Editing a Transcript of a Version of a Poem, "Rearrange a 'Wife's' affection!"

Because Emily Dickinson's manuscript of "Rearrange a 'Wife's' affection!" is missing, all renderings of the poem, including my own, can be only versions of a Dickinson poem that probably no longer exists. At most, they are each a mere collaboration between the editor and Harriet Graves, who assisted Mabel Loomis Todd by copying this poem in 1889. Graves' two-page handwritten transcript, numbered Tr26, is part of the Amherst College Library and can be accessed on microfilm (PS1541. A11844A, section 4 reel 2).

There is little we know, without question, about the copy or the original of "Rearrange a 'Wife's' affection!" besides the fact that, as a rule, neither Graves nor Todd was entirely faithful to Dickinson's manuscripts. Variant word choices have been eliminated, misspellings corrected, line and page breaks modified, capitals and punctuation regularized (Franklin 16). We do not know if they even attempted to follow the same copy-editing rationale! The matter becomes even more serious when we read in Ancestors' Brocades by Todd's daughter, Millicent Todd Bingham, that "it took more time to strike out rejected words and arrange the chosen phrases for her [Graves], and then to correct the strange mistakes made in the copy, than to do the whole thing myself. So I [Mrs. Todd] gave up trying to secure help and continued to do it all" (31). Obviously, the copying itself was "idiosyncratic." Indeed, although editors such as Ralph Franklin, Bingham, and Thomas Johnson have defended Todd's editing practice and accuracy, they still could not hide the likely suspicion that it was she who mutilated many of the manuscripts, which recent Dickinson scholarship has begun to validate (Franklin 34, Smith 20, 240n18).

Speculation based on the transcript and Todd's letters informs much of this poem's history as well as my edition of it. Two major characteristics of the transcript instruct my editing, its questionable context and line breaks. First, since reliably dating the poem from its paper and handwriting is impossible, the only evidence for this poem's placement in Fascicle 11 derives from Todd's notebook, which appears to have been written in midsummer 1891 to index the poems (Franklin 46) - at least two years after "Rearrange a 'Wife's' affection!" was copied by Graves. Inability to visualize Dickinson's handwritten poem leads to my second editing concern; the line breaks. What constitutes a single line in the poem? If we place this poem in Fascicle 11, can we assume that the painterly characteristics of Dickinson's handwriting at this time carry over to this poem? Is it a fault of Graves' handwriting that many of what the printed versions of the poem depict as the last words in each line are shifted to a new line? Does capitalization signify a new line? The answers to these questions are "infinitely debatable" (Smith 106). Without the original, "Rearrange a 'Wife's' affection!" can be edited in innumerable ways. Therefore, I have chosen the two-page transcript version as my copy-text for "Rearrange a 'Wife's' affection!" and added notes to each page. Imagine editing a poem to be attributed to Emily Dickinson when you do not know exactly what she wrote!

Rearrange a "Wife's" affection!   (1)
When they dislocate my Brain!
Amputate my freckled Bosom!
Make me bearded like a man!   (2)

Blush, my spirit, in thy
Fastness -   (3)
Blush, my unacknowledged
Clay -   (4)
Seven years of troth have   (5)
taught thee
More than Wifehood ever may!

Love that never leaped its
socket -
Trust entrenched in narrow
pain -
Constancy thro' fire - awarded -    (6)
Anguish - bare of anodyne!

Burden - borne so far
triumphant -    (7)
None suspect me of the crown,
For I wear the "Thorns"
till Sunset -    (8)
Then - my Diadem put on.

Big my Secret but it's
bandaged -
It will never get away
Till the Day its Weary Keeper
Leads it through the Grave
to thee.   (9)

1. I have enlarged the font as far as possible, however Graves' version consumes the entire page. Particularly in Fascicle 11, Dickinson's handwriting accentuates the horizontal slant of each letter while Graves' accentuates a vertical line. Often Graves' lowercase "p" extends into the line above as well as the line below. For this reason, I give Graves the benefit of the doubt that these breaks have been copied exactly from Dickinson's manuscript because it appears that her writing style could have accommodated either elongated, widely-spaced letters or compact ones.

2. "bearded" appears as "beareded" with a cross-out over the middle "e" as if Graves was about to spell it differently. Might this speak to a possible manipulation of Dickinson's spelling?

3. In both Bolts of Melody (1945) and Johnson's variorum (1955), "Fastness" falls at the end of the previous line, as does "Clay" in line 8, "taught thee" in line 10, "socket" in line 13, and "pain" in 15.

4. No edition capitalizes "Clay," but the argument could be made that the transcript distinctly does.

5 Smith notes that, if we acknowledge Franklin's 1860 dating of the poem, Dickinson would have been "in love" with Sue Gilbert for seven years (240n18).

6. "fire - " is oddly squished between "thro'" and "awarded -" as if Graves realized sometime later that she had left out this word. Perhaps it was chosen from a list of variants Dickinson may have suggested but was eliminated by Graves or Todd.

7. Bolts of Melody and Johnson's variorum place "triumphant" at the end of the previous line, as "till Sunset," "bandaged," and "to thee" are placed in the lines preceding each.

8. I underline "Sunset" and "bandaged" as they appear in the transcript rather than italicizing them as in the two published editions to emphasize the actual visual difference between the two.

9. This last stanza especially reads like prose and alerts me to the possibility that Graves, and later Todd, may have taken definite regularizing "liberties" with at least this part of the poem.

Whether or not Dickinson designed the poem this way may never be known. Without the "tyranny of the original," Dickinson succeeds even further in her project of leaving her poems open-ended to invite writerly reader interaction. Although it is a crime that editors have definitely limited alternative readings in a way Dickinson never would have wanted, the unreliability of each version only prods readers to puzzle out their own alternatives, create their own Reader-Dickinson poems. I hope readers will take my Simmons-Todd-Graves-Dickinson version of "Rearrange a 'Wife's' affection!" and discover new possibilities for its presentation!

Works Cited

Bingham, Millicent Todd. Ancestors' Brocades. New York: Harper. 1945.

--- and Mabel Loomis Todd, eds. Bolts of Melody. New York: Harper, 1945.

Franklin, R. W., ed. The Editing of Emily Dickinson: A Reconsideration. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1967.

Johnson, Thomas H., ed. The Poems of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press, 1955.

Smith, Martha Nell. Rowing in Eden: Rereading Emily Dickinson. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992.

Edited by Sarah A. Simmons