poems from dickinson to thomas niles

Thomas Johnson's Note on Poem 1068

MANUSCRIPTS: There are three holographs of this poem which apparently was written sometime early in 1866. The copy reproduced above (BPL Higg 13) was enclosed in a letter to T. W. Higginson (BPL Higg 64) postmarked 27 January 1866. The letter (Letters [ed. 1931 only], 281) tersely announces the death of her dog and requests Higginson's criticism of the poem:

Carlo died.
   E- Dickinson
Would you instruct me now?

Higginson has tentatively titled it by a penciled query in the upper left margin: "Insect-Sounds?"

The copy sent to Higginson was preceded very possibly in the same month of January by a semifinal draft (Bingham l09-3):

Further in Summer than the Birds
Pathetic from the Grass
A minor Nation celebrates
It's unobtrusive Mass

No Ordinance be seen
So gradual the Grace
A pensive Custom it becomes
Enlarging Loneliness

Antiquest felt at Noon
When August burning low
Arise this spectral Canticle
Repose to typify.

Remit as yet no Grace
No Furrow on the Glow
Yet a Druidic - Difference
Enhances Nature now

"Antiquest" she first wrote "Antiquer," but in pencil she overlaid the final "r" with "st," and to confirm her decision she wrote "Antiquest" in pencil above the original word. It was the only alteration she judged necessary and, with its adoption, the fair copy to Higginson is identical with it in text. Some seventeen years later, in mid-March 1883 she chose this as the poem to enclose in a letter (Bingham 106) to Thomas Niles, editor of the publishing house of Roberts Brothers. She arranged it as two eight-line stanzas and introduced variants in lines 7, 11, and 15:

Further in Summer than the Birds-
Pathetic from the Grass
A minor Nation celebrates
It's unobtrusive Mass-
No Ordinance be seen-
So gradual the Grace
A gentle Custom it becomes-
Enlarging loneliness.

Antiquest felt at Noon
When August burning low
Arise the Spectral Canticle
Repose to typify-
Remit as yet no Grace-
No furrow on the Glow-
But a Druidic Difference
Enhances Nature now-

Niles had recently sent her a copy of Mathilde Blind's life of George Eliot just issued by his firm. She acknowledges receipt of the volume and thanks him by transcribing two of her poems (Letters [ed. 1931], 406):

I bring you a chill Gift-My Cricket- and the Snow-

Thus she indicates a title for this poem. "Snow" is her poem beginning "It sifts from leaden sieves."

Though no other holographs exist, there is a transcript of this poem which contains new third, fourth, and fifth stanzas. Mrs. Millicent Todd Bingham, who published it, believes the transcript to have been made by ED's cousin Frances Norcross:

Further in summer than the birds
Pathetic from the grass
A minor nation celebrates
Its unobtrusive mass.

No ordinance be seen,
So gradual the grace
A gentle custom it becomes,
Enlarging loneliness.

'Tis audibler at dusk
When day's attempt is done
And nature nothing waits to do
But terminate in tune;

Nor difference it knows
Of cadence or of pause
But simultaneous as sound
The service emphasize;

Nor know I when it cease,
At candle it is here;
When sunrise is, that is it not.
Than this, I know no more.

Antiquest felt at noon
When August burning low
Arise this spectral canticle
Repose to typify.

Remit as yet no grace,
No furrow on the glow,
But a druidic difference
Enhances nature now.

One might assume that the original of this version was written late from the fact that two of the three variants correspond to those in the Niles copy. (Stanzas 3, 4, 5 of the Norcross transcript are not reckoned in the line count.)

7. pensive
11. this
15. Yet




But a more compelling argument that it was an early version stems from the fact that ED always shortened her poems if she made stanza changes in later fair copies never lengthened them.

PUBLICATION: Poems (1891), 167, titled "My Cricket." The text follows either the semifinal copy or the copy to Higginson. Three alterations have been introduced which have no warrant in the extant manuscripts or the Norcross transcript:

1. Further] Farther
5. be] is
11. Arise this] Calls forth

The Norcross transcript is published in New England Quarterly, XX (1947), 12-13.

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Last updated on January 15, 1999