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23 January 2014

Unto my Books — so good to turn —

Unto my Books — so good to turn —
Far ends of tired Days —
It half endears the Abstinence —
And Pain — is missed — in Praise —

As Flavors — cheer Retarded Guests
With Banquettings to be —
So Spices — stimulate the time
Till my small Library —

It may be Wilderness — without —
Far feet of failing Men —
But Holiday — excludes the night —
And it is Bells — within —

I thank these Kinsmen of the Shelf —
Their Countenances Kid
Enamor — in Prospective —
And satisfy — obtained —

                                                                      F512 (1863)  J604
This is one of those Dickinson poems where the reader must pay close attention, for grammatically it is loosely sketched. The theme is books and how much comfort and joy the poet takes in them.
       Dickinson biographer Richard B. Sewell argues that Dickinson "saw herself as a poet in the company of the Poets – and, functioning as she did mostly on her own, read them (among other reasons) for company" (The Life of Emily Dickinson, p.6710). They were her "Kinsmen of the Shelf."
The famous Shakespeare & Company
bookstore, Paris' Left Bank
Photo by John Rogers, Visualist Images
The poem follows a simple structure and is written in common ballad form. In the first stanza we see the speaker turning to her books at the end of a busy day. There is so much pleasure in doing so that it makes the longing for them enjoyable. She compares the anticipation to that of guests waiting for a delayed dinner: the smells coming from the kitchen keep them in good cheer. Likewise, the poet can savor the "Spices" of her "small Library" long before she settles in for a good read.
      Dickinson becomes completely engrossed with her books. It might be "Wilderness" outside, there might be struggling and weary travellers, it might be late at night; but for this reader it is all "Holiday"; it is as if she were in a delightful place and bells were ringing in celebration.
       She ends the poem rather humbly, thanking her kinsmen with their kid-leather faces. They are always enticing and they always bring complete satisfaction. Dickinson often became quite passionate when talking about books. This one seems simple and quiet.


  1. The "Far feet of failing Men" she refers to are an implied reference to soldiers in the civil war, rather than struggling and weary travellers. "[F]ailing," as in, dying.

    1. Yes, I think you are right. Thank you for pointing this out.

  2. this is fantastic..much thanks

  3. Books as a holiday (away from the far failing feet of men) and bells within. Ring a ding ding.

  4. ED ends her nightly reading at early AM, sleeps a few hours, wakes, cooks meals or bread, cleans house, washes supper dishes, reads again before midnight, “Far ends of tired Days”. . . . Read, Sleep, Work, Read, . . . Repeat.

    ‘Unto my Books’ makes me crave ED’s usual ambiguity. A symptom of addiction? Or love??

    Friends in the bar think I'm spending too much time with this difficult girlfriend. One even told me to "get rid of her".