poems sent from dickinson to bowles

Thomas Johnson's Note on Poem 792

MANUSCRIPTS: There are two, both written about 1863. A third, known to have been written, is now lost. That reproduced above (Bingham) is in a letter to an unidentified recipient, sent probably to Samuel Bowles. It is without signature, and the poem is preceded by the message:

Dear friend If you doubted my Snow - for a moment - you never will - again - I know -

Because I could not say it - I fixed it in the Verse - for you to read - when your thought wavers, for such a foot as mine -

The semifinal draft, of which the fair copy above and the lost copy are redactions, is in packet 18 (H 101a):

Through the Straight Pass of Suffering
The Martyrs even trod -
Their feet upon Temptation -
Their foreheads - upon God -

A Stately - Shriven Company -
Convulsion playing round -
Harmless as streaks of Meteor -
Upon a Planet's Bond -

Their faith the Everlasting Troth -
Their Expectation - sure -
The Needle to the North Degree
Wades so - through Polar Air -

2. even] steady
4. foreheads] faces
10. sure] fair

The text of the lost fair copy, discussed below, is that of the packet copy with all suggested changes rejected, but with the spelling "strait" (line 1). In the fair copy above ED adopted her suggested changes for lines 4 and 10, but rejected that for line 2.

PUBLICATION: The poem first appeared in the Independent, XLIII (12 March 1891), 1, titled "The Martyrs." It derived from the lost copy to Sue which she sent to the editor, Dr. William Hayes Ward. The exchange of letters regarding it, written by Susan Dickinson and Dr. Ward, is in AB, 114-118. With the same title it was issued in Poems (1891), 33, and follows the text of the fair copy above, then in Mrs. Todd's possession. The third word in line 1 is spelled "straight." In both printings, one word is altered:

8. Bond] bound

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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 16, 1998