poems sent from dickinson to bowles

Thomas Johnson's Note on Poem 1409

MANUSCRIPTS: There are two, both written in pencil about 1877. The fair copy reproduced above (Bingham 109-1) has discarded the second stanza that appears in the rough or seminfinal draft (H 243) from which the fair copy was redacted:

Could mortal Lip divine
The elemental Freight
Of a delivered Syllable -
'Twould crumble with the weight -

The Prey of Unknown Zones -
The Pillage of the Sea
The Tabernacles of the Minds
That told the Truth to me -

2. elemental] undeveloped     5-6] In spans in Unknown Zones -
3. a] it's                                Irreverenced - in the Sea -
                                           8. Truth] News -

PUBLICATION: The text of the fair copy appears among the poems sent to Samuel Bowles in Letters (ed. 1894), 221; (ed. 1931), 207; also LL (1924), 284, and is identical with that in the fair copy above. The Bingham autograph, faithfully rendered, furnished the text for Poems (1896), 25, titled "A Syllable." This text is also followed when the poem was issued in CP (1924), 52. But in the Centenary edition (1930) and subsequent collections the first line was altered to read:
Could any moral lip divine

The rough draft furnished copy for the somewhat freely altered version in LL, 77:
Could any mortal lip divine
The elemental freight
Of undeveloped syllable
'Twould crumble with the weight,
The prey of unknown zones,
The pillage of the sea,
These tabernacles of the mind
That told the news to me.

The alteration in the first line in the Centenary edition of the Poems, and in all later issues, evidently follows the unwarranted alteration first made in LL.

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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 30, 1998