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05 April 2012

For this – accepted Breath –

For this – accepted Breath – 

Through it – compete with Death – 

The fellow cannot touch this Crown – 

By it – my title take – 

Ah, what a royal sake

To my necessity – stooped down!

No Wilderness – can be

Where this attendeth me – 

No Desert Noon – 

No fear of frost to come

Haunt the perennial bloom – 

But Certain June!

Get Gabriel – to tell – the royal syllable – 

Get Saints – with new – unsteady tongue – 

To say what trance below

Most like their glory show – 

Fittest the Crown!
                                                             J195, Fr230 (1861) 

Few people are fortunate enough to know their calling and believe it to be glorious. Dickinson is one who did. It’s a good thing, too, for she was not valued as much in her life for her poetry as for her baking and gardening! Locals knew her as a recluse not as a poet. Cultured men who were in a position to advance her as a poet discouraged her from publishing. And so she wrote and wrote and wrote alone in her room. Even her sister who knew she wrote poems was amazed at the number of them stashed away in Emily’s desk and cupboards. Many of them were carefully bound together in little books that are referred to as ‘fascicles.’
            “For this” gift of poetry, Dickinson “accepted Breath.” That’s about as bold a statement of destiny as one could make! Through her poetry she will outlive her bodily death – and she certainly has. Death can’t touch the crown of her fame. I hope she truly believed this for she has posthumously earned tremendous respect and fame. Poetry for her is a “necessity” that “stooped down” from whatever divinity inspires it.
Angel Gabriel getting
the word out via
U.S. mail -- at 6¢!
            Poetry is her “Certain June!” It wouldn’t matter if she were in a desert or a million miles from nowhere. Cold couldn’t hurt the “perennial bloom” of her poetic inspiration. And indeed, she wrote prolifically. Finally, she calls on the messenger angel, Gabriel, archangel of revelation and truth, as well as all the dear departed Saints (who may not speak as well as the angel since they are new to heavenly language and so have “unsteady tongue[s].”  Get them, she commands, to say just what “trance” is available here on earth that is most like the glory they experience in heaven, what livelihood most fit for the “Crown.” The proud answer would be the experience of writing poetry.
            By saying this, Dickinson places herself in the company of those who say they write by the Muse – that their poetry comes from outside themselves, from some great wellspring of creativity. Dipping into this well is a source of nourishing intoxication for the poet: her everlasting June.
            The poem seems a bit unpolished to me. There are word inversions (“By it – my title take”) that might have been worked around, unnecessary anachronisms (“attendeth,” “Fittest”), and a structure that gets tossed by the wayside in the last five lines. It might be argued that the last six lines achieve a certain ecstatic level, what with archangels and saints and crowns, but the AABCCB rhyme scheme of the previous sets of six lines disappears. Oh well – this is a poem celebrating the wonderful privilege and source of inner fulfillment and transport that the gift of poetry brings (I use the word “gift” in the context Dickinson here uses; I don’t mean to imply that poets have it easy…)


  1. Wife and I visited ED's home in May 2015. Began reading the Final Harvest compilation, a few poems daily after dinner. Greatly appreciate your blog.

  2. Given ED’s past bipolar opinions of her worthiness, this poem ranks right up there at the top of the manic list, commanding us to tell Gabriel and the Angels to inform God of Earth’s newborn star of poetry. Talk about hutzpah! ED has decided to commit her life to poetry, with great expectations. Know what? She’s right!

    The three stanza Variant B above (Stanza 3 began with “Get Gabriel…”) preceded Variant A, which consisted of only Stanza 2 with the “me” of Line 2 changed to “thee”. ED sent Variant A to Sam Bowles as a letter/poem.

    Here’s an interpretation:

    As long as I’m breathing
    Death can’t compete with my gift
    For composing poetry
    Or steal my skill.
    What a divine gift
    Given me by God.

    No uncharted place can exist
    So long as I have that gift,
    No unbearable heat or thirst
    No fear of future frost
    Can stop my perennial productivity,
    Instead, eternal spring will spawn poems.

    Get Gabriel to spread the Divine word
    Get Saints just learning Heaven’s tongue
    To inform Angels of the gifted poet
    Who emulates their conversation
    With words fit for God!