poems from dickinson to ned dickinson

Thomas Johnson's Note on Poem 1545

MANUSCRIPTS: The copy reproduced above (H B 165) was written late in 1882. ED sent it as a message to her nephew Edward Dickinson, then twenty-one years old, an undergraduate in Amherst College, and evidently at the time confined at home by illness. It is addressed "Ned -" and begins

"Sanctuary Privileges" for Ned, as he is unable to attend -

and is signed "Emily." It exists also in a semifinal penciled draft (Bingham 98-4B-14), wherein the first twelve lines - set down as three quatrains - were written some three years earlier, about 1879:

   Diagnosis of the Bible, by a Boy - The Bible is an untold Volume
Written by unknown Men
By the direction of hallowed spectres -
Subjects - Bethlehem -

Genesis - Bethlehem's Ancestor -
Satan - the Brigadier -
Judas - the first Defaulter -
David - the Troubadour -

Sin - a distinguished Precipice -
But I must desist -
Boys that believe - are very lonesome -    [strikethrough: Boys that "believe" -]
   bastinadoed -    [strikethrough: Why Boys are friendly -]
Other Boys - are lost -

At some later date, evidently just before she prepared the fair copy for Ned, she turned the semifinal draft into a worksheet by creating a fourth and final stanza, thus:

Had but the Tale a thrilling Teller
All the Boys would come -
Orpheus' Sermon captivated -
It did not condemn -

1. thrilling] typic - hearty - bonnie -
   breathless - spacious - tropic -
   warbling - arden - friendly -
   magic - pungent - warbling -
   winning - mellow -

There are thirteen different alternatives suggested for "thrilling," and "warbling" is repeated; "warbling" is selected in the fair copy. The many variants that appear in the first twelve lines of the fair copy quite possibly were created and instantly set down in the process of writing out the copy to Ned, without the need of an intermediary trial draft. Apparently such was often her method of composition.

PUBLICATION: The entire letter is in LL (1924), 91-92. The poem only, following the copy to Ned, was published in CP (1924), 299. It is printed as a seventeen-line stanza - line 11 is divided into two lines.

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Last updated on January 15, 1999