"Heaven" -- is what - I cannot -
The Apple on the tree --
Provided it do hopeless - hang -
That - "Heaven" is - to Me! 5
The color, on the cruising cloud -
The interdicted land -
Behind the Hill -- the House
behind -
There - Paradise - is found! 10
Her teazing Purples - Afternoons -
The credulous - decoy --
Enamored - of the Conjuror --
That spurned us - Yesterday!



This edition of "‘Heaven’ -- is what - I cannot - reach" is based upon an interrogation of the original holograph text of the poem (via Franklin’s facsimile MS books), deviating in varying degrees from both Mabel Loomis Todd’s 1896 edition (published in The Atlantic Monthly) and Thomas H. Johnson’s 1960 "emended" text.

Todd’s text is characterized by the omission of the pivotal third stanza, as well as its regulation of spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. In most cases, Dickinson’s unique short and long dashes are either omitted or replaced by commas or other "standard" punctuation marks. The line structures in Todd’s text are regularized as well, altered to conform to the "standard" hymnal meter that Dickinson often used early in her career. In response to this, I have, in the above edition of the poem, represented Dickinson’s "long" dashes as end dashes (--) and her shorter dashes as hyphens (-). Due to the restrictions of the print medium, this is the closest possible representation of these marks.

Johnson’s 1960 text restores the third stanza, and attempts, with varying levels of success, to reestablish Dickinson’s original spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. While considerably more faithful to the original holograph text than Todd’s version, Johnson’s text still reflects some level of editorial regulation, most notably in the line breaks. In both the Johnson and Todd texts, there are two key alterations that have heretofore gone mainly unnoticed. The first line in both Johnson’s and Todd’s texts is presented as: "Heaven -- is what - I cannot - reach!" with the usual variance in punctuation and capitalization. The original holograph text, however, places "reach" on the second line, disrupting the "standard" hymnal meter and visual structure of the line. A similar condensation occurs on lines eight and nine: "behind" is placed alone on line nine in the original holograph. These changes have been reflected in the above edition of "Heaven --" in an attempt to replicate as closely as possible the original holograph text.

In consciously reproducing this "disrupted" line structure, I implicitly contend that the original line breaks / disruptions in structure evident in the holograph are intentional. Upon first examination of the holograph text of "Heaven --", it seems that Dickinson simply runs out of space on the first and seventh lines, placing "reach" and "behind" on subsequent lines merely in order to continue a traditional "hymnal" line. This line of reasoning, I believe, breaks down when one examines this text more closely in conjunction with some of the other works in Fascicle 14.

Comparing the first line of "Heaven --" to the first line of "The feet of people walking home" (the facing page in Franklin’s holograph facsimile), one can see how Dickinson manipulated her lines using differences in handwriting and word spacing. The space between each word in "Heaven --," is considerable, and the words are constructed with large, flowing letters punctuated with fairly long, fluid dashes-- a marked contrast to the tight, almost crowded style that marks the first line of "The feet  of people walking home."   In "The feet . . .," Dickinson composes an eight syllable line similar to the first line(s) of "Heaven --" on one line, using compressed, tightly drawn letters with very little space between the words. It seems that Dickinson uses a similar compression methodology in the fragment "Whose peasants are the Angels," though it is unclear in Franklin’s facsimile book in which fascicle this poem belongs.

Examining the text of "Heaven --" in relation to other, more "compressed" Dickinson poems, it seems evident that the second and eighth- line placement of "reach" and "behind" is intentional. Dickinson could have easily constructed these lines, through various "compressing" techniques, to accommodate a one-line reading; the fact, then, that she did not construct the lines in question as "unbroken" or "disrupted" hymnal verses is significant in some way. The above text attempts to reproduce that disruption.


Matthew Hill 

March 20, 1998