poems sent from dickinson to higginson

Thomas Johnson's Note on Poem 1209

MANUSCRIPT: The fair copy reproduced above (BPL Higg 31) was enclosed with other poems in a letter (BPL Higg 67) written to T. W. Higginson in December 187Z. ED ran lines 17 and 18 together; they are here separated, as she probably intended them to be, with "but" capitalized. This copy was preceded by a semifinal draft in packet 36 (H Igga), written late in 1872:

To disappear enhances-
The Man who runs away
Is gilded for an instant
With Immortality

But yesterday a Vagrant
Today in Memory lain
With superstitious value -
We tamper with Again
But Never - far as Honor
Removes the paltry Thing
And impotent to cherish
We hasten to adorn -

Of Death the sternest feature
That just as we discern
The Quality defies us -
Securest gathered then

The Fruit perverse to plucking
But leaning to the Sight
With the extatic limit
Of unobtained Delight.

2. who] that                          10] Withdraws the worthless One
3. gilded] tinctured                13. sternest feature] sharpest function
7. value] merit / moment        15. Quality] Excellence

The underlinings are in pencil, and "that" and "moment" are added in pencil. In the fair copy to Higginson, ED adopted the suggested changes in lines 2, 3, 15, and part of those in lines 10 and 13. A fair copy of the last two stanzas, evidently written at the same time, was sent to Sue (H 302):

Of Death the sharpest function
That just as we discern
The Excellence defies us
Securest gathered then
The Fruit perverse to plucking
But leaning to the Sight
With the Extatic limit
Of unobtained Delight.

It adopts the suggested changes of lines 13 and 15 of the packet copy. It is unsigned, and folded as if enclosed in an envelope.

PUBLICATION: The letter to Higginson in which the poem was enclosed was published in Letters (ed. 1894), 316-317; (ed. 1931), 290; also in LL (1924), 277. The poem itself is published among the letters but in a different place: Letters (ed. 1894), 323-324; (ed. 1931), 301-302; also LL (1924) 304 - printed as though it were part of a letter written in 1876. It accurately reproduces the text of the poem.

The copy to Sue, a variant of the last two stanzas, was accurately printed in SH (1914), 30, and again in CP (1924), 266. The two stanzas were never again separately printed. In preparing copy for FP (1929), Mrs. Bianchi decided to draw upon the packet copy version of the poem, which was in her possession. It there appears on page 197. She chose among the suggested changes for lines 3, 7 ("merit"), 13, 15. Part of the alternative for line l0 is selected and the line reads:

Removes the paltry One
This is the version printed in later collections. Mrs. Bianchi evidently was unaware that the Higginson copy had been published, for her footnote in FP reads:

The first three stanzas have never before been published. The last two only appeared on page 266 of the "Complete Poems."
Mrs. Bingham drew attention to the editorial confusion in a footnote in AB (1945), 389.

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Commentary copyright 1998 by Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved
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Last updated on February 21, 2000