poems from dickinson to william howland

Thomas Johnson's Note on Poem 3

No autograph copy of this "valentine" has been located. It is here reproduced from teh Springfield Daily Republican of 20 February 1852. It is the first of seven poems known to be published in her lifetime. It is one of her earliest verses and certainly the longest. The valentiens of the 1850's were successful in proportion to the extravagance and elaborateness of their expression. Those written by ED held a special place in the minds of her contemporaries for their ornate drollery. This valentine was sent to William Howland (1822-1880), a graduate of Amherst College where he had recently been serving as a tutor. Whether he or another sent it to the Republican, the purpose of valentine exchanges was carried forward: to surprise the sender by a riposte and to keep up the badinage as long as possible. The verses are editorially prefaced thus:


The hand that wrote the following amusing medley to a gentleman friend of ours, as "a valentine," is capable of writing very fine things, and there is certainly no presumption in entertaining a private wish that a correspondence, more direct than this, may be established between it and the Republican.

One of the Monson, Massachusetts, relatives, Eudocia Converse - a first cousin of ED's mother - transcribed it into her 1848-1853 commonplace book, withi the notation "Valentine by Miss E Dickinson of Amherst." The knowledge of her authorship clearly was abroad. One word differs:

50. dreams] streams

It could easily have been a misreading of ED's initial "d" as she formed them at that time, and strongly suggests that she transcribed it from a manuscript copy - if not ED's then another's - rather than from the Republican.

PUBLICATION: Its initial publication has been discussed. It is also in Letters (ed. 1894), 140-142; (ed. 1931), 138-141; and in LL (1924), 147-149. The text follows the Republican version except for four alterations:

11. gentleman] gentlemen
19. shalt] shall
46. Laid] Lay
50. dreams] dream

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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 February 14, 2000