letters from dickinson to abiah root

late 1850

I write Abiah to-night, because it is cool and quiet, and I can forget the toil and care of the feverish day, and then I am selfish too, because I am feeling lonely; some of my friends are gone, and some of my friends are sleeping - sleeping the churchyard sleep - the hour of evening is sad - it was once my study hour - my master has gone to rest, and the open leaf of the book, and the scholar at school alone, make the tears come, and I cannot brush them away; I would not if I could, for they are the only tribute I can pay the departed Humphrey.

You have stood by the grave before; I have walked there sweet summer evenings and read the names on the stones, and wondered who would come and give me the same memorial; but I never have laid my friends there, and forgot that they too must die; this is my first affliction, and indeed 'tis hard to bear it. To those bereaved so often that home is no more here, and whose communion with friends is had only in prayers, there must be much to hope for, but when the unreconciled spirit has nothing left but God, that spirit is lone indeed. I don't think there will be any sunshine, or any singing-birds in the spring that's coming. I shall look for an early grave then, when the grass is growing green; I shall love to call the bird there if it has gentle music, and the meekest-eyed wild flowers, and the low, plaintive insect. How precious the grave, Abiah, when aught that we love is laid there, and affection would fain go too, if that the lost were lonely! I will try not to say any more - my rebellious thoughts are many, and the friend I love and trust in his much now to forgive. I wish I were somebody else - I would pray the prayer of the "Pharisee," but I am a poor little "Publican." "Son of David," look down on me!

'Twas a great while ago when you wrote me, I remember the leaves were falling - and now there are falling snows; who maketh the two to differ - are not leaves the brethren of snows?

Then it can't be a great while since then, though I verily thought it was; we are not so young as we once were, and time seems to be growing long. I dream of being a grandame, and banding my silver hairs, and I seem to be quite submissive to the thought of growing old; no doubt you ride rocking-horses in your present as in young sleeps - quite a pretty contrast indeed, of me braiding my own gray hairs, and my friend at play with her childhood, a pair of decayed old ladies! Where are you, my antique friend, or my very dear and young one - just as you please to please - it may seem quite a presumption that I address you at all, knowing not if you habit here, or if my "bird has flown" in which world her wing is folded. When I think of the friends I love, and the little while we may dwell here, and then "we go away," I have a yearning feeling, a desire eager and anxious lest any be stolen away, so that I cannot behold them. I would have you here, all here, where I can see you, and hear you, and where I can say "Oh, no," if the "Son of Man" ever "cometh"!

It is not enough, now and then, at long and uncertain intervals to hear you're alive and well. I do not care for the body, I love the timid soul, the blushing, shrinking soul; it hides, for it is afraid, and the bold obstrusive body - Pray, marm, did you call me? We are very small, Abiah - I think we grow still smaller - this tiny, insect life the portal to another; it seems strange - strange indeed. I'm afraid we are all unworthy, yet we shall "enter in."

I can think of no other way than for you, my dear girl, to come here - we are growing away from each other, and talk even now like strangers. To forget the "meum and teum," dearest friends must meet sometimes, and then comes the "bond of the spirit" which, if I am correct, is "unity."

. . . You are growing wiser than I am, and nipping in the bud fancies which I let blossom - perchance to bear no fruit, or if plucked, I may find it bitter. The shore is safer, Abiah, but I love to buffet the sea - I can count the bitter wrecks here in these pleasant waters, and hear the murmuring winds, but oh, I love the danger! You are learning control and firmness. Christ Jesus will love you more. I'm afraid he don't love me any! . . . Write when you will, my friend, and forget all amiss herein, for as these few imperfect words to the full communion of spirits, so this small giddy life to the better, the life eternal, and that we may live this life, and be filled with this try communion, I shall not cease to pray.


Abby has been to see you, and you had the happiest time. I know how you talked, and wa[l]ked, and I saw the weary eyelids, drooping, fainting, falling. Oh you are both asleep, and your hand is fast in Abby's. I stand by the fond young bedside, and think of "Babes in the Wood" - large babes - the ones we hear of were small ones - I seem to myself a robin covering you with leaves - the Babies we were are buried, and their shadows are plodding on. Abby is better now - she has just made another visit - a kind of friendly tour among her kith and kin. She seems better in mind and body - by which I mean stronger physically, and more cheerful in mind. I wonder that Abby's headaches do not depress her more - she endures and bears like a martyr.

I see but little of Abby; she cannot come to see me, and I walk so far not often, and perhaps it's all right and best. Our lots fall in different places; mayhap we might disagree. We take different views of life, our thoughts would not dwell together as they used to when we were young - how long ago that seems! She is more of a woman than I am, for I love so to be a child - Abby is holier than me - she does more good in her lifetime than ever I shall in mine - she goes among the poor, she shuts the eye of the dying - she will be had in memorial when I am gone and forgotten. Do not think we are aught than friends - though the "silver cord be loosed" the "golden bowl" is not broken. I have talked thus freely of Abby because we three were friends, because I trust we three are friends, and shall meet in bliss together, because the golden links, though dimmed, are no less golden, and I love to hold them up, and see them gleam in the sunshine; you and I, too, are more alike than Abby and I are sometimes, and the name of each is dear and is cherished by the other.

Won't you say what you think of Abby - I mean of her heart and mind - when you write me. I think it is a license which friend may take with friend, without at all detracting from aught we like or love. And tell me of some one else - what she is thinking and doing, and whether she still remembers the loves of "long ago," and sighs as she remembers, lest there be no more as true - "sad times, sweet time, two bairns at school, but a' one heart" - three bairns, and the tale had been truer.

thomas johnson's note on letter 39 | index to dickinson/root letters

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Last updated on February 25, 2008