poems sent from dickinson to higginson

Thomas Johnson's Note on Poem 1260

MANUSCRIPT: There are three holographs of this poem: a rough draft and two fair copies, all written in late 1873 or early 1874. The fair copy reproduced above (BPL Higg 33) was enclosed in a letter (BPL Higg 84) to T. W. Higginson, written in January 1874. The other fair copy (Bingham 98-1-1) is folded as if it had been enclosed in an envelope. The final eleven lines were on a sheet or sheets now missing, but the extant portion of the text is identical with that of the copy to Higginson. There are minor differences in form: line 2 and 12 end with dashes; "Face" (lines 23, 27) is not capitalized; and line 21 is without punctuation. The rough draft (Bingham 98-1-2), in pencil, presumably is the worksheet copy from which the fair copies derived. The text is arranged as five eightline stanzas. In the fair copies ED adopted the changes suggested for line 3, 5 (final), 6 (first), 7, and 8; in other respects she accepted her original text which reads thus:

Because that you are going
And never coming back
And I, however accurate,
May overlook your Track,
Because that Death is Treason
However true it be -
This instant be abolished
To all but Fealty -

Significance, that each has lived
The other to detect -
Discovery, not God himself
Could now annihilate.
Eternity, presumption,
The instant I perceive
That you, who were existence
Yourself forgot to live -

"The Life that is," will then have been
A thing I never knew,
As Paradise, fictitious,
Until the Realm of you.
The "Life that is to be" to me
A Residence too plain
Unless in my Redeemer's Face
I recognize your own -

Of Immortality who doubts
He may exchange with me
Curtailed by your obscuring Face
Of everything but he
Of Heaven and Hell I also yield
The Right to reprehend
To whoso would commute this Face
For his less priceless Friend -

If "God is Love" as he admits,
We think that he must be
Because he is a jealous God
He tells us certainly.
If "All is possible" with him
As he besides concedes,
He will refund us finally
Our confiscated Gods -
3. accurate] absolute                             7-8] This instant be suspended
4. overlook] misinfer (misconceive is                   Above mortality
    also suggested but deleted)               9. Significance] Omnipotence
5. Treason] different/ final                     26. exchange] confer
6. true] due-/ just/ first                          27. obscuring] removing

PUBLICATION: The copy to Higginson furnished the text for the initial publication in Genevieve Taggard's The Life and Mind of Emily Dickinson (1930), 123-124. The version in BM (1945), 154-155, derived from the rough draft. From the suggested changes it selects those chosen by ED in the fair copies except in line 3, where "accurate" replaces "absolute." It is arranged as quatrains.

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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 September 10, 1998