letters from dickinson to william c. dickinson

14 February 1849

Cousin William,

Tis strange that a promise lives, and brightens, when the day that fashioned it, has mouldered, & stranger still, a promise looking to the day of Valentines for it's fulfillment.

Mine has been a very pleasant monitor, a friend, and kind companion, not a stern tyrant, like your own, compelling you to do what you would not have done, without compulsion.

Last Wednesday eve, I thought you had forgotten all about your promise, else you looked upon it as one foolish, & unworthy of fulfillment, now, I know your memory was faithfully, but I sadly fear, your inclination, quarrelled with it's admonitions.

A little condescending, & sarcastic, your Valentine to me, I thought; a little like an Eagle, stooping to salute a Wren, & I concluded once, I dared not answer it, for it seemed to me not quite becoming - in a bird so lowly as myself - to claim admittance to an Eyrie, & conversation with it's King.

But I have changed my mind - & you are not too busy, I'll chat a while with you.

I'm a "Fenestrellan captive," if this world be "Fenestrella," and within my dungeon yard, up from the silent pavement stones, has come a plant, so frail, & yet so beautiful, I tremble lest it die. This the first living thing that has beguiled my solitude, & sometimes I fancy that it whispers pleasant things to me - of freedom - and the future. Cans't guess it's name? T'is "Picciola"; & to you Cousin William, I'm indebted for my wondrous, new, companion.

I know not how to thank you, for your kindness. Gratitude is poor as poverty itself - & the "10,000 thanks" so often cited, seem like faintest shadows, when I try to stamp them here, that I may send their impress to you. "Picciola's" first flower - I will keep for you. Had not it's gentle voice, & friendly words - assured me of a "kind remembrance" - I think I should not have presumed thus much.

The last week has been a merry one in Amherst, & notes have flown around like, snowflakes. Ancient gentlemen, & spinsters, forgetting time, & multitude of years, have doffed their wrinkles - in exchange for smiles - even this aged world of our's, has thrown away it's staff - and spectacles, & now declares it will be young again.

Valentine's sun is setting now however, & before tomorrow eve, old things will take their place again. Another year, a long one, & a stranger to us all - must live, & die, before it's laughing beams will fall on us again, & of "that shadowy band in the silent land" may be the present writers of these merry missives.

But I am moralizing, forgetful of you, sisterless - and for that reason prone to mournful reverie - perhaps. Are you happy, now that she is gone? I know you must be lonely since her leave, and when I think of you nowadays, t'is of a "melancholy gentleman, standing on the banks of river Death - sighing & beckoning Charon to convey him over."

Have I guessed right, or are you merry as a "Fine old English Gentleman - all of the Olden time"?

I'll write to Martha soon, for tis as desolate to be without her letters: more desolate than you can think. I wont forget some little pencil marks I found in reading "Picciola," for they seem to me like silent sentinels, guarding the towers of some city, in itself - too beautiful to be unguarded; I've read those passages with hightened interest on their account.

Long life to Mr Hammond, & a thousand Valentines for every year of it.

Pardon my lengthiness - if it be not unpardonable.

Sincerely, your cousin,
Emily E. Dickinson.

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Last updated on May 3, 2000