“A Diamond on the Hand”

A Diamond on the Hand
To Custom Common grown
Subsides from its significance
The Gem were best unknown —

Within a Seller’s Shrine
How many sight and sigh
And cannot, but are mad for fear
That any other buy.

Emily Dickinson’s, “A Diamond on the Hand,”also known as 1108, in Thomas H. Johnson’s edition of Poems, describes a diamond ring that is worn daily and loses its importance. However, people still sigh because they cannot afford diamonds, and are jealous of those who can. Therefore, it would be better if diamonds did not exist at all. The lyric poem was written in 1867, and then published in 1932 in, Emily Dickinson Face to Face: Unpublished Letters with Notes and Reminiscences edited by Martha Dickinson Bianchi. At the time of writing, America was in the midst of The Reconstruction Era, which began in 1865. America was beginning to return back to “normal” after the Civil War.

The poem is written in short meter, composed of lines with six syllables, six syllables, eight syllables, and six syllables twice, since the poem is eight lines long. This can also be seen as the first two lines being in iambic trimeter, the third line in iambic tetrameter, the fourth-sixth lines in iambic trimeter, the seventh line in iambic tetrameter, and finally the eighth line in iambic trimeter. The poem also has an (abcb) rhyme scheme as seen with the rhyming words “grown” and “unknown” and “sigh” and “buy.” Alliteration is seen as well; for example: “To Common Custom grown,” “Subsides from its significance,” “Within a Seller’s Shrine,” and “How many sight and sigh.” Dickinson only has three poems that focus on diamonds: 1108, 395 “Reverse cannot befall,” and 427 “I’ll clutch — and clutch —.” All focus in some way on materialization.

There are very few, if any pieces of critical reception on this poem; however, there is commentary on the book that it was published in: Emily Dickinson Face to Face. In 1933, a year after the book’s publication, Morris U. Schappes, writes that the poems that were included, such as “A Diamond on the Hand,” will, “add nothing to a high reputation (Schappes 83), and that the editing that was done by Dickinson’s niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, on the notes and the poems can be seen as suspicious because she “cannot copy the same page twice without making some error.” Overall, he suspects the accuracy and authenticity of her editing all together. Since “A Diamond on the Hand” was included in the book, Schappes probably does not think much of it, based on his views of Bianchi’s editing. In 1971, thirty nine years after publication, Scott Donaldson writes about the book saying that it, “remains of value principally as a document in the long, and sadly vindictive, struggle over the hoard of Dickinson verse conducted by Mme. Bianchi and the heirs of Mabel Loomis Todd.” He then writes that the book reveals more about the “ill temper, arrogance, and conspicuous propriety of Emily Dickinson’s niece…than about the woman-and poet-who continues to dazzle” (163). Again, this opinion, like Schappes, focuses on Bianchi, rather than the works contained in the book she edited. Finally, in 1999, Martha Nell Smith and Ellen Louise Hart focus on the poem in terms of the actual manuscript. In the original, the opening lines are crossed out and replaced with alternates, and the poem is meant for Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson, her sister-in-law (Smith and Hart 30-31). In Franklin’s edition however, he excludes “A Diamond on the Hand” from his list of those sent to her and instead places it in the list of those excluded, mostly because it was a draft. What is interesting though is that the manuscript has fold marks that suggest that the stationary was folded and refolded into a small square, so it could easily be passed to other people, which was common with the manuscripts sent to Susan.

Though the amount of commentary is few for “A Diamond on the Hand,” the poem, though small, is still significant in that it calls attention to materialism and how it is unnecessary for us in our world. Dickinson’s use of short meter and of a common rhyme scheme make the poem flow and overall it conveys its message clearly and efficiently.

—Danielle Field

Bibliography and Further Reading “A Timeline of Emily Dickinson’s Life.” Emily Dickinson Museum. Emily Dickinson Museum (2009. Web. 11 Nov. 2013); Emily Dickinson. “1108.” The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. (Boston: Bay Back Books, 1960. 500. Print); Scott Donaldson. “Emily Dickinson Face to Face by Martha Dickinson Bianchi.” Rev. for Emily Dickinson Face to Face by Martha Dickinson Bianchi. The New England Quarterly (44.1 [1971]: 161-63. Print); Morris U Schappes. Emily Dickinson Face to Face: Unpublished Letters with Notes and Reminiscences by Emily Dickinson, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, Alfred Leete Hampson.” Rev. for Emily Dickinson Face to Face: Unpublished Letters with Notes and Reminiscences by Emily Dickinson, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, Alfred Leete Hampson. American Literature (5.1 [1933]: 82-85. Print); Martha Nell Smith & Ellen Louise Hart. “On Franklin’s Gifts and Ghosts.” The Emily Dickinson Journal (8.2 [1999]: 24-38. Print).


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