poems sent from dickinson to frances and louise norcross

Thomas Johnson's Note on Poem 1212

No autograph copy of this poem is known. It is here reproduced from the transcript prepared by Mrs. Todd as printer's copy for the 1896 edition of Poems. Mrs. Todd evidently never saw the autograph; she had to rely upon the transcript supplied her by the Norcross cousins. The poem, printed as prose, was first published in the 1894 edition of Letters, 269, among the messages sent to the cousins. It is not clear whether the paragraph in which it appears is a postscript to the preceding letter or is an excerpt, standing by itself, from some other letter:

...Thank you for the passage. How long to live the truth is! A word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day.

If the former, the poem from internal evidence of the letter can be dated April or May 1872.

A letter from Frances Norcross to Mrs. Todd in August 1894 relative to publication of ED's letters to the Norcross sisters concludes (AB, 284):

Have you this anywhere?

   Thank you dear for the passage.

   How long to live the truth is.

A word is dead, when it is said
Some say -
I say it just begins to live
That day.

Evidently Frances Norcross forgot that she had already supplied a transcript in which the lines apparently were set down as prose. Mrs. Todd had incorporated them thus and did not have time to make a change in proof. LL 91924), 281, reprints the letter and poem in the same form. In the 1931 edition of Letters, 247, the poem is arranged as verse. It was also included in Poems (1896), 18, in the form here reproduced.

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Last updated on December 15, 1998