letters from dickinson to bowles

Thomas Johnson's Note on Letter 438


PUBLICATION: L (1894) 221-222; LL 284-285; L (1931) 207: - the body of the letter and the signature. The postscript is printed a separate message: L (1894) 222-223; LL 285; L (1931) 208.

The date conjectured from the handwriting, is almost certainly 1875. It was Bowles's custom to be present at commencement exercises in August. The first sentence together with the postscript suggest that perhaps this year he came during the spring, his first visit since he was present with the family at the time of Edward Dickinson's funeral in June 1874.

Letters (1894) and subsequent editions print the following as a separate letter.

If we die, will you come for us, as you do for father? "Not born," yourself "to die," you must reverse us all.

Last to adhere
When summers swerve away -
Elegy of

To remember our own Mr. Bowles is all we can do.

With grief it is done, so warmly and long, it can never be new.


It is not dated, but placed as one sent to Bowles, presumably in his last illness. The "letter" is in fact a montage of three separate items. The first two sentences conclude this letter. The stanza (AC) is on a separate sheet. The last two sentences constitute the letter sent to Mrs. Bowles after the death of her husband (no. 532(. The provenance of the verse is almost certainly Bingham 99- 7, described in Poems (1955), 964, as written on a sheet of note paper and folded as if enclosed in an envelope. The lines may in fact have been enclosed with letter no. 532, or sent to Mrs. Bowles about the same time, for they are in the handwriting of about 1878. At the time Poems was published, the "letter" was thought to be lost; thus the concluding version of the lines as printed in Poems, deriving from the montage, is a duplication of the version (Bingham 99-7) already described.

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Commentary copyright 1998 by Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved
Maintained by Lara Vetter <lvetter@uncc.edu>
Last updated on February 25, 2008