The Chiefer part, for Time —
He — Compensates — immediately —
The former — Checks — on Fame —
Slow Gold — but Everlasting —
The Bullion of Today —
Contrasted with the Currency
Of Immortality —
A Beggar — Here and There —
Is gifted to discern
Beyond the Broker's insight —
One's — Money — One's — the Mine -
F536 (1863) J406
While some people aim for the "Slow" but "Everlasting" gold of immortality, most work for what can be earned today. Laborers toil for their hourly wage, and lawyers' – noting that Dickinson's father and brother were both lawyers – time is billable. Those on the Immortality track (poets perhaps?) receive "Checks – on Fame", that is, promissory notes or vouchers payable byFame.
Dickinson makes three comparisons between the Immortality folks and the work-for-pay set, one in each stanza. In the first those whose time is worth money are contrasted with those whose reward is intangible. The reliance on Fame seems a bit dicey: she is a fickle mistress after all. A poet might dedicate her life to immortal issues and never enjoy a shred of fame.
In the second stanza Dickinson makes a better case for Immortality. It offers gold, albeit a "Slow Gold". The phrase is a spondee: two accented syllables that emphasize both. But while the gold may not shower down, it is everlasting. Time workers, in contrast, get paid in the "Bullion of Today" and this seems like petty cash compared to the "Currency / Of Immortality".
|Gold bullion, photo by Antony Theobald|
Dickinson saves her most powerful comparison for the end. She compares the beggar's superior insight (or at least a beggar "Here and There") to that of the broker's. While brokers may understand a wide and complex variety of financial transactions, a beggar is sometimes "gifted" with the insight that it is the earth that creates the wealth, not the mint; it is the thinker, visionary, prophet or poet who taps into the deep and the immortal, hereby creating meaning that the rest of us draw on. The last line is marvelously clever and concise.
I suspect Dickinson was indeed thinking of the poet (including herself) as well as her friends who were writers, philosophers, and social activists. Of them all, she was perhaps the beggar for those she knew – Higginson, Bowles, Wadsworth, even Emerson – all received fame and respect in addition to the bullion of the day.