“If I can stop one heart from breaking”

If I can stop one heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain
If I can ease one Life the Aching
Or cool one in pain

Or help one fainting Robin
Unto his Nest again,
I shall not live in Vain.

“If I can stop one heart from breaking” (#119) was written about 1864 and published in 1929 in Further Poems of Emily Dickinson published by Little, Brown and Company of Boston. Dickinson was known to seclude herself in her bedroom while writing her poetry, most of which has themes of mortality, although this poem in particular has a more uplifting message to provide, that of selflessness. While it would be hard to prove, it is possible that this poem which addresses the desire to stop a heart from breaking is about a love interest. It is possible that it is involved with Dickinson’s ‘master letters’ between 1858 and 1861 that ‘reveal passionate yet changing feelings toward the recipient’ (Emily Dickinson Museum).

This poem consists of two stanzas and has a loosely structured rhyme scheme. It begins with ‘If I can stop one Heart from breaking / I shall not live in vain’ (433). Dickinson is expressing a desire to stop someone from having their heart broken. A broken heart can come from a relationship, a death, or any of the typical hardships that people go through in life. She is saying that if she is able to stop one person from experiencing this kind of pain, then her life will not have been lived in vain (without success or result). She then continues with ‘If I can ease one Life the Aching / Or cool one Pain.’ In these two lines she reiterates her first point, which is that she wants to help relieve the ache and pain in at least one person’s life. The use of the word ‘cool’ makes one think that the pain is hot, perhaps red such as anger. To cool the pain she would be distinguishing the fiery anger in this person’s breaking heart. Also, Dickinson capitalizes both ‘aching’ and ‘pain’ in these two lines, showing that these are important themes in the poem. The next stanza begins with ‘Or help one fainting Robin / Unto his Nest again’ which could be looked at as helping a person who has lost control of their life and needs to be set straight again.  The robin in this instance is someone who is struggling with heartbreak, perhaps bad enough to want to give up and ‘faint,’ but Dickinson desires to put this person back on the right track, into their ‘nest.’ The poem ends by coming full circle with a repeat of the line ‘I shall not live in vain.’ Dickinson seems to be trying to express that someone’s life is worth more if they are concerned with helping others. She considers her life a success if she is able to help at least one person to be happier, to be without pain or heartbreak.

—Jamie Clark

Bibliography and Further Reading “Emily Dickinson’s Love Life.” (Emily Dickinson Museum: The Homestead and the Evergreens. Web. 11 Nov. 2013);  Thomas H Johnson,. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. (New York: Back Bay Books / Little, Brown and Company, 1961. Print).

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“I had no time to hate—”

I had no time to Hate—
Because The Grave would hinder Me—
And life was not so
Ample I
Could finish—Enmity

Nor had I time to Love—
But since
Some Industry must be—
The little Toil of Love—
I thought
Be large enough for Me—

Dickinson begins poem #498 with the idea that she could not hate because she did not have enough time.  This lack of time to hate occurs because life is too short; she is taking a cliché and transforming it into a revelation. Life is too precious to be filled with hatred. The grave in the distance encourages her to have love for people rather than hate. Capitalizing Hate emphasizes the importance of the idea of hatred in this poem and is connected with the capitalized word Grave.  In the second part of the first of two stanzas, Dickinson is explaining that life is not generous enough to allow, or to finish with, enmity (typically mutual hatred or ill will).  She wants the reader to be aware that life does not allow for one to pass away while harboring hatred for another person.  Perhaps this is a suggestion towards ghosts, haunted souls who cannot be put to rest until they have finished their business on Earth.  Dickinson lets readers know that one has to live a life full of love because life is short and does not allow any space for hatred or bad feelings between people.

The second stanza begins with a much sadder message: Dickinson not having enough time to love. She goes on to say that some have to be diligent in order to find love and suggests she had found her own version of love, which is enough to satisfy her.  She refers to it as the ‘little Toil of Love,’ suggestsing that she does not think of it as a large feeling with the use of the term ‘little.’  With toil (laborious effort) Dickinson is saying that love is not something that is enjoyable to those involved, but rather a long-winded effort in which neither involved are particularly enjoying themselves.  The final two lines leave the reader with a sad sense of Dickinson because the reader is left with the image of someone who has not experienced true love, but thinks what she has felt is good enough for her.  Her use of sizes shows that she thinks of love as something that is small, but that even that small amount she has experienced is large enough for her.

David Preest’s commentary on the poem is succinct. “Life is too short to do anything properly, but ‘since some Industry must be,’ as Dickinson chooses ‘the little Toil of Love’ rather than Hate or Enmity as the right-sized task for her” (161).  While this is a very condensed view of the poem, it captures the main point, which is that life does not go on long enough to do anything as it really should be done. He explains that Dickinson decided that a small amount of love is better suited to her than a large amount of hate or enmity.  She chooses the love that takes much more effort, but it seems as though it is enough for her because life is too short to do anything ‘properly’ anyways, which is what Preest is pointing out in his reading of this popular poem.

—Jamie Clark

Bibliography and Further Reading Emily Dickinson.  The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. (New York: Back Bay Books / Little, Brown and Company, 1961. Print); David Preest. “Emily Dickinson: notes on all her poems.” Emily Dickinson Poems (2012. Web. 18 Nov. 2013).

“Defrauded I a Butterfly”

Defrauded I a Butterfly—
The lawful Heir—for Thee—

Emily Dickinson’s short poem (#730 in the Johnson Edition) was written in 1863 but it wasn’t until 1890 that it was edited by Mabel Loomis Todd and T.W. Higginson in the First Series Robert Brothers 1890 edition. Perhaps Dickinson would still feel defrauded today if she knew how many people edited her original works and didn’t let her poetry hide it’s secret beauty, as a butterfly does while camouflaged.

Not only can one read this poem quickly, but there are barely any critiques or opinions on this secretive gem. The only commentary on this poem is a piece of art titled “Defrauded I a Butterfly”. Ishita Bandyo, a contemporary fine arts painter, created a painting with the title being the first line of Dickinson’s poem (Bandyo).  The bright, voluminous colors of Bandyo’s painting creates a pathway for thinking regarding Dickinson’s poem, and with just two lines,  nine words, and three dashes—this poem is full of color and life.

Dickinson is  claiming that she is meant to be the butterfly, but that possibility has been taken away from her. Which when examining a butterfly, one must acknowledge its perfect symmetry, camouflage techniques, and ability to fly freely. This may be Dickinson’s cry for a balanced life, but a life that is also secretive and has no limits. Unfortunately this was all taken away from her, as the runner up for next in line, the “Heir”. This life of secret freedom, along with a balanced, even level to her life is accompanied by unjust beings or doings due to this was a “lawful” manner that she shall be “Heir.” However such is life, unjust and unfair events, actions, or reasons occur and even as free as the “Butterfly” is, the camouflage doesn’t always work, leaving one defrauded; falling short in their attempt.

—Emma Kash

Bibliography and Further Reading “Emily Dickinson Archive.” Emily Dickinson Archive. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2013. “Ishita Bandyo Art.” Contemporary Mixed Media. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2013.

“Because I could not stop for Death”

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –

Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death,” (#712 in Thomas H. Johnson’s The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson) was written in 1863 and first published posthumously in Poems in 1890 by Roberts Brothers of Boston. This edition was assembled and edited by Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson and was titled, “The Chariot.” The lyric poem personifies Death as a gentleman caller who takes Dickinson on a carriage ride to her own grave. The U.S. was still fighting the Civil War in 1863, so Dickinson was living in a time of violence and of change. During the early 1860s, Dickinson had fully developed her, “flood subjects,” on the themes of living and dying. With enigmas of incredible insight, she repeatedly gives relationship to the ideas and experiences which exist in time, but never are a part of it (Johnson viii-ix). “Because I could not stop for Death” was part of her packet poems, verses written from 1858-1865, the years of great creativeness for Dickinson. These poems are two thirds of the entire body of her poetry. The packet for the year 1863, contained 140 poems. In 1862, she initiated a life-long correspondence with Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who later went on to edit the first edition of her poetry (“A Timeline of Emily Dickinson’s Life”).

The poem is comprised of six quatrains, with a meter alternating between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. There is an internal rhyme throughout the poem especially in stanzas 1, 2, 4, and 6. Some of these stanzas only use eye rhyme. For example: “me” and “immortality”; “away” and “civility”; “chill” and “Tulle”; and “Day” and “Eternity.” The poem uses alliteration as well. For example: “May labor and my leisure too”; “At Recess — in the Ring —”; “We passed the Fields of Grazing Grain —”; “We passed the Setting Sun —”; “The Dews drew quivering and chill —”; “For only Gossamer, my Gown —”; “My Tippet — only Tulle —.” Anaphora is also used in the poem, as seen in lines nine, and eleven and twelve when Dickinson repeats, “We passed.” It is also seen when she repeats, “Ground” in lines eighteen and twenty. There is also the personification of Death and Immortality.

Allen Tate believes that it was one of the greatest poems in the English language (14). He writes that every image in the poem extends and intensifies the other images and that Dickinson was able to fuse sensibility and thought within the poem (15-16). Yvor Winters would later comment on Tate’s admiration of the poem by saying that the poem ends in a statement that is not offered seriously, and that to praise the poem is unsound criticism (289-290). Winters concludes that the poem is an example of a poem representing a mixed theme and falls below her finest achievement (288-89). Joanne Feit Diehl reads the poem through Freud’s “The Theme of the Three Caskets,” which she believes clarifies Dickinson’s relationship to desire and to the awareness of her own death. And commentator Martha Nell Smith reads the poem as a way for Dickinson to convey her comedic side. “That this poem begins and ends with humanity’s ultimate dream of self-importance – Immortality and Eternity – could well be the joke central to its meaning, for Dickinson carefully surrounds the fantasy of living ever after with the dirty facts of life – dusty carriage rides, schoolyards, and farmer’s fields… she pulls the sublime down to the ridiculous but unavoidable facts of existence, thus imbues life on earth with its real import” ( 95).

Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death” reflects on the journey and reality of death through the personification of Death and Immortality and the simple act of going on a carriage ride. Many commentators have had their own takes on the poem, from comedic, to Freudian, however, the fact still remains that the poem is a greatly important one, and helps shape our understanding of Dickinson herself.

–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.. “712.” The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. (Boston: Bay Back Books, 1960. 350. Print.); Joanne Feit Diehl. Women Poets and the American Sublime. (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990. Print.); Thomas H. Johnson. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. By Emily Dickinson. Ed. Johnson. (Boston: Back Bay Books, 1960. v-xi. Print.); Suzanne Miller, Cristanne Miller, and Martha Nell Smith. Comic Power in Emily Dickinson. (Austin: U of Texas Press, 1993. 95. Print.); Allen Tate. Reactionary Essays on Poetry and Ideas (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936.13-16, 22-25. Print.); Yvor Winters. “Emily Dickinson and the Limits of Judgment,” In Defense of Reason. 3rd ed. (Denver: Alan Swallow, 1947. 283-99. Print.).

“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).

“A Woman Waits for Me”

Walt Whitman’s “A Woman Waits for Me,” first titled “Poem of Procreation,” was published in the 1856 edition of Enfans d’Adam. By 1867, the book Enfans d’Adam became what is now known as Children of Adam. “A Woman waits for me” is a poem describing the heterosexual love-making between a man and a woman to make the perfect child.

The poem asserts every man as being equal to Adam, assisting in the creation of “perfect men and women out of [their] lovespendings” (260). Sex is the essences for madness, but also the key to human happiness. The madness contains: “all bodies, souls, meanings, proofs…” (258), the draining of, “the pent-up rivers” (260) into the woman “who waits for [him]” (259). This represents the unification of man and woman, who shall make the perfect “crops” (260). These “crops” will then, “from the birth, life, death, immortality. . . ,” acquire the essences of creating the perfect child.

The sexual intercourse occurring, materializes the sperm fertilizing the seed, and the relation of the planting process for the perfect “crop.” The results of these acts creates the “new gestation” (72). As readers, Whitman is presenting this radical idea for us as the readers to become new artists and poets because of this planted seed idea, while in the poem the lovers are creating this new perfect child through true sexual seed planting, “out of. . .lovespending” (260).

Phrenology may have encouraged Whitman’s “notion that human character could be “read” in a person’s physical attributes and that moral character, as well as physical traits, could be passed down from one generation to the next” (Killingsworth). Through Whitman’s “A Woman Waits for Me,” it has been said that it demonstrates his, “theme of human perfectibility wove with eugenic themes.” The ability that flawless human creation can be achieved only through those who are perfect. Thus meaning the perfect offspring can only be cultivated from Adam and the unification with whichever maiden he chooses. Whitman is presenting this theme in the poem through these explicit sexual experiences and through this, those reading this poem can experience an intimate experience themselves, a kind of, “sexual act of interpenetration” (Folsom and Price 72).

Melanie Murphy

Biography and Further Reading
Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price. Re-scripting Walt Whitman: an introduction to his life and work. (Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.2005.Print); Jimmie M. Killingsworth. Whitman’s poetry of the body: sexuality, politics, and the text. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.1989. Print); Jimmie M. Killingsworth. “The Walt Whitman Archive.” M. Jimmie, Killingsworth, “Human Body.” (Web. 28 Oct. 2013); James E. Miller Jr.”The Walt Whitman Archive.” James E., Jr., Miller, “Children of Adam [1860].”(Web. 28 Oct. 2013); Whitman, Walt. Poetry and prose.( New York: Library of America, 1996. Print).

“If I can stop one heart from breaking”

If I can stop one heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain
If I can ease one Life the Aching
Or cool one Pain

Or help one fainting Robin
Unto his Nest again,
I shall not live in Vain.

Poem #919, “If I can stop one heart from breaking,” is thought to have been written about 1864 and was published in 1929 in Further Poems of Emily Dickinson by Little, Brown and Company of Boston.

This poem consists of two stanzas, a rhyming quatrain and a tercet with a more loosely structured rhyme scheme. It begins with ‘If I can stop one Heart from breaking / I shall not live in vain’ (433). Dickinson is expressing a desire to stop someone from having her heart broken. A broken heart can come from a relationship, a death, or any of the typical hardships that people go through in life. She is saying that if she is able to stop one person from experiencing this kind of pain, then her life will not have been lived in vain (without success or result). She then continues with “If I can ease one Life the Aching / Or cool one Pain.” In these two lines she reiterates her first point, which is that she wants to help relieve the ache and pain in at least one person’s life. The use of the word “cool” makes one think that the pain is hot, perhaps red such as anger. To cool the pain she would be distinguishing the fiery anger in this person’s breaking heart. Also, Dickinson capitalized both “aching” and “pain” in these two lines, showing that these are important themes in the poem. The next stanza begins with “Or help one fainting Robin / Unto his Nest again.” This opening could be looked at as helping a person who has lost control of their life and needs to be set straight again. The robin in this instance is someone who is struggling with heartbreak, perhaps bad enough to want to give up and “faint,” but Dickinson desires to put this person back on the right track, into their “nest.” The poem ends by coming full circle with a repeat of the line “I shall not live in vain.” Dickinson seems to suggest that someone’s life is worth more if they are concerned with helping others. She considers her life a success if she is able to help at least one person to be happier, to be without pain or heartbreak.

While it would be hard to prove, readers have speculated that this poem about the desire to stop a heart from breaking is about a love interest. It is possible to read the poem alongside Dickinson’s “master letters” in 1858 and 1861 that “reveal passionate yet changing feelings toward the recipient” (Emily Dickinson Museum).

—Jamie Clark

Bibliography and Further Reading “Emily Dickinson’s Love Life.” Emily Dickinson Museum: The Homestead and the Evergreens. Web. 11 Nov. 2013; Thomas H Johnson,. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. New York: Back Bay Books / Little, Brown and Company, 1961. Print.