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28 February 2012

Teach Him – When He makes the names –


Teach Him – When He makes the names
Such an one – to say –
On his babbling – Berry – lips –
As should sound – to me –
Were my Ear – as near his nest –
As my thought – today –
As should sound –
"Forbid us not" –
Some like "Emily."
                                                            F198 (1861)  227

A very sweet poem Dickinson sent to Samuel Bowles and his wife  after the birth of their son Charles. The syntax is all askew so the poem bears a few readings to get it straight. There’s also a breathless quality with all the dashes and interjections. The poet makes two points: My thought is very near to that baby today (“as near as his nest”);and “ Please teach him to say “Emily” (or something like it).
Mother giving Scotts
to babbling baby. Yum!
            I like the “babbling – Berry – lips” because it’s both descriptive and  charming as well as alliterative and catching the babbling sound of babies. Dickinson takes a baby’s point of view for a moment when she writes “Forbid us not.” The quote comes from the New Testament when Jesus tells a group of people to let the little children come close to him and “forbid them not.”  I think she is saying “Oh don’t forbid that your baby and I be close.” This poem is one of the very few that Dickinson gave a title to.


  1. what does a thought being near to the baby symbolise?

    1. I think it's just descriptive. If the poem's speaker were as near to the baby as her thoughts are (she's thinking of him a lot), then the speaker would be able to hear what the baby is babbling (hopefully the poet's name, 'Emily').