poems sent from dickinson to higginson


Thomas Johnson's Note on Poem 228

MANUSCRIPTS: There are two copies of this poem. A third, now lost, is known to have been made. That reproduced above (BPL Higg 21) was one of four enclosed in a letter (BPL Higg 60) to T. W. Higginson, postmarked 9 June 1866. The other copy, written some five years earlier, about 1861, is in packet 23 (H l27a):

Blazing in Gold - and
Quenching-in Purple!
Leaping-like Leopards-in the sky-
Then-at the feet of the old Horizon-
Laying it's spotted face - to die!

Stooping as low as the kitchen window-
Touching the Roof-
And tinting the Barn-
Kissing it's Bonnet to the Meadow-
And the Juggler of Day - is gone!

In line 3 ED later crossed out "in" and substituted "to." There are three variants in the copy to Higginson:

4. her] it's
5. Otter's] kitchen
7. her] it's

The third (lost) copy evidently was sent to Sue. A footnote in AB, 140, reproduces a letter written to Mrs. Todd by ED's cousin, Perez D. Cowan, dated 9 June 1891, wherein he transcribes the poem from memory as one that had been given him by Susan Dickinson when he was an Amherst undergraduate (1862-1866). It is rendered thus:

Blazing in gold, and quenching in purple,
Leaping like leopards in the sky,
At the feet of the old horizon
Laying her spotted face to die,

Bending low at the oriel window
Flooding the steeple, and tinting the barn,
Kissing her bonnet to the meadow—
And the Juggler of Day is gone.

"Then" is omitted from line 3. Other variants are these:

2. to] in
5. Stooping as low as] Bending low at
5. Otter's] oriel
6. Touching the Roof] Flooding the steeple

A faulty memory might account for some of the differences, but the nature of the changes in lines 5 and 6 suggests that his copy was a variant. The conjecture is somewhat substantiated by the version of the poem which was anonymously published in the Springfield Daily Republican on 30 March 1864 in the "Wit and Wisdom" column, titled "Sunset:"

Blazing in gold, and quenching in purple,
  Leaping like leopards in the sky,
Then at the feet of the old horizon
  Laying her spotted face to die;
Stooping as low as the oriel window,
  Touching the roof, and tinting the barn,
Kissing her bonnet to the meadow-
  And the Juggler of Day is gone!

It departs from the text of the packet copy thus (counting the line spacings in the Republican):

4. it's] her
5. kitchen] oriel
7. it's] her

PUBLICATION: There is no way of knowing who supplied the version printed in the Republican, discussed above. The copy supplied Cowan by Susan Dickinson also uses the phrase "oriel window," and since it is unlikely that ED herself sent the copy, one conjectures that the lost copy to Sue was the source as well of the text in the Republican. The text in Poems (1891), 166, titled "The Juggler of Day," reproduced the copy to Higginson, arranged as two quatrains. When Higginson was putting final editorial touches to the volume, he wrote on 18 July 1891 to Mrs. Todd (AB 140):

I have combined the two "Juggler of Day" poems, using the otter's window of course (oriel!!) & making the juggler a woman, as is proper.

By "oriel" he has in mind the Cowan text quoted to him by Mrs. Todd. He obviously distrusted Cowan's memory. ED's variants "kitchen," "oriel," "Otter" all remain in fair copies nevertheless.

When Mrs. Bianchi included the poem in CP (1924), 102, and later collections, she altered line 5 to conform with that in the packet copy, thus restoring "kitchen." In lines 4 and 7 "her" still remains.


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