Emily at 190!

December 10, 2020

There seems to be an Emily Dickinson poem for everything. So on this occasion marking 190 years since her birth, I thought I’d hunt around a bit for something she wrote that would be appropriate. Not surprisingly, there were a few somethings. It wasn’t an easy choice, but I did select something we don’t often read about.

There’s a line from a letter she wrote to her cousins in 1874 that’s often quoted: “We turn not older with years, but newer every day.” What’s not quoted as often is the passage that followed this:

Of all these things we tried to talk, but the time refused us. Longing, it may be, is the gift no other gift supplies. Do you remember what you said the night you came to me? I secure that sentence. If I should see your face no more it will be your portrait, and if I should, more vivid than your mortal face. We must be careful what we say. No bird resumes its egg.

What a prescient statement on the passage of time, on the marking of years! We can’t go back, only forward. We long for what we cannot have, and one of the things we can never retain is time past. No bird resumes its egg.

And then Emily followed these poetic sentences of prose with a poem:

A word left careless on a page

May consecrate an eye,

When folded in perpetual seam

The wrinkled author lie.

Mabel reproduced this letter and this poem in the second volume of her Letters of Emily Dickinson, published in 1894. Of course the poem was “Mabelized,” with words and punctuation altered. Here’s the version that is believed to be more accurately from Emily, as published by Thomas Johnson as Poem 1261:

A Word dropped careless on a Page
May stimulate an eye
When folded in perpetual seam
The Wrinkled Maker lie

Infection in the sentence breeds
We may inhale Despair
At distances of Centuries
From the Malaria —

Whichever version you select, Emily’s always amazing take on time remains.

Happy 190th!

One thought on “Emily at 190!”

  1. What a beautiful way to awaken on this cold Thursday. I always spend December 10th making Emily’s black cake that we will enjoy through the holidays. Thank you for her tender words that I will ponder as I bake.
    Christmas begins today!
    Marci Owens

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