poems sent from dickinson to higginson

Thomas Johnson's Note on Poem 1391

MANUSCRIPT: Mary Channing Higginson, whom ED never met, had been in failing health for some years before she died in September 1877. ED had known about her illness, often asked after her health when she wrote Col. Higginson, and on four occasions at least sent messages directly to her. The lines reproduced above conclude a letter (BPL Higg 90) to Mrs. Higginson written in early spring 1877. They are introduced by the thought:

Forgive me if I come too much - the time to live is frugal - and good as is a better earth, it will not quite be this. How can I find the way to you and Mr Higginson without a Vane, or any Road?

The letter is not signed. A second holograph (Harvard) was sent to Mrs. Jonathan F. Jenkins, whose husband was pastor of the First Church in Amherst from 1868 to 1877. A memorandum accompanying the poem, written some years later by McGregor Jenkins, reads:

This verse written by "Miss Emily" was sent to my mother probably in 1878 or 1879 soon after my father left Amherst for Pittsfield in 1878.

The Rev. Mr. Jenkins accepted the Pittsfield call in January 1877 and left Amherst four months later. The handwriting of the poem clearly belongs tO 1877, and probably was written about May when the Jenkinses moved. It is identical in text with the copy above. In form it differs only in that line I concludes with a period.

PUBLICATION: It first appeared in the Book Buyer, XI (October 1894), 425. It reproduces the copy sent to Mrs. Jenkins. It was next published in Youth's Companion, LXXI (l1 November 1897), 568, titled "Ready," and the text is arranged as two quatrains. It presumably derives from a transcript supplied by Sue of a copy now lost. The verse to Mrs. Higginson is in Letters (ed. 1931 only), 308, arranged as two couplets; it is there printed as a letter sent to Col. Higginson. The lines in Youth's Companion are reprinted in American Literature, XX (1949), 437.

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Commentary copyright 1998 by Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved
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Last updated on September 22, 1998