poems from dickinson to daniel chester french

Thomas Johnson's Note on Poem 1620

MANUSCRIPT: About April 1884 (Bingham 102-9). It is a worksheet draft jotted down on a small scrap of notepaper. An alternative last line has been written and crossed out: "That bends a Knee to thee." This poem is of interest since it seems to have been written for a special occasion. Though the holograph worksheet is all that remains, a fair copy now lost was incorporated into a letter written to the sculptor Daniel Chester French at the time of the unveiling of his statue of John Harvard in front of University Hall in Cambridge. A transcript of the letter, supplied by his daughter, Mrs. William Penn Cresson, reads:

Dear Mr. French: -

We learn with delight of the recent acquisition to your fame,
and hasten to congratulate you on an honor so reverently won.
Success is dust, but an aim forever touched with dew.
God keep you fundamental!

Circumference, thou bride
Of awe, - possessing, thou
Shalt be possessed by
Every hallowed knight
That dares to covet thee.

Yours faithfully,
Emily Dickinson

The worksheet draft may quite possibly have been the first sketch of the lines especially intended for the letter to French, whom ED had known as a boy in Amherst when his father the Hon. Henry Flagg French served briefly as the first president of the Massachusetts Agricultural College from 1864 to 1866. On the same sheet is hte poem beginning "Arrows enamored of his Heart." On the verso ED had begun a letter:

Sunday - Second of March

March second fell on Sunday in 1884.

PUBLICATION: The letter but not the poem is published in an altered form in FF (1932), 58 and 239. The poem, derived from the worksheet draft, is in BM (1945), 286. It rejects the suggested change, as does the fair copy sent in the letter to French.

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Commentary copyright 1998 by Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved
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Last updated on February 14, 2000