The conscious mind of Emily Dickinson


When we look at poetry by Emily Dickinson today, we get strange big letters and a multitude of dashes which yet cannot give the special Bees, Birds, or Ears any real sense. To blame the reader

— “you know, the author was a mystic, metaphysical, only high minds get it” —

a Mystical Bee remains unappealing on a High Mind as well.


We can read comments over the Internet.


I’ve heard of her my whole life of course, but have never read anything of hers.


A very detailed analysis for those interested in Emily Dickinson.


I have not read Emily Dickinson’s poetry, nor am I inclined to.


Emily Dickinson’s poetry was a tremendous success with the people of her times. It remains in curricula. You learn about Emily Dickinson at school. Serious institutions hold conferences about her. A book of her poetry would be in the bookstore round the corner. Only the verse would look like this:


Babbles the Bee in a stolid Ear,

Pipe the Sweet Birds in ignorant cadence —


It did not look so in the first print. Present-day prints rely on a manuscript find.

Safe in their alabaster chambers, Wikisource. Click to enlarge.


Are there really special Bees or Ears, and Birds as Sweet as to shy away the bitter species, in Emily Dickinson’s poetry? Not only Wikisource would insist there are, indeed.


Safe in their alabaster chambers; click to enlarge.


Let us consider the manuscript, for the em-dash. I do believe this is an autograph.


The manuscript has “low dashes”. The markings belong well with the habit of the hand. This habit also has an open e that closes for sibilant clusters, for example. We can compare diadems, Doges, and soundless. Spoken language mattered in Emily Dickinson’s notation. The habit of the hand was strong.


The strength of the habit is not in calligraphy. It is in grasping language. We can see the “low dash” also around the name of the addressee, Suz, and Emily Dickinson deserves praise for linguistic prowess on some grounds.


Let us think about language and inspiration, reading the poetry. Emily Dickinson consciously used Latin and Greek, to write fancy pieces. The occurrence is beyond mere coincidence or unaware habit.


(Time and Eternity, XVIII, Playmates) Latin: collusor, companion at play; condiscipulus, school-mate; angelus, a messenger, an angel; lapillus, small stone, pebble (marble?); lusus, a game;  Greek: ὁμηλυσία, omelusia, companionship.


God permits industrious angels

Afternoons to play.

I met one, — forgot my school-mates,

All, for him, straightway.


God calls home the angels promptly

At the setting sun;

I missed mine. How dreary marbles,

After playing Crown!


The inspiration is morpho-phonemic. Let us now analyze the big letters for natural phonology.


Mine (Love, I, p. 91) suggests me of a rare book, possibly on Greek poetry or philosophy, and an ex libiris. The white vote was that of approval in ancient Greece, which in matters of the state yet had to be affirmed by officials named the prytaneis, hence prawem głosu prytejskim, in my translation. Feel welcome to the First Series afterword.



Mine by the Right of the white election!

Mine by the Royal seal!

Mine by the sign in the sCaRlet pRison

BaRs Cannot Conceal!


Mine, here in Vision and in Veto!

Mine, by the GRave’s Repeal

Titled, confiRMed,-— deliRious chaRteR!

Mine, while the ages steal!


Mine, Wikisource. Click to enlarge.

I made the markings above, to translate the poem into Polish. Everyone is individual in phonology; Polish and American English differ much in sound and structure, yet not being as distanced as American and Chinese, for example. Standard, human mouths are born the same, world round. There are “more difficult” and “easier” speech sounds, and you do not get some language patterns, as *spin spun span. In short, it is natural to mark the words, when you work phonemics.


Co KRaty go nie ujarzmią!

Mój,  z poglądem tu i KontRą!

Mój, ponad uMieRanie

Tytułem, afiRMowany, — niepoMiaRkowaną KaRtą!


You can mark speech sounds within words, or write the words with big letters. If we click the Wikisource, we find there even is an overlap, in phonemic marking.


Most importantly, Emily Dickinson was aware of capitalization as in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights


The documents did not invent standards. They continue to show capitalization as part preserved also today. In the light, the markings and big letters belong with drafts of her pieces, not the final forms. Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd knew the draft features and ignored them with print. Well, we do not follow Jefferson’s “rough draught” for the Declaration of Independence, either. ;)


Why I stay by Emily Dickinson’s first print

We may fancy a look at a few more pieces.  (Life, XXIII, Unreturning) ἀνάπλυσις, anaplusis, washing or rinsing out; ἀνήλυσις, anelusis, going up, return; ἤλυσις, elusis, step, gait; lenunculus, a small sailing-vessel, bark, skiff (the toddling little boat).


‘T was such a little, little boat

That toddled down the bay!

‘T was such a gallant, gallant sea

That beckoned it away!


‘T was such a greedy, greedy wave

That licked it from the coast;

Nor ever guessed the stately sails

My little craft was lost!


We can compare the Greek -upo/ypo- for I asked no other thing (Life, XII, p. 213): ἰσότυπος, isotypos, shaped alike, συνυπόπτωσις, synypoptosis, simultaneous presentation to the senses; Latin cauponarius, a male shopkeeper, tradesman, ποπτερνίς, upopternis, a knob (a kind of a button that can twirl, in the modern use), and πo, 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?”


You may be interested in the Uncouth love theme (the “suspicious” love of language) or the thematic stanza in Emily Dickinson’s poetry, too. :)