poems from dickinson to sarah tuckerman

Thomas Johnson's Note on Poem 1465

MANUSCRIPTS: The fair copy reproduced above (AAS), written in pencil, was sent to Mrs. Edward Tuckerman, probably in early spring 1879. Though the text of the copy ED sent to Helen Hunt Jackson is missing, Mrs. Jackson's reaction to the poem was conveyed to ED by letter (Harvard). ED sent a copy to her perhaps sometime in March. Writing from Colorado Springs, 12 May 1879, Mrs. Jackson begins:

I know your "Bluebird" by heart - and that is more than I do of any of my own verses.

I also want your permission to send it to Col. Higginson to read. These two things are my testimonial to its merit.

Before she concludes, she adds:

What should you think of trying your hand on the oriole? He will be along presently.

And in a postscript she emphasizes her request:

Write and tell me if I may pass the Blue Bird along to the Col? -

There is no evidence either that the consent was given or that Higginson ever saw the poem until he and Mrs. Todd included it in the 1891 edition of Poems. It happens that an earlier poem ED had written on the bluebird she had indeed sent him nearly two years before. (See "After all Birds have been investigated and laid aside.")

Mrs. Jackson's exhortation that ED should try her hand on the oriole evidently produced the effect she hoped, for the poem "One of the ones that Midas touched," written on that theme, seems to have been composed later that year.

Another copy of the "Blue Bird" poem under discussion, written at the same time, survives (Bingham 96-2). Though set down on the back of a torn and discarded insurance note, it is a finished copy, identical in the text with that above, and titled by ED "Blue Bird." Minor changes are in punctuation (none at the end of line 2) and capitalization:

2. surmise
4. skies
9. song
15. nobody

PUBLICATION: Poems (1891), 120, titled "The Bluebird." It derives presumably from the copy (Bingham 96-2) that was in Mrs. Todd's possession, and is arranged as two 8-line stanzas.

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Commentary copyright 1998 by Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved
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Last updated on January 20, 1999