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26 February 2012

I'll send the feather from my Hat!

I'll send the feather from my Hat!
Who knows – but at the sight of that
My Sovereign will relent?
As trinket – worn by faded Child –
Confronting eyes long – comforted –
Blisters the Adamant!
                                                            - F196  (1861)   687

Ostrich feathers were the rage
This is a classic and light-hearted love poem. However, considering Dickinson sent it to Samuel Bowles, presumably along with a feather, it was intended as a mild flirtation since Bowles was married. Surely, the poet asks, my precious feather will have the same effect on “My Sovereign” object of affection as receiving a trinket once worn by a now dead (“faded”) child would have on its parents. It should, she hopes, blister even his stony (“Adamant”) heart. I like the word “Blisters” here. The image of a feather blistering a stony surface is a droll one.  
            There’s a bit of sound play between “Confronting” and “comforted.” The trinket and feather will confront a person who has finally become comfortable about the absence of the child or would-be lover. This state of acceptance is about to be blistered!
            The poem is written in two 3-line parts: each has two lines of iambic tetrameter followed by one of iambic trimeter. The rhyming last words of the two sections, “relent” and “Adament,”  tie the poem together. 


  1. This teasing chide threatens a blistering look from ED at Bowles for not answering her letters or commenting on her poems, especially the extremely personal ‘Title alone, is mine’. At various times, such chides marked her correspondence with both Susan and Bowles, which suggests their tolerance for her neediness had its limits, despite her obvious poetic talent.

    In a moment of thoughtlessness Bowles dashed off a potentially embarrassing note to Austin, which ED got wind of, and Bowles became a persona non grata. This alienation lasted 12 years, 1862-1874, until Edward Dickinson’s funeral (Habegger 2001)

  2. The note seems innocuous to us, but not to ED:

    "Four days later [in January, 1862], to Austin, [Bowles] dashed off what looks like a riposte to Dickinson’s nonappearance [when he visited the Evergreens]:

    "To the [Newman] girls & all hearty thought.—Vinnie ditto.—& to the Queen Recluse my especial sympathy—that she has “overcome the world.”— Is it really true that they sing “old hundred” & China [a hymn tune] perpetually, in heaven—ask her; and are dandelions, asphodels, or Maiden’s vows the standard flowers of the ethereal?"

    This irreverent treatment of Dickinson’s queenly withdrawal and obsession with heaven would not have upset someone with her keen humor, but there was an unforgettable shock in that emphatic—and public—“Maiden’s vows.” Two years earlier she had sent Bowles an ecstatic announcement of her excruciating “marriage”—“Title divine – is mine!/The Wife – without the Sign!” Insisting the matter be regarded as strictly confidential, she added, “You will tell no other? Honor – is its own pawn” (Fr194A).

    Now, playing with her trust, he all but dangled the great secret in front of the brother whose sympathetic understanding she no longer took for granted. That scoffing “Maiden’s vows” carried the suggestion that her fervent and private attachment to Wadsworth was some sort of virgin fancy, a product of inexperience. Could this be the case? Had she caught a wink in transit from one man to another? 'Ask her.'"

    Habegger, Alfred. My Wars Are Laid Away in Books (pp. 536-537). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.