MANUSCRIPTS: This poem survives in several stages of composition and in different versions. All copies were written about the same time, presumably in late May 1874. The copy reproduced above (Bingham 94-19) is as near being a fair copy as any; the alternative "event" seems to be one that ED clung to but never really adopted, as will appear in the discussion below. The earliest rough draft (Bingham 103-14), jotted down in pencil on the inside of a slit-open envelope, gives the first eight lines only:
The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants -There is a second rough draft (Bingham 103-22) of stanza 2 only, set down in pencil on a scrap of wrapping paper:
As if it tarried always -If the suggested change is for these lines, it perhaps is for the final two words in the second line: it was never adopted. She began again. In ink she composed four stanzas (Bingham 98-4B-21) thus:
The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants -Having finished the stanzas, she added alternatives in pencil:
7. Delay] Event/ ReplyShe deleted words in two lines and made replacements in pencil:
13. Plated] suppleShe then added a fifth stanza in penil at the bottom of the sheet:
I feel as if the Grass was pleasedThis she numbered "5" in the margin and placed "6" beside the preceding stanza. At this point presumably she made what she intended to be a fair copy - that reproduced above as the final text.
Late in May 1874 she answered a letter from T. W. Higginson (BPL Higg 88) in which she comments:
You kindly ask for my Blossoms and Books - I have read but a little recently - Existence has overpowered Books. Today, I slew a Mushroom. [L 413]She then incorporates in the letter the newly composed "fifth" stanza - with a variant first line:
I felt as if the Grass was pleasedThe somewhat solemn and reflective mood of the letter may account for her withholding the poem as a whole, which is lighthearted. It was about this time, one conjectures, that she sent a copy of the poem to the Norcross cousins. Fanny Norcross wrote a letter to Higginson, at the time he and Mrs. Todd were engaged in editing the Poems, to give him access to verses he might not know about. The letter is among his papers (BPL Higg 135):
Dear Mr. Higginson,She enclosed, along with "A Spider sewed at Night," a transcript of the following:
The mushroom is the Elf of Plants -The holographs from which Fanny Norcross made transcripts are lost. There are several variants, one or two of which may be misreadings. Certainly the changes in line 17-19 are ED's, for they reestablish "an Iscariot," discarded in the earlier draft. It is conceivable, but not in the mood of the poem, that "Joy" (line 10 ) is a substitute for "Germ." One may question whether ED wrote "stops" (line 4) or "were" (line 13), since the words are uniformly "stop" and "was" in all other copies where they appear, and are characteristic of her expression.
PUBLICATION: The five stanzas are in Poems (1891), 144-145, titled "The Mushroom." The poem follows the Norcross transcript except that "Joy" is replaced by "germ," a change perhaps made by Mrs. Todd who had the holographs to guide her. The variant stanza sent to Higginson is in Letters (ed. 1931 only), 305.