poems sent from dickinson to bowles

Thomas Johnson's Note on Poem 1395

MANUSCRIPTS: The copy reproduced above (BPL Higg 35) was enclosed in a letter to T.W. Higginson (BPL Higg 73) written in August 1877. The copy is endorsed to hime "The Blue Bird" in the upper left margin, and in the letter itself ED identifies it as "a Bluebird." The copy to Higginson was made soon after ED had entered the poem in the packet (Bingham 94-1):

After all Birds had been investigated and laid aside
Nature imparts the little Blue Bird - assured
Her conscientious voice
Will soar unmoved
Above ostensible vicissitude -
First at the March
Competing with the Wind -
Her zealous Note
Delights it to ascend.
Last at the Scene
When Summer swerves away -
Fortitude - flanked with Melody.

Having recorded the poem in the packet, she was dissatisfied with the second stanza. Two penciled scraps (Bingham 96-3 and 94-1a) show how she began to rework it. The first reads:
First at the March competing with the Wind
Her joyful cry exalts us like a friend
cordial note
Last to adhere when summer swerves away
                                  summer swerve
Fortitude stanched with melody

The second scrap brings line 6 and 7 still nearer their final shape:
Her gallant note endows us like a friend
                    when summer cleaves away

Only line 8 remained to be redacted, and a worksheet draft (Bingham 102-30 - on the verso of which is a draft of "No Passenger was known") bears these penciled lines:
Last to adhere
When Summers swerve away -
Elegy of

These lines are exactly duplicated in text and form on a sheet of note paper (Bingham 99-7) that has been folded as if enclosed in an envelope. Her fair copy to Higginson introduces a new variant "panting" in line 6, but retains "cleaves" in line 7. On 3 December 1877, Samuel Bowles suffered his last stroke, though he lived for several weeks. Her final letter to him, now lost, incorporated these lines:
. . . "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. . .

PUBLICATION: The copy to Higginson was first published in New England Quarterly, V (1932), 220. The text in BM (1945), 61, follows the text of the packet copy for stanza 1, but constructs a second stanza from the two scraps:

First at the March, competing with the wind,
Her gallant note exalts us like a friend,
Last to adhere when summer swerves away,
Fortitude stanched with melody.

The lines sent to Bowles are in Letters (ed. 1894), 222; (ed. 1931), 208; also LL (1924), 285.

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Commentary copyright 1998 by Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved
Maintained by Lara Vetter <lv26@umail.umd.edu>
Last updated on October 29, 1998