Rearrange a "Wife's" Affection!
When they dislocate my Brain!
Amputate my freckled Bosom!
Make me bearded like a man!
Blush, my spirit, in thy Fastness –
Blush, my unacknowledged clay –
Seven years of troth have taught thee
More than Wifehood every may!
Love that never leaped its socket –
Trust entrenched in narrow pain –
Constancy thro' fire – awarded –
Anguish – bare of anodyne!
Burden – borne so far triumphant –
None suspect me of the crown,
For I wear the "Thorns" till Sunset –
Then – my Diadem put on.
Big my Secret but it's bandaged –
It will never get away
Till the Day its Weary Keeper
Leads it through the Grave to thee.
F267 (1861) 1737
Imagine going through life with a steadfast love for someone – your soul mate – but the love must be kept secret. That’s what this poem talks about.
The first stanza is blunt, almost explosive. The poet begins from the point of view of a wife. Tamper with her love and affection? No way! They would have to first take out her brain and cut off her breasts. They’d have to make her a man to do it. Each of the four lines in the first stanza end in exclamation marks. Could Dickinson have been any more emphatic?
The second stanza tackles her virginity. The poet compliments her spirit for steadfastness and gives a tip of the hat to her “unacknowledged clay” – her unfulfilled body. Both body and spirit can blush with wifely pride for seven years of pledged love have taught her more than if she had actually married.
|Lover's Letter Box|
George Baxter 1856
She then becomes more detailed in praising her spirit and her clay. Her love never wavered. Her trust was “entrenched” and confined; there was pain involved. Dickinson may have been thinking of a man like Samuel Bowles or Charles Wadsworth as she wrote this: married men, both. That would account for the confines and also for the “fire” through which she remained constant. It might account as well for the “Anguish” she suffered without anything to soothe the pain and lessen the hurt.
The last two stanzas, though, reveal the poet as not despairing because she believes in a marriage after death. Not a “Corpse Bride,” of course, but a true spiritual union. The poet has born the burden of her secret and difficult love in secret. No one suspects. She refers to her crown of thorns by way of reinforcing her suffering: she, like Jesus, wears a painful crown until death. Then she can put on her true, beautiful crown.
This secret love is a big secret. No doubt there would be plenty of scandal and embarrassment should it be discovered. Consequently, the poet has “bandaged” it. The bandage covers and hides the secret. It also binds it to her until she dies and can lead it “through the Grave” to her waiting soulmate.
The last line implies the soul mate might already be dead, that the poet has been keeping her love alive for seven years trusting in a heavenly consummation.
Part of the strength of the poem comes from the expulsive “b” sounds in the first six lines: Brain, Bosom, bearded, Blush, Blush. They underscore the intensity of the love. In later lines we see the love as Burdened, the secret as Big and Bandaged. All strong words.