I never read prefaces or afterwords, before I read the text. Sometimes, I agree with the opinions, sometimes I do not. Therefore, this commentary is more of a reader and translator story: I share my associations and observations, without claiming insight into the poet’s mind. Of poetry, we anyway “have what we take”, as there never is going to be a master key or blueprint to allow universal interpretation. This is what I like about poetry. Naturally, objective regards as credibility of sources for the author’s works remain important.



Views on Emily Dickinson’s poetry came under an immense revision, when Thomas H. Johnson published The poems of Emily Dickinson in 1955, after Harvard University received her poetry manuscripts in 1950, as a gift from Gilbert H. Montague. Amherst College was given a collection by Millicent Todd Bingham in year 1956.


It was after Johnson’s print that comments came, on an “extensive” or even “pervasive” custom for dashes, “unconventional” or “unexpected” use of capital letters, or summarily an “idiosyncratic poetic practice” by Ms. Dickinson.


Emily Dickinson’s poetry was a success with people of her times. She, as well as her readers, would know proper spelling and punctuation, even by just having awareness of the founding texts as the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, or Bill of Rights.


In the Declaration, John Dunlap’s peculiarity would have been in capitalizing all nouns, forms deriving from nouns, and phrases to have nouns for their heads — yet he did that according to quite a prevalent and known printing custom at the time.


Outside the custom, we have capital letters to specify on terms. John Carter capitalized the Constitution as that of the United States. Referring to particular States, he spelled the word “constitution” with a small letter. Today, specificity is the very reason to capitalize business contract Parties.


Emily Dickinson certainly did not mean her poetry for only a joke, though her poems show a sense of humor as well. Her works were first printed in year 1890, prepared by Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd, who knew the poet in person, that is, they knew how she made notes, or drafted her poems, as well as what a clean copy was to look — according to herself. Their edition does not have the “idiosyncrasies”. Those occurred with the Johnson print, in year 1955.


Did Emily Dickinson try to tell about very exceptional Bees, Ears, or Birds?
Light laughs the breeze
In her Castle above them—
Babbles the Bee in a stolid Ear,
Pipe the Sweet Birds in ignorant cadence—
Ah, what sagacity perished here!



Let us think about PROSODY. Big letters can help visualize prosody, for making the poetic contour, thinking up how vowels might transcend from low qualities to high, for example.


Here, “extensive” or “pervasive” underscore can be of real help. Over the Internet, we can have a glimpse at sample F124C, a draft of Safe in their alabaster chambers in Houghton, one of the libraries within Harvard University. We can doubt, if the marked spaces are dashes. We might call the marks contour lines as well. They accompany the words crescent and them, further, arcs, row, drop, and then doges and surrender, to return to snow.


Houghton sample F124C; click to enlarge


The habit of the hand has an open ε, most probably to reflect on the role of the vowel in the overall contour of the poem. We can compare diadεms, Dogεs, and soundless. The matter is not in word stress and thus vowel length, if we compare the handwritten copy of RENUNCIATION, printed by Little, Brown, and Company.



The speech sound [e] can result in a central quality, in a mid position between front and back, as well as low and high vowels. Let us give this mid the symbol з. Some phonetic scripts may interpret it for the SHWA.


Evidently, spoken language mattered in Emily Dickinson’s notation. Why? We can further think about her inspiration with Greek and Latin, too.


Now, to continue with the analysis of manuscript physical qualities, let us have a look at another sample from Houghton library, F124B. The poem is Safe in their alabaster chambers, still.


Houghton sample F124B; click to enlarge


The habit of the hand does not have the characteristic T, and F124B is closer to a fair copy than F124C. Theories on Emily Dickinson’s worsening eyesight fail with an important regard: the writing characters in F124B are not larger, or separated more broadly. We can recur to F124C and compare.


(TH) in Houghton sample F124C; click to enlarge


The shape of the letter T did not belong with drafts only. More, as it usually has been with us humans, the letter T grows — and does not diminish — along with Emily Dickinson’s finalizing the text. We can recur to the Renunciation for the words there, thought, or that, for example.


Emily Dickinson’s handwriting published with the First Series; click to enlarge


This is not the only strange thing with Houghton samples. Let us analyze Houghton F67A and F67B, copies of the poem TOO LATE. They show the text re-written almost consistently with Higginson-Todd print.


F67A differs from Higginson-Todd in two words, joy and remaining; F67B only with the word joy. Looking to the rhyme, we can see the word does not fit.


Delayed till she had ceased to know,
Delayed till in its vest of snow
Her loving bosom lay.
An hour behind the fleeting breath,
Later by just an hour than death, —
Oh, lagging yesterday!


Could she have guessed that it would be;
Could but a crier of the joy (?) [first print: glee]
Have climbed the distant hill;
Had not the bliss so slow a pace, —
Who knows but this surrendered face
Were undefeated still?


Higginson-Todd has the word glee, where later edits have the word joy. It is hard to believe the author would have re-written the poem entire a few times, with one non-matching word, moreover, in a different hand. RADIOCARBON DATING might prove precious, along with C14 for the ink. Would the material have come from times later than Emily Dickinson, the result would end all speculation she might have authored such a version of the poem.


Also in her times, the word glee might mean a song, and this is how I translate it:

Czy herold z pieśnią mógł był stanąć
Na wzgórz wysokiej dali…

Poezja Emilii Dickinson ze zwrotką tematyczną, notkami o refleksjach klasycystycznych poetki, jej inspiracji greką i łaciną, oraz innymi obserwacjami, także wyjaśniającymi, dlaczego pierwodruk zasługuje na uznanie; cała polska zawartość dla pierwszej kolekcji z tej witryny. ZAKUP: $ 1.99

Later, “glee and glory”, the song and fame theme of Anglo-Saxon legends, became much less familiar to the reading public. Today, it is practically a subject for university study. The word joy in the place of glee would lose the potential association, and it might even imply the “loving” person enjoyed the death of the “loved” one (hence the quotation marks).


The poem, though ironic, does not support any such inference. The verse may suggest PRINCE ALBERT OF SAXE-COBURG AND GOTHA, whose marriage with queen Victoria was surrounded with a propaganda of family tremendous happiness, questioned in the queen’s times, as well as later. The present day, we can read the doubt by historian Jane Ridley, via BBC NEWS. It was during queen Victoria’s reign there came another tension between the United States and Britain, in the TRENT AFFAIR. Prince Albert died in December.


To think about the poetic matter on paper, we may consider the BEQUEST (Love, II): there is something particular about its meter. I attach a NOTE to the poem, to explain further on the Greek “tessellation”.


If we regard vowel reduction, natural in English, and thus consider vowel lengths with reference to prosody, the Bequest will give us two stanzas of 8 and 5 lengths. Ancient canons allowed to “sum up” vowel length, in the count. Boldface is to highlight the prosodic stress. The superscript letter S marks vowels that would be the shortest, in proximity with prosodically prominent positions:


8    You    left    me,    sweet,    two    le_gз_cies, —
5    A    le_Sgз_cy    Sзf    love
8    A    Hea_Svзn_ly    Fa_Sthзr    would    con_tent,
5    Had    He    Sthз    of_Sfзr    of;


8    You    left    me    baund_Sdз_rēz    of    pain
5    SCз_pa_Sciзs    as    the    sea,
8    Be_tween    e_tзr_nı_ty    and    time,
5    Your    con_Ssciзs_Snзss    and    me.


In the word “boundaries”, the diphthong does not make two vowels, but it can “add up” with the adjacent Sз; in “eternity”, word stress is on the central з.


The “capital letters” in sample P90-28 on HOUGHTON DISPLAY, and the prosodic highlight I made — out of curiosity, without even having looked at the manuscript — converge considerably.



It is possible that Emily Dickinson used the big writing characters to mark prosody. Looking at P90-28, one yet might expect there would be more “dashes”, the underscore we can see in the Renunciation above, as in a written form still to use the big letters that fair copies would not have anymore. Feel welcome to the BEQUEST and the note on “tessellation” and poetry.


All the above together, the prints of today would present unfinished versions for Emily Dickinson’s poems, more, some re-written in a different, possibly another hand, with accuracy that reasonably can be doubted. Some samples might be fabrications based on the first print and Emily Dickinson’s handwriting publicized by Little, Brown and company. After all, it takes only practice, merely to pen on paper after another person — whereas a specially capitalized Bee or Ear is not going to make the poetic appeal, anyway.


To think about the poet herself, simply as a human being: we might agree for a friend or acquaintance to gather on our papers, if our own condition is not good. Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson knew Emily Dickinson’s notation. Their first print does not have the features of draft versions. We yet would not agree to have even an expert presentation of our written drafts as finished linguistic forms, not for our school essays or term papers — and poetry happens to outlast the author.


There are no people anymore able to tell where the letter should be big or small, just by the manuscripts. None of Emily Dickinson’s acquaintances lives. What is very important now: can we honestly believe Emily Dickinson meant to publish about special, big-letter Bees or Ears? I cannot, taking the print habits of the times, along with the poetic content that capitalization of this sort could not help promote.


In such a circumstance, the first print is my only resolve. Aware that not all manuscripts in their possession are genuine, authors of Amherst College website say that recovery of the manner the poet worked on language is rather impossible: the original material is too modest.


I agree the first print stanzas do not fit at times; their shape yet persuades that Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson did not want to change the poetry, and had little experience with the poet publishing herself, as she hardly ever did publish. Since the stanza needs to be an integral unit of word sense within the poem, I propose thematic stanzas, on which I expand right after this brief review on poetic punctuation.



Punctuation is to delineate semantic scopes. In poetry, the text comes in verses, and their ends may work as commas. This means there may be no comma written or printed at the end of a verse, but we get the text as if there were one. Let us put text in one line, to see the comma and verse roles.

I died for beauty, but was scarce adjusted in the tomb…


We might get an impression as a person was hardly fitting in a coffin. The verb to be and the grammatical number can help make out word sense.


Phrases as S/he is scarce / They are scarce would bring senses as rare or few, for scarce; then, human parsing of language will pause a little, for the end of the line. We can express this pause with a “default comma”.

I died for beauty, but was scarce, adjusted in the tomb…


Indeed, the poetic person does not have spatial concerns, and soon gets company (Time and Eternity, X, I DIED FOR BEAUTY).


Commas and other punctuation marks, in poetry, can help highlight (Time and Eternity, XXXIII, ALONG THE POTOMAC):

To look at her; how slowly
The seasons must have turned…


Finally, good poetry requires skill, but it does not need to deny common sense. In THE LONELY HOUSE (Life, XV), the suspicion, whatever way to try it for poetic, that the Sun might have been capable of opening the door, allows for the thought something yet has been stolen from the household:

While the old couple, just astir,
Fancy the sunrise left the door ajar!


When the day also makes noise coming near, the verses may be worth thinking with a dash or — most probably — a comma:

While the old couple, just astir,
Fancy the sunrise, left the door ajar!


There is no certainty the first print was done perfectly and it sure did not “lose” a comma somewhere. With these observations, let us continue, to consider the thematic stanza.



IN A LIBRARY (Life, X) can give a strong feeling we need to reconsider the first print stanza. The division below does not look right:
The gown that Dante deified.
Facts, centuries before,
He traverses familiar,
As one should come to town…



Emily Dickinson’s thoroughly authorial decision on her poetry was impossible, already with the first print. The HEALTH CONDITION would not have let the poet even title all her poems.


THE LONELY HOUSE (Life, XV) proves she was not stereotyped in her written composition:
I know some lonely houses off the road
A robber ‘d like the look of, —
Wooden barred,
And windows hanging low,
Inviting to
A portico…




I do not take Emily Dickinson’s free verse for lack of perfection. To translate her poetry, I did put prosody first, as I thought she might have held it, and squared the vowel length or syllable count only where I thought it might do well. I definitely wanted to rethink the stanza, however.


Stanzas need to be integral units of word sense within the poem. THE WIND (Nature, XXIV) encourages a consideration of the stanza as a thematic structure.


Of all the sounds despatched abroad,
There’s not a charge to me
Like that old measure in the boughs,
That phraseless melody
The wind does, working like a hand
Whose fingers brush the sky,
Then quiver down, with tufts of tune
Permitted gods and me.


When winds go round and round in bands,
And thrum upon the door,
And birds take places overhead,
To bear them orchestra;


Having compared other poems, we can end the stanza with the semicolon here: it delineates a description of the circumstance, a thematically self-contained structure. The semicolon closes the stanza in THE HEART ASKS PLEASURE FIRST (Life, IX), IN A LIBRARY (Life, X), WHETHER MY BARK WENT DOWN AT SEA (Life, XXIV), for example.


We are not able to follow Higginson-Todd as much in SUCCESS (Life, I). Here, the comma marks semantic elements the poem continues to develop:


not one / can tell / the definition / of victory/ comma/ as he


Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.
Not one of all the purple host
Who took the flag to-day
Can tell the definition,
So clear, of victory,
As he,
defeated, dying,
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Break, agonized and clear!


The verse was published in “A Masque of Poets”, at the request of Helen Hunt Jackson, the author’s fellow-townswoman and friend. It brings a picture of enemy brief and transient victory. Making my decision for the unitary layout, I could follow the Houghton 72S-700 print image, as presented also in Wikipedia.


However, I keep the semantics of the Higginson-Todd as the one to make sense. In records and media, mistakes have happened since their beginnings. The final verses as in the Masque of Poets would have success defined by a person to experience failure: the enemy takes the flag and the lead character dies, hearing shouts of triumph, the distant strains of triumph break, agonizing clear.


Opposite semantics yet never becomes misnomers, in Emily Dickinson’s writing, and Higginson-Todd has the lead character lose the flag, yet it is not far away he can hear the enemy defeated:

The distant strains of triumph
Break, agonized and clear.



Thomas Niles, the publisher, reportedly admitted in his letter to Emily Dickinson, “you have doubtless perceived [it] was slightly changed in phraseology” (as presented in WIKIPEDIA, Sewall, Richard B. The Life of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003 (sixth edition): ISBN 0-674-53080-2). Despite praise, Emily Dickinson did not like to publish, and that might have been owing to publication errors.


It was thematic integrity to make me present the PSALM OF THE DAY (Nature, XII) as a 3×3 — 6 — 2×3 — 6 layout, whereas the notion of a thematically self-contained structure encouraged me to present the SUMMER’S ARMIES as stanzas of three lines of text.


The sake of thematically self-contained structures made me shape the text in two stanzas for the TRANSPLANTED (Love, X) and DEATH AND LIFE (Nature, XXV). Regard to the train of thought required to join the verses into unitary layouts for the DAWN (Life, XVII), PERHAPS YOU’D LIKE TO BUY A FLOWER (Nature, IV), A TRAIN WENT THROUGH A BURIAL GATE (Time and Eternity, IX), and THE BUSTLE IN A HOUSE (Time and Eternity, XXII).


Word sense indicated to consider the comma in A SERVICE OF SONG (Nature, VI), ONE DIGNITY (Time and Eternity, I), and THE FUNERAL (Time and Eternity, XIII).


The comma at stanza end may give the impression something is interrupted, fragmented. There is no universal rule or need for it; I simply prefer the semicolon over the comma for stanza closing, and the first print does have the use. Therefore, the semicolon rather than the comma closes the first stanza in THE GRASS (Nature, IX), the preference for the semicolon to remain in the fourth, owing to the phrasal development:

And even when it dies, to pass
In odors so divine,
As lowly spices gone to sleep,
Or amulets of pine;


And then to dwell in sovereign barns…


I leave the comma and dash combination to close a stanza in THE OUTLET (Love, XI). If we compare the semicolon in The Grass above, it lets add further elements that do not depend on the precedent. The Outlet yet has the locutionary intent in the last verse depend on its precedent:

I’ll fetch thee brooks
From spotted nooks, —


Say, sea, take me!

We could say the comma and dash combination marks a phrasal anaphora or, in simpler words, that the sense of making an offer depends on what is offered.


The dot can mark an ended train of thought, in the first stanza of ALONG THE POTOMAC (Time and Eternity, XXXIII). The semicolon holds for closing the third and fifth stanzas in the INDIAN SUMMER (Nature, XXVII), as well as the second thematic stanza in EMANCIPATION.


I also have arranged the stanzas thematically for the LIBRARY (Life, X), IN VAIN (Love, XII), RESURRECTION (Love, XV), THE WIFE (Love, XVII), APOTHEOSIS (Love, XVIII), MAY-FLOWER (Nature, II), PURPLE CLOVER (Nature, XIV), THE BEE (Nature, XV), A DAY (Nature, XXII), THE HEMLOCK (Nature, XXX), THE FUNERAL (Time and Eternity, XIII), I WENT TO THANK HER (Time and Eternity, XIV).


These are all my adaptations. They might look many, but they make definitely less of a difference, if to consider first print and later presentations of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. Further, the adaptations are minor, and none of them changes the semantics. They are only to help the reader perceive the text in its flow. Feel welcome.



It is natural, for a person with an affect for language, to study it to detail; and it can never do harm. Evidently, Emily Dickinson did such a study. Not only stanzas or syntax, words have constituents, too. For example, both Latin and Greek have a particle –lus-. We can look at poems and compare.


  • (Life, XI, MUCH MADNESS IS DIVINEST SENSE) λυσσον, alusson, madwort, Farsetia clypeata; λυσσος, alussos, curing madness; λυσιδωτός, alusidotos, wrought in chain;
  • (Life, XXIII, UNRETURNING) ἀνάπλυσις, anaplusis, washing or rinsing out; ἀνήλυσις, anelusis, going up, return; λυσις, elusis, step, gait; lenunculus, a small sailing-vessel, bark, skiff (the toddling little boat).
  • (Love, IX, HAVE YOU GOT A BROOK IN YOUR LITTLE HEART) rivulus, a small brook, petty stream; galgulus, small bird; aridulus, somewhat dry — in Latin, the particle worked not only for diminutives;
  • (Time and Eternity, V, ON THIS LONG STORM) ἐνηλύσιος, enelusios, struck by lightning;
  • (Time and Eternity, XVIII, PLAYMATES) collusor, companion at play; condiscipulus, school-mate; angelus, a messenger, an angel; lapillus, small stone, pebble; lusus, a game; ὁμηλυσία, omelusia, companionship.

Please try the Perseus language tool, for Latin and Greek.




The presentation here is not all the occurrence. Overall, we can view the morpheme patterning as a conscious use of language paradigms to build psychological perception. Bullets clip an angle (angellus, double el in Latin), to introduce a spiritual view in ALONG THE POTOMAC (Time and Eternity, XXXIII).

But proud in apparition,
That woman and her boy
Pass back and forth before my brain,
As ever in the sky.


In I ASKED NO OTHER THING (Life, XII), the language particle -upo/ypo-, in Greek as well as Latin, is to help build an abstract picture: ἰσότυπος, isotypos, shaped alike, συνυπόπτωσις, synypoptosis, simultaneous presentation to the senses, cauponarius, a male shopkeeper, tradesman, ὑποπτερνίς, upopternis, knob (a button that can twirl, in modern terms), and ὑπο, upo, below, looking a picture up and down (as Brazil on a map).


I asked no other thing,
No other was denied.
I offered Being for it;
The mighty merchant smiled


Brazil? He twirled a button,
Without a glance my way:
“But, madam, is there nothing else
That we can show to-day?”


Part the notation in Emily Dickinson’s draft versions for poetry might have reflected also on language morphology to include American English.



For thousands of years, language particles have been able to make more than one word, in more than one language. Already ancients viewed words entire as capable of making more than one sense.


In Latin, the word praesentio did not refer only to presaging; it also meant predictive perception. The word spiritus might suggest a supernatural inspiration as well as human breathing. Praesens meant in sight, present. The word shape preasensus was the same when derived from praesentio as the origin for the modern presentiment. In poetry also today, a present tense may not tell anything actual. It can serve a presentation.


All the following poems were given linguistic forms for the grammatical and psychological present. The poet also allowed them the word divine, in senses to be human, as psychological, or select to mean the very good or proper. In the EXCLUSION (Life, XIII), the soul to decide on oneself follows own divine majority. The divinest sense of MUCH MADNESS (Life, XI) brings on the human psyche as well.


The odors so divine in THE GRASS (Nature, IX), the clew divine in THE CHRYSALIS (Time and Eternity, VI), and the divine intoxication in SETTING SAIL (Time and Eternity, VII), all refer to exquisite and earthly experiences.


In Emily Dickinson’s poetry, the heavens, skies, or divine, with regard to aspects of human reality, would often correlate with the Latin cœlum, also to have meant, “where the stars are”, “out there”, “away from Earth”, or “the highest”, for example regarding quality. She was educated in the classics.

When Plato was a certainty,
And Sophocles a man;
When Sappho was a living girl…

(Life, X, IN A LIBRARY).


In ancient Roman mythologies, heaven or skies also were “somewhere out there, the souls of the deceased went”. An eagle, aquila in Latin, was a funerary symbol, too. In Emily Dickinson’s poetry, the words heaven or skies do not presume on the Last Judgment and salvation; in their sense, they are closer to “after we die”:

I reason that in heaven
Somehow, it will be even,
Some new equation given;
But what of that?

(I REASON, EARTH IS SHORT, Time and Eternity, XXIII).


Some predicate forms in her poetry can be associated with ancient Greek philosophers.

Captivity is consciousness,
So’s liberty.

(Time and Eternity, XXXV, EMANCIPATION).


The philosophers organized concepts in categories. The Greek word katēgoria, meant a predication, a category; the verb katēgorein took after ageirein, to gather. We can interpret the lines above as captivity belongs with the category of CONSCIOUSNESS; one is aware whether captive, and it is the same with the state or condition of being free. We can find the logical predication in Aristotle, for example.


English is a non-flexing language. To purport that consciousness is captivity, we would have to follow the regular word order and say literally,

*consciousness is captivity.



Beyond doubt, Emily Dickinson used the poetic person, the phrase to be my preference over the lyrical subject. The phrase the poetic person is not the same as a human being; it is linguistically the same as the grammatical person, where we can use personal pronouns for animals or objects as well, please see Nature VI, A SERVICE OF SONG, or Life XX, I TASTE A LIQUOR NEVER BREWED.


Emily Dickinson also would use the first person pronouns, I or we, in abstraction from material existence, as in Life XVI, TO FIGHT ALOUD IS VERY BRAVE, or Love XIII, RENUNCIATION. Reference to human material reality yet does not mean the poet herself in Love XIV, LOVE’S BAPTISM.


However her poetry is not a confession, Emily Dickinson’s way to present matters of faith always involves the human being as a feeling and thinking entity: material, spiritual, or both.


One may be mildly humorous (here, about oneself), yet if one thinks, one does not presume on the outcome or result of events.

For heaven is a different thing
Conjectured, and waked sudden in,

(Life, IV, ROUGE GAGNE). We can compare THE BUTTERFLY’S ASSUMPTION-GOWN (Nature, XXIII), a humorous piece where an association with A PRIORI reckoning may come in parallel with the CHRYSALIS.


It is thinking to let one take comfort in reading:

And this bequest of wings
Was but a book. What liberty
A loosened spirit brings!

(Life, XXI, A BOOK).


It is a human feeling, to want the affection to survive:

Before the judgment-seat of God,
The last and second time
These fleshless lovers met,
A heaven in a gaze,
A heaven of heavens, the privilege
Of one another’s eyes.



It is human feeling as well as thinking, to associate physical phenomena and emotional response, that with participation of language:

There’s a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.


Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.



The ordinary, everyday human being can make a difference, without even appearing in the poem: belief in God is a human matter.

It makes no difference abroad,
The seasons fit the same…

(Nature, XX, TWO WORLDS). We may compare A SERVICE OF SONG, where a bird, even if complaining about some regular preacher length of sermon, celebrates when humans do.


God or Heavenly Father, the words belong with human notionality, and the notionality happens to vary, as well as change over time:

You left me, sweet, two legacies, —
A legacy of love
A Heavenly Father would content
Had He the offer of.

(Love, II, BEQUEST). By notionality, I mean the human ability to describe and refer to reality with use of notions, that is, concepts to embrace experience, knowledge, supposition, as well as creativity (Merriam-Webster dictionary online)


Finally, the word “God” may be a dictionary entry. We may try WEBSTER’S DICTIONARY 1828.

Doubt me, my dim companion!
Why, God would be content
With but a fraction of the love
Poured thee without a stint.




The way we view the world depends on our perceptions and thinking, with our cognitive, also intellectual experiences. This cognitive knowledge may influence the way we comprehend language. Please mind, the observations are my cognitive position; I do not claim insight into the poet’s thinking.


There is a word taken much too neurophysiologically, in Emily Dickinson’s works, and the word is pain, a common noun.

You left me boundaries of pain
Capacious as the sea,
Between eternity and time,
Your consciousness and me.

(Love, II, BEQUEST).


Borders as above could be only incongruous, for a physical sensation. Even if one has not had experience with pain other or whatsoever more serious than milk tooth ache, one knows people cannot swap or pass on physical sensations. It is early in life we people learn that our bodies are individual. The poetic description of Bequest actually clarifies it is not physical pain the poem addresses.


English language yet has the phrase to take the pains, for conscious effort. This does not have to bring on physical, psychological, or literally any pain at all. Regarding the Antiquity, we may compare the Greek βαρύμοχθος, barymohthos, toilsome.


The ancient βαρύς, barys, could mean heavy, as well as deep, or strong: the term worked for mass, length, as well as intensity, also to an amplifying effect, as in βαραθρώδης, barathrodes, to mean abysmal with reference to a sea, or precipitous with regard to a way or path; see PERSEUS WORD STUDY TOOL. The phrase βᾰρεῖᾰ προσῳδῐ́ᾱ, bareia prosodia, meant the GRAVE ACCENT, a linguistic feature. Feel welcome to the NOTE attached to the poem.


Today, we can read about a fragmentary codex with ancient Greek epigrams that Yale University acquired in 1996. It forwards a story of a poet who, having lived “a pound of years” and worked on some toilsome grammar, was going to Hades — to counsel the dead. Kevin Wilkinson interprets the “pound of years” as about 70 years of life by PALLADAS.


For THE MYSTERY OF PAIN (Life, XIX), we can try thinking about language as a cognitive device. Emily Dickinson would have been a precursor with the idea. The pain could not be literally any pain.
Pain has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there were
A day when it was not.

(Life, XIX).


There is no pain, physical or psychological, without awareness of its beginning and source, in people capable of writing, at least. If we look to language paradigms, we notice that verbs as the English to ache, or boleć in Polish, do not have the Passive. We do not say *we are ached, or *jesteśmy boleni. If we think about a thing quite usual in language study, a conjugation chart, the places for the Passive would be blank.


To think about a cognitive implication: we do not have to learn everything by experience. For own good thought to motivate our lives — even if we take advice, it is our decision — we can consider matters and conclude without trial-and-error exploration. In particular, making a life painful could not make it meaningful.


Emily Dickinson was cognitive about the articles, a and the. The verse I like a look of agony in REAL (Time and Eternity, XII) denies fondness: we would have the look of agony, then — the anguish is homely, the poem is about ordinary dying.


I like a look of agony,
Because I know it’s true;
Men do not sham convulsion,
Nor simulate a throe


The eyes glaze once, and that is death.
Impossible to feign
The beads upon the forehead
By homely anguish strung.

It is cognitively quite challenging, to think about this world without death; to wonder if there would be a person willing to stay on this planet eternally. To expand on the articles, I lost a world (Time and Eternity, XXXVI, LOST) does not pronounce the end of the world.


Cognitive individuality in picturing the world shows in THE SEA OF SUNSET (Nature, XIII). The Yellow Sea is in the Far East. However, the Yellow River, to feed the waters, comes — as geographically — from the west.


In human cognitive mapping, thinking about every human being in the world does not happen every so often, and it could be even strange, when the focus is on the fauna, flora, and geography: these usually have localities. Human cognitive mapping is anthropocentric as it takes the mapper point of view.


cccIn the MAY-FLOWER (Nature, II), the phrase every human soul refers to everyone in the area. Similarly, to say that nobody in the world knows something, we would rather literally say nobody in the world knows. A phrase as nobody knows alone would be likely to tell nobody around knows:
Next to the robin
In every human soul.

Emily Dickinson does not imply the robin and the American kin with forget-me-nots, mayflower (Clade Asterids), for universal and global symbols for humanity.



Poetry happens to be translated. This means it gets to exist in more than one linguistic reality. Language reality is not always a cognitive outcome, and grammatical gender can be an excellent illustration here. It is not only Polish to have the arbitrary grammatical ascription nobody takes sexually: books or bicycles are not girls or boys, and apples do not make a third gender. One does not think about a tuxedo for a French cahier, or about a robe, for a German Zeitschrift, either.


Among other things, I have worked on translating from American English to Polish; let me focus on that.


With translation of poetry by Emily Dickinson, the grammatical gender of the bee requires a conscious approach. In Polish, the bee is a she. Not to “re-orient” the verses “sexually”, the translator may need to go “up the family tree”, that being the Apidae. In the APOTHEOSIS (Love, XVIII), I use the Polish trzmiel, grammatically masculine. In the humorous BEE (Nature, XV) I prefix the biological taxonomy the way for human names, pan pszczoła; Polish does not require capitalization with such fabular uses, though Mr. Bee would in English. TWO WORLDS (Nature, XX) have the Polish brzmik, as
His separation from his rose
To him seems misery


The way is “up the family tree” for translating the bobolink, as well. The local North American name (Nature, VI, A SERVICE OF SONG, and XXII, A DAY) happens to be translated in ways to suggest the Middle or Far East: the Polish ryżojad (“rice-eater”) implies an animal to feed on rice (Polish ryż). In America, bobolinks are known to eat seeds generally, and insects.


The “Linnaeus” classification for the bird comes from Europe. The label, Dolichonyx oryzivorus, is a Greek and Latin mixture to look actually a joke. The morpheme dolicho– comes from the Greek dolichos, meaning “long”; the Latin -nyx yet would add up into “sort of long”. The Latin oryza and -vorus maybe even could make a new order, were there no trouble making ranivora: we can have the plural, omnivora and carnivora or herbivora, as animate life forms do not tend to exaggerate in restricting on feeding styles. Please look up the LATIN SUFFIX -VORUS over Wikipedia.


The label was made after Linnaeus died. The original Regnum Animale does not have it. Fortunately, bobolinks have a large and international family, the Passeriformes. In Polish, the kin is known as wróbel and wróblaste, everyday birds, same as bobolinks are. Many languages have adopted the local and original name, bobolink; please see on WIKISPECIES: BOBOLINK. The same can happen in Polish, which is yet up to publicists rather than translators to regard: a translator refers to language use. Wróblaste let render the everyday reality one may associate with bobolinks in the USA.


To recur to grammatical gender, death is masculine in English and feminine in Polish, yet arguably without a sex role, even if personified. Translation can simply reflect on personal pronouns, predicates, and declensions (Time and Eternity, XXVII, THE CHARIOT):

Because I could not stop for Death,
He (She) kindly stopped for me…


Existence has taken on different paths, in Polish and American English, since the ancient beginnings. The Polish egzystencja has become to denote day-to-day living, often as part the phrase szara egzystencja, the gloomy, ordinary existence. It is the Polish istnienie, in the singular (genitive istnienia), to collocate with philosophy more (Time and Eternity, XXIV, AFRAID?). The plural istnienia (genitive istnień) yet would imply more than one human being. To render the English plural, existences, we may resort to styles of existence, istnienia może i nie jeden styl.


Polish and American differ in classing body parts. American will have fingers and toes. Polish will have specialized limb parts generally, palce, both for the hands and feet, hence dłonie in my translation of DYING (Time and Eternity, XXV).


Finally, the Polish language reality today is far more prescriptive than that for American English. In year 1996, the POLISH LANGUAGE COUNCIL was formed, to be the official LANGUAGE REGULATING ORGAN for Polish. The Council decided the infinitive „wziąść” (English to take) was erroneous. The verb “to take” occurs in Emily Dickinson’s poetry.


The Council announced the infinitive should be “wziąć”. An argument by professor JAN MIODEK invoked a “Proto-Slavic” form “vzęti”. The “Proto-Slavic” is very speculative owing to [ę]. There is a quote for the first Polish sentence in writing, Daj, acz ja pobruszę, a ty poczywaj. It is yet a modern rendition of the Old Polish Day ut ia pobrusa, a ti poziwai. Wikimedia show THE ORIGINAL SOURCE.


The “Proto-Slavic” [ę] would have had to occur in some “proto-times”, disappear form all Slavic languages after, and re-appear in Polish standard language use some time around the Renaissance.


Neither Russian nor Czech, or Slovak languages have [ą] or [ę]. There is some occurrence in Lithuanian, yet Poland and Lithuania once made the POLISH-LITHUANIAN KINGDOM, and we cannot exclude the linguistic feature transfer. In 1364, JAGIELLONIAN UNIVERISTY was founded; it accepted — also French influences.



The Polish “wziąść” was the form of preference by Mickiewicz, Słowacki, and other prominent Polish authors at the time Emily Dickinson wrote, as well as later. “Wziąć”, the form recommended by the Council today, was considered phonotactically inept.


The matter was not in fashion or patterning after other languages. Natural making of Polish speech sounds developed a process we might call a passive velarity. It does not pertain with [ą] only, but also with the speech sound [j]. Both [ą] and [j] rely on the back of the tongue, and passively involve the velum, the soft palate.


Polish sounds [ś] and [ć] involve the velum too. Comparing word shapes as pć, gć, sść, przeć, the back of the tongue evidently needs the time frame of two speech sounds, to manage the phonological context without nasalization, hence the phonotactic favor for “wziąść” also by people in support of belles lettres: ś is not a difficult sound, to speakers of Polish. Many words have it, as światło, light.


I have decided to keep the form “wziąść”, translating Emily Dickinson’s poetry (LOVE’S BAPTISM, FROM THE CHRYSALIS). Her awareness of language cannot provoke insinuations of phonological demerit, and authors often are perceived in the context of their times. The Polish velarity is passive, therefore in OUR SHARE OF NIGHT (Life, II) the translation naturally has the regular Polish powziąć ― the word stress is on the first syllable, powziąć.


People curious about phonemics, whether for language learning or  poetry, may care to view my charts on irregular verbs.



I have read quite a few analyses about writers. The analyses differed as their authors did, and commentator own activity usually influenced his or her picture of a linguistically creative person. People who were not authors clearly allowed more speculation on mentality and comport. Overall, rumor or opinion have happened to ascribe even madness or drug use to writing, quite powerful odiums.


I am a linguist and a pragmatic. To me, linguistic activity is a normal and ordinary matter; also my bread, per file or word count in translation, it obviously does not need phenomena supernatural or aberrating from norm. Simply to say it: some like to bake bread, some — to make horseshoes, and some like to wield words.


On the side of simple facts, Emily Dickinson’s writing is sober. Her imagery is lexical, and the style does not have the prolixity, repetitive phonemics, or anaphora misuse we may get with persons who are mentally unstable or substance dependent. Her writing has awareness of the poetic person as a device, and employs no linguistic naivete.


Regarding recluse habits, there is a state of focus that solitude and silence encourage. It is especially desirable for language work; absorption with language matter can bring natural, emotional and intellectual rewards. As eremite monks are not suspected, authors do not purpose to offend the world, as well. Solitude does not have to mean loneliness, and it is not a stand beyond the world, either:
I reason that in heaven
Somehow, it will be even,
Some new equation given;
But what of that?
(Time and Eternity, XXIII, I REASON, EARTH IS SHORT). Enjoy and have pleasure: Emily Dickinson’s gift was the ability to join linguistic prowess with a simple allure of speech, to which we can return despite Johnson’s print.


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