poems sent from dickinson to higginson

Thomas Johnson's Note on Poem 1561

MANUSCRIPT: There are three autograph copies. That reproduced above (BPL Higg 44) was evidently enclosed in a letter to T.W. Higginson (BPL Higg 114) written in the spring of 1883. (Though folded differently, it matches the handwriting and stationery of the letter.) It is the last poem that ED enclosed in her letters to Higginson and was sent, one conjectures, because she sensed in it the fullness of her poetic art. The other fair copy (H 294, written at the same time, is signed "Emily -" and was probably sent to Sue. Its text is identical with that of the copy to Higginson, with tese differences in capitals and punctuation:

1. Year] year            15. Nutriment] nutriment
3. too] too -            19. Militant] militant
6. Day,] Day -           21. Character -] Character
13-14] I felt Apology were due   22. Future -] Future

to an insulted Sky

The third copy is the worksheet draft (Bingham 96-4), also written at the same time:

No Brigadier throughout the Year
So civic as the Jay -
A Neighbor and a Warrior too
With shrill felicity
Subduing Winds that censure us
A January Day -
The Brother of the Universe
Was never blown away -
The Snow and he are intimate -
I've often seen them play
When Heaven looked upon us all
With such severity
I felt apology were due
To an insulted sky
Whose pompous frown was Nutriment
To their temerity -
The Pillow of this daring Head
Is pungent Evergreens -
His Larder - terse and Militant
Unknown - refreshing things -
His character - a Tonic -
His Future a Dispute -
Unfair an Immortality
That leaves this Neighbor out -

5. Subduing] pursuing       22. Future a Dispute] Chances a
5. censure] sunder (crossed out and   Redoubt - / Doctrines - [a Redoubt-]/
censure restored       Dogmas - [a Redoubt-]
6. January] Febuary Day -       24. Neighbor] Major out

Of the suggested changes ED adopted only "pursuing" (line 5) and "Febuary" (line 6).

PUBLICATION: The poem, titled "The Blue Jay," was first published in Atlantic Monthly LXVIII
(October 1891), 454, incorporated in an article which Higginson wrote dealing with letters and poems that he had received from ED. The text derives from his copy and is arranged without stanza division. The same text was reproduced when the poem was collected later in the year in Poems (1891), 176-177, also titled "The Blue Jay." Here the text is arranged as six quatrains and has been so printed in all later editions.

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Commentary copyright 1998 by Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved
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Last updated on December 13, 1999