Why I stay with the first print

“The extensive use of dashes and unconventional capitalization in Dickinson’s manuscripts, and the idiosyncratic vocabulary and imagery, combine to create a body of work that is far more various in its styles and forms than is commonly supposed”, says Wikipedia, alike many others.


“Students may have problems with the appearance of the poems–with the fact that they are without titles; that they are often short and compact, compressed; that the dash is so often used in the place of traditional punctuation.”



“Dickinson’s idiosyncratic poetic practice—her pervasive use, for example, of dashes, and of unexpectedly capitalized words …”



Emily Dickinson’s poetry was a success with people of her times, mostly those who knew proper spelling, and just as her, were aware of the founding texts, the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, or Bill of Rights. She certainly did not mean her poetry just for a joke, though she had a sense of humor.


Her poetry was first printed in 1890, by Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd, who knew her personally. The print does not have “idiosyncrasies”. They appear with the Johnson print of 1955, based on a collection that came to Harvard in 1950, as a gift from Gilbert H. Montague. Amherst College received a collection from Millicent Todd Bingham, in 1956.



Let us analyze Houghton F124C, a draft of Safe in their alabaster chambers.


The graphemic dash

We can doubt, if the marked spaces are hyphens. They look a graphemic emphasis on rhythm, if we consider the entire sheet.


The markings belong well with the habit of the hand. We can see them around the name of the addressee, Suz. This habit has an open ε that closes for sibilant clusters, for example. We can compare diadεms, Dogεs, and soundless.


Evidently, Emily Dickinson’s written practice occurred, as spoken language mattered in her notation. Why? For a sample answer, feel welcome to read about her Greek and Latin musings.



Continuing with analysis of manuscript physical properties, let us view another sample. The verse remains “Safe in their alabaster chambers”.




Houghton F124B, Safe in their alabaster chambers.


The habit of the hand does not have the characteristic T, and Houghton F124B would be closer to 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 widely separated.




Houghton F124C, Safe in their alabaster chambers.


The character T belonged well with presentable material, to Ms. Todd and Mr. Higginson; it did not belong with drafts only. More, as it usually is with people, Emily Dickinson’s T grows, and does not diminish, with text finalization.


Graphemics of T__3


Facsimile of Emily Dickinson’s writing printed with the first series.


There is a very strange thing with another set of samples. The copies are Houghton F67A and F67B, of Emily Dickinson’s Too late. The text is re-written, almost consistently with Higginson-Todd print.



F67A differs in two words, joy and remaining; F67B only in the word joy. The word might have occurred in some preliminary form for the poem. However, looking to the rhyme and rhythm, it was bound to go, anyway.


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 (?)
Have climbed the distant hill;
Had not the bliss so slow a pace,—
Who knows but this surrendered face
Were undefeated still?


Joy and glee are closely synonymous. It could not have been difficult to the author, to adjust the wording. Why then, re-write the whole lot with one word only from some draft? Can we believe Emily Dickinson did it? The handwriting does not have many characteristics.


Radiocarbon analysis of the manuscripts might be valuable, to include ink C14.



My decision is to remain by the Higginson-Todd print. Mabel Todd and Thomas Wentwroth Higginson knew Emily Dickinson’s draft notation. I agree that first print stanzas looks arbitrary, and I do not follow the division, sometimes. A stanza should be an integral component of meaning, hence my thematic, or semantic stanzas. I work on the premise that part the poetry was most probably unfinished, and authorial decisions were impossible already with the first print.


Emily Dickinson’s poetry does not try to tell about special Bees, Birds, or Ears. The notation was for rhyme, rhythm, and language morphs.




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