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20 September 2011

Heart, not so heavy as mine

Heart, not so heavy as mine
Wending late home—
As it passed my window
Whistled itself a tune—

A careless snatch—a ballad—
A ditty of the street—
Yet to my irritated Ear
An Anodyne so sweet—

It was as if a Bobolink
Sauntering this way
Carolled, and paused, and carolled—
Then bubbled slow away!

It was as if a chirping brook
Upon a dusty way—
Set bleeding feet to minuets
Without the knowing why!

Tomorrow, night will come again—
Perhaps, weary and sore—
Ah Bugle! By my window
I pray you pass once more.
                                                - F 88 (1859)   83

The poem is about the power of music (which ‘has charms to heal the savage breast’, as William  Congreve would have it), and indeed the poem itself is full of sound and meter effects that align it to music as well.  Let’s have a go.
            Stanza one sets the scene. The poet is at home, despondent, but then hears someone whistling a tune outside. To capture this in senses as well as in words, Dickinson begins with heavy, tired-sounding meter—a couple of spondees (“Heart, not”, and “late home”) combined with the breathy “h” sounds that slow everything down. Then we shift to the more quick and merry “w” alliterations: “Wending”, “window,” “Whistled”.  The poem goes apace from here, much more chipper.
            I particularly like the quartet of “B”s that anchor the poem. First we have, in stanza two, a “ballad” that is so sweet that, in stanza three, the “Bobolink” might have sung it before he “bubbled” away. The sound is cheerful “as if a chirping brook” were chirping it’s dance tunes (stanza four). Then in the last stanza we have the “Bugle” – which is another way of referring to the whistler. So there are the Ballad, the Bobolink, the brook, and the Bugle. How could anyone stay depressed with all that action going on outside the window?


  1. Hello Susan,

    I've been a lover of Dickinson's poetry for years. Searching for some info in the web I accidentally came into your blog, which I find one of the most interesting & complete resources I've checked online.

    I read Emily's poems very often, and I'm trying to translate them into my mother language. Your comments seem very helpful for me to deeply understand what she ment.

    I encourage you to go on with this wonderful project you've started; I've already suscribed by email and hopefully I'll receive updates soon.



    1. Thank you, Leticia -- it is a labor of love, for sure! I just came back from a month's vacation -- and really missed studying the poems.

  2. Considering that Susan lived next door, I spy a different kind of musician!

    1. Well, except for the portrayal of someone wending his/her way home at night whistling a ditty of the street -- which doesn't sound like the fine lady of society Sue had become by this time. But ED did in another poem or two (can't recall exactly) liken Sue to a bird.