poems from dickinson to thomas niles

Thomas Johnson's Note on Poem 1510

MANUSCRIPTS: Three fair copies and the worksheet draft of this poem are known; a fourth, now lost, presumably sent to Mrs. Jackson, is discussed below.

The copy reproduced above (H Higg 4) is incorporated in a letter to T.W. Higginson written late in 1882. Following it as a separate quatrain are the lines:

Obtaining but our own extent
In whatsoever Realm -
'Twas Christ's own personal expanse
That bore him from the Tomb -

Taken together the fourteen lines express a sequence of thought, from the completely fulfilled but soulless pebble to the limitless Christ who is only fulfilled in immortality. A second fair copy of the ten-line stanza (privately owned: Godchaux), identical in text, may have been sent to Sue. It is in the handwriting of 1881.

How happy is the little Stone
That rambles in the Road alone -
And does'nt care about careers
And Exigencies never fears -
Whose Coat of elemental Brown
A passing Universe put on
And independent as the Sun
Associates or glows alone -
Fulfilling absolute Decree
In casual simplicity -

Again she left a space at the end of the poem, but this time added beneath it: "Heaven the Balm of a surly Technicality!" The thought seems to be a reflection on the Calvinist orthodoxy that only the "saved" get into heaven.

A third fair copy (Bingham) is identical with the copy to Higginson except that lines 2, 6,and 8 are without punctuation; it likewise seems to have been written late in 1882.

The worksheet draft (Bingham 103-7) from which the fair copies derive is jotted down in the blank spaces of a discarded letter, and was written early in 1881:

How happy is the little stone
That rambles in the Road alone
And does'nt care about careers -
And exigencies never fears
Whose Coat of elemental Brown
A passing Universe put on
And indepe[nde]nt as the sun
Associates - or basks alone -
Fulfilling [strikethrough: some express] Decree
In casual simplicity -

1] Invincible the little stone
7. And] Who
8. basks alone] glows alone
9. some express (crossed out)] absolute Decree
10. casual simplicity] competent simplicity

Of the suggested changes, ED adopted only "glows."

PUBLICATION: Poems (1891), 154, titled "Simplicity." In Letters (ed. 1894), 417, and in LL (1924), 348, it is printed as set forth in a letter to Thomas Niles, written in April 1882. The letter asks Niles to accept "a pebble" which ED says she thinks she had also sent to Helen Hunt Jackson. Though the letter survives, the poem said to be enclosed does not. In Letters (ed. 1931), 406, the poem is omitted from teh letter to Niles. The letter to Higginson was first published (with the poem included) in Letters (ed. 1931), 317.

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Commentary copyright 1998 by Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved
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Last updated on January 15, 1999