - +Volcanic - Life -
That flickered in the night -
When it was dark enough
to +do
Without +erasing sight -

A quiet - Earthquake Style -
Too +subtle to suspect
By natures this side Naples -
The North cannot detect

The solemn - Torrid - Symbol -
The lips that never lie -
Whose hissing Corals part - and shut -
And Cities - +ooze away -
+ Volcano + show + Endangering + smoulder-
ing + slip - slide - melt - 


When I was small, a
Woman died -
Today - 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 -
Ourself cannot decide -
 No person testified -

But, proud in Apparition -
That Woman and her Boy
Pass back and forth, before
My Brain
As Even in the Sky -

I'm confident that Bravoes -
Perpetual + break abroad
For Braveries, remote as + this
In +Tender Maryland -
+ softly - + be - go - + His
+ Scarlet + just sealed in + proved -


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 - Country-
men -
Judge tenderly - of me


God made a little Gentian -
It tried - to be a Rose -
And failed - and all the Summer
laughed -
But just before the Snows

There rose a Purple Creature -
That ravished all the Hill -
And Summer hid her Forehead -
And Mockery - was still -

The Frost were her condition -
The Tyrian would not come
Until the North - invoke it -
Creator - Shall I - bloom?


My Reward for Being -
was This -
My Premium - My Bliss -
An Admiralty, less -
A Sceptre - penniless -
And Realms - just Dross -

When Thrones - accost My Hands -
With "Me - Miss - Me -"
I'll unroll - Thee -
Sufficient Dynasty - 
Creation - powerless -
To Peer this Grace -
Empire - State -
Too little - Dust -
To Dower - so Great -


It always felt to me - a
To that Old Moses - done -
To let him see - the Canaan -
Without - the Entering -

And tho' in soberer moments -
No Moses there can be
I'm satisfied - the Romance
In point of injury -

Surpasses sharper stated -
Of Stephen - or of Paul -
For these - were only put to 
death -
While God's adroiter will

On Moses - seemed to fasten
+With tantalizing Play + in
As Boy - should deal with
lesser Boy -
To +prove ability -

The fault - was doubtless
Israel's -
My self - had banned the Tribes -
And ushered Grand Old
In Pentateuchal Robes

Upon the Broad Possession
+'Twas little - He should see -
Old Man on Nebo! Late as
this -
+My justice bleeds - for Thee!

+ show supremacy + Lawful Manor -
+ But titled Him - to see - + One -


I tie My Hat - I crease -
My Shawl -
Life's little Duties do - pre-
cisely -
As the very least
Were infinite - to me -

I put New Blossoms in the
Glass -
And throw the Old - away -
I push a petal from my
That anchored there - I
The time 'twill be till six
o'clock -
2 I have - 1 so much 3 to do -
And yet - Existence - some way
back -
Stopped - Struck - my
ticking - through -

We cannot put Ourself away
As a completed Man
Or Woman - When the Er-
rand's done
We came to Flesh - upon -
There may be - Miles on Miles
of Nought -
Of Action - sicker far -
To simulate - is stinging work -
To cover what we are
From Science - and from Surgery -
Too Telescopic Eyes
To bear on us Unshaded -
For their - sake - not for
Our's -


'Twould start them -                     [end of "A Pit - but
We - could tremble -                     Heaven over it - " ?]
But since we got a
Bomb -
And held it in our Bosom -
Nay - Hold it - it is Calm -


Therefore - We
do life's                     [end of "I tie My Hat -"?]
labor -
Though life's Reward - be done -
With scrupulous Exactness -
To hold our Senses - on -


The Trees like Tassels - hit -
And swung -
There seemed to rise a Tune
From Miniature Creatures
Accompanying the Sun -

Far Psalteries of Summer -
Enamoring the Ear
They never yet did satisfy -
Remotest - when most + fair - + near -

The Sun shone whole at intervals -
Then Half - then utter hid -
As if Himself were Optional
And +had Estates of Cloud + owned

Sufficient to enfold Him
Eternally from view -
Except it were a whim of His
To let the Orchards grow -

A Bird sat careless on the fence -
One gossipped in the Lane
On silver matters charmed
A Snake
Just winding round a Stone -


Bright Flowers slit a Calyx
+And soared upon a Stem + or
Like Hindered Flags - Sweet hoisted -
With Spices - in the Hem -

'Twas more - I cannot men-
tion -
How mean - to those that see -
Vandyke's Delineation
Of Nature's - Summer Day!


It feels a Shame to be
Alive -
When Men so brave - are dead -
One Envies the Distinguished
Dust -
Permitted - such a Head -

The Stone - that tells defending
This Spartan put away
What little of Him we -
In Pawn for Liberty -

The Price is great - Sublimely
paid -
Do we deserve - a Thing -
That lives - like Dollars -
must be piled
Before we may obtain?

Are we that wait -
sufficient worth -
That such Enormous Pearl
As life - dissolved be - for
us -
In Battle's - horrid Bowl?

It may be - a Renown
to live -
I think the men who die -
Those unsustained - Saviors -
Present Divinity -