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13 September 2011

She bore it till the simple veins

She bore it till the simple veins
Traced azure on her hand—
Til pleading, round her quiet eyes
The purple Crayons stand.

Till Daffodils had come and gone
I cannot tell the sum,
And then she ceased to bear it—
And with the Saints sat down.

No more her patient figure
At twilight soft to meet—
No more her timid bonnet
Upon the village street—

But Crowns instead, and Courtiers—
And in the midst so fair,
Whose but her shy—immortal face
Of whom we're whispering here?
                                                                           - F 81 (1859)  144

This and some of the next ones are simple and sweet reflections on the death of a good woman. This particular woman was long suffering—wasting away from some illness over many years. The poet tells us she is ‘timid’ and ‘patient’ and ‘shy’. It’s sad to hear about how she became so translucently thin that the veins showed and the dark circles under her eyes were, at the end, pleading—one assumes for death to finally come. And it was a gentle death, the woman simply ‘ceased to bear it’ and sat down with the Saints.
            But what makes this a distinctly inferior poem is that after portraying such a simple, meek soul who used to trot about the village streets, Dickinson suddenly thrusts her amid ‘Crowns’ and ‘Courtiiers’. Somehow I doubt that this was the sort of Heaven the little woman wanted. What was Emily thinking?  I go back to my earlier idea that Dickinson would kill time by writing out a supply of these anodyne death poems in case of need.
            Other aspects of the poem are regrettable as well. The first images of blue tracery on the hands and purple ‘Crayons’ around her eyes conjures something clownish, and the reader has to beat this image down with a stick once encountering the ‘timid bonnet’ on her patient errands. Then there are the distorted-English passages that close the second and third stanzas. Dickinson is better than this. Let’s move on.


  1. Hey there, some pity for the Poet, now her own subject in this! I am probably wrong but for me the puzzle is solved by standing purple crayons. The woman in the poem is looking to the purple columns of evening and entering heaven.

    1. Well, that's a better image, for sure. But I still can't shake the pleading purple shadows around her eyes...