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29 October 2011

Talk with prudence to a Beggar

Talk with prudence to a Beggar
Of "Potosi," and the mines!
Reverently, to the Hungry
Of your viands, and your wines!

Cautious, hint to any Captive
You have passed enfranchised feet!
Anecdotes of air, in Dungeons
Have sometimes proved deadly sweet!
                                                                   - F 118 (1859)  119

Inca laborers mining Potosi silver
for the Spanish colonialists
Dickinson passes on some common-sense advice here. It is crass, if not dangerous, to flaunt wealth (e.g., the rich silver mines of Potosi in Bolivia), luxurious food, and freedom to those who are in need. But the poem also sounds like a veiled personal plea. Don’t dangle freedom and riches in front of me, she warns. Don’t tempt me out of my circumscribed life.
            Instead of yearning for freedom, food, or riches, however, the poet may be longing for love or Paradise. One imagines her thinking of the men she loved and flirted with, or Sue whose fickle loyalty and affection she always desired. But I also think of all the poems she wrote about longing for Paradise and I wonder if she wasn’t thinking of that. Talk of Paradise might indeed prove “deadly sweet” to one who longs for it. She makes this point quite clearly in the last two lines. Speaking of life outside of prison to a prisoner might induce a suicide attempt. 

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