PREFACE - VOLUME II
The eagerness with which the first volume of Emily Dickinson's
poems has been read shows very clearly that all our alleged modern
artificiality does not prevent a prompt appreciation of the
qualities of directness and simplicity in approaching the greatest
themes,--life and love and death. That "irresistible needle-touch,"
as one of her best critics has called it, piercing at once the very
core of a thought, has found a response as wide and sympathetic as
it has been unexpected even to those who knew best her compelling
power. This second volume, while open to the same criticism as to
form with its predecessor, shows also the same shining beauties.
Although Emily Dickinson had been in the habit of sending
occasional poems to friends and correspondents, the full extent of
her writing was by no means imagined by them. Her friend "H.H."
must at least have suspected it, for in a letter dated 5th
September, 1884, she wrote:--
MY DEAR FRIEND,-- What portfolios full of verses
you must have! It is a cruel wrong to your "day and
generation" that you will not give them light.
If such a thing should happen as that I should outlive
you, I wish you would make me your literary legatee
and executor. Surely after you are what is called
"dead" you will be willing that the poor ghosts you
have left behind should be cheered and pleased by your
verses, will you not? You ought to be. I do not think
we have a right to withhold from the world a word or
a thought any more than a deed which might help a
single soul. . . .
The "portfolios" were found, shortly after Emily Dickinson's death,
by her sister and only surviving housemate. Most of the poems had
been carefully copied on sheets of note-paper, and tied in little
fascicules, each of six or eight sheets. While many of them bear
evidence of having been thrown off at white heat, still more had
received thoughtful revision. There is the frequent addition of
rather perplexing foot-notes, affording large choice of words and
phrases. And in the copies which she sent to friends, sometimes one
form, sometimes another, is found to have been used. Without
important exception, her friends have generously placed at the
disposal of the Editors any poems they had received from her; and
these have given the obvious advantage of comparison among several
renderings of the same verse.
To what further rigorous pruning her verses would have been
subjected had she published tnem herself, we cannot know. They
should be regarded in many cases as merely the first strong and
suggestive sketches of an artist, intended to be embodied at some
time in the finished picture.
Emily Dickinson appears to have written her first poems in the
winter of 1862. In a letter to oone of the present Editors the
April following, she says, "I made no verse, but one or two, until
The handwriting was at first somewhat like the delicate, running
Italian hand of our elder gentlewomen; but as she advanced in
breadth of thought, it grew bolder and more abrupt, until in her
latest years each letter stood distinct and separate from its
fellows. In most of her poems, particularly the later ones,
everything by way of punctuation was discarded, except numerous
dashes; and all important words began with capitals. The effect of
a page of her more recent manuscript is exceedingly quaint and
strong. The fac-simile given in the present volume is from one of
the earlier transition periods. Although there is nowhere a date,
the handwriting makes it possible to arrange the poems with general
As a rule, the verses were without titles; but "A Country Burial,"
"A Thunder-Storm," "The Humming-Bird," and a few others were named
by their author, frequently at the end,--sometimes only in the
accompanying note, if sent to a friend.
The variation of readings, with the fact that she often wrote in
pencil and not always clearly, have at times thrown a good deal of
responsibility upon her Editors. But all interference not
absolutely inevitable has been avoided. The very roughness of her
rendering is part of herself, and not lightly to be touched; for it
seems in many cases that she intentionally avoided the smoother and
more usual rhymes.
Like impressionist pictures, or Wagner's rugged music, the very
absence of conventional form challenges attention. In Emily
Dickinson's exacting hands, the especial, intrinsic fitness of a
particular order of words might not be sacrificed to anything
virtually extrinsic; and her verses all show a strange cadence of
inner rhythmical music. Lines are always daringly constructed, and
the "thought-rhyme" appears frequently,--appealing, indeed, to an
unrecognized sense more elusive than hearing.
Emily Dickinson scrutinized everything with clear-eyed frankness.
Every subject was proper ground for legitimate study, even the
sombre facts of death and burial, and the unknown life beyond. She
touches these themes sometimes lightly, sometimes almost
humorously, more often with weird and peculiar power; but she is
never by any chance frivolous or trivial. And while, as one critic
has said, she may exhibit toward God "an Emersonian self-possession,"
it was because she looked upon all life with a candor as unprejudiced
as it is rare.
She had tried society and the world, and found them lacking. She
was not an invalid, and she lived in seclusion from no
love-disappointment. Her life was the normal blossoming of a nature
introspective to a high degree, whose best thought could not exist
Storm, wind, the wild March sky, sunsets and dawns; the birds and
bees, butterflies and flowers of her garden, with a few trusted
human friends, were sufficient companionship. The coming of the
first robin was a jubilee beyond crowning of monarch or birthday of
pope; the first red leaf hurrying through "the altered air," an
epoch. Immortality was close about her; and while never morbid or
melancholy, she lived in its presence.
MABEL LOOMIS TODD.
My nosegays are for captives;
Dim, long-expectant eyes,
Fingers denied the plucking,
Patient till paradise,
To such, if they should whisper
Of morning and the moor,
They bear no other errand,
And I, no other prayer.