“Ourselves were wed one summer — dear —”

Ourselves were wed one summer — dear —
Your Vision — was in June —
And when Your little Lifetime failed,
I wearied — too — of mine —

And overtaken in the Dark —
Where You had put me down —
By Some one carrying a Light —
I — too — received the Sign.

‘Tis true — Our Futures different lay —
Your Cottage — faced the sun —
While Oceans — and the North must be —
On every side of mine

‘Tis true, Your Garden led the Bloom,
For mine — in Frosts — was sown —
And yet, one Summer, we were Queens —
But You — were crowned in June —

Emily Dickinson’s “Ourselves were wed one summer — dear —” (631)  was included in packet 84 and is believed to have been written around 1863. Readers have suggested that the poem registers Dickinson’s loss of her childhood friend Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson, to the rigidness of her heterosexual marriage to Emily’s brother, William Austin Dickinson.

Sue’s “Vision” in June represents her faith and her marriage to Austin. Dickinson expresses her loss of Sue to both religion and marriage as a kind of death. While Dickinson avoids her own experience of death by yielding herself not to man or God, but to the “light” and her poetic muse:

And overtaken in the Dark —
Where You had put me down —
By Some one carrying a Light —
I — too — received the Sign.

After receiving the poetic “Sign,” Dickinson goes on to describe how both her and Sue’s lives will be forever different:

‘Tis true — Our Futures different lay —
Your Cottage — faced the sun —
While Oceans — and the North must be —
On every side of mine

‘Tis true, Your Garden led the Bloom,
For mine — in Frosts — was sown —
And yet, one Summer, we were Queens —
But You — were crowned in June —

Sue’s life will include daily social rounds of a cottage, while Dickinson will face the openness of the oceans and the north. Sue is associated with the creativity and bloom of a garden, but it is a garden circumscribed by the round of male order signified by sun, or even son. Dickenson sows her own garden, her own poems, with the “Frost” suggesting her cold separation from Sue. Dickinson gives birth to poetry and Sue gives birth to children. Nevertheless, both women have lost the primal bonds that they posed when the two were “Queens,” but Sue greatly wreaks the loss of primal bonds when she subdued to the “crown,” the limits, the blows, and the thorns. “Crown” offers an imagery of Christ, a sort of restriction, i.e. marriage.

This poem has a representation of these comparing and contrasting roles. Sue is a sun-filled, domestic fate, while Dickinson is surrounded by the vast “Ocean.” For Vivian Pollak, the imagery evoking the speaker’s fate, “symbolized a lesser triumph over sterility, because she never effectively renounced her love for Sue, transferred her affection to anyone else, or recovered from Sue’s betrayal of her” (142). While Sue’s lifelong companionship for the poet is questionable, at least in this poem, she continues to dominate Dickinson’s consciousness. There is a lingering anguish towards the loss of Sue even at the end of the poem, once more, the summer when they were “Queens” and the June when Sue was “crowned” both women were dethroned.

—Melanie Murphy

Bibliography and Further Readings Betsy Erkkila. The wicked sisters: women poets, literary history, and discord (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Print); Betsy Erkkila. The complete poems of Emily Dickinson (Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown, 1960. Print); Sharon Leiter. Critical companion to Emily Dickinson: a literary reference to her life and work (New York, NY: Facts on File, 2007. Print).

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