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11 April 2020

I fear a Man of frugal Speech –

I fear a Man of frugal Speech —
I fear a Silent Man —
Haranguer — I can overtake —
Or Babbler — entertain —

But He who weigheth — While the Rest —
Expend their furthest pound —
Of this Man — I am wary —
I fear that He is Grand —
                                                                   Fr663 (1863)  J543

This poem asks to be read aloud. The hymn meter (alternating iambic tetrameter / iambic trimeter lines) is, for Dickinson, highly regular and the slant rhymes not too slant. The poem trips lightly on its poetic feet, contributing to the tone of its dry, ironic wit. The irony, of course, is in presenting the silent, thoughtful man as the man to fear.

I'm rather with Dickinson on this one. When I was a lass and even Dickinson's 33 years when she penned this, I too was a bit wary of the 'Man of frugal Speech' who weighed his words. It's much easier, even fun, to parlay with the ones who present themselves with an argument to confront or the ones who enjoy friendly banter. I would indeed be afraid I'd be deemed a haranguer or babbler to Dickinson's Silent Man. My own burbled-out thoughts – even if not babbling or haranguing –  might be found wanting.
              
The last line of the poem provides the rationale for the speaker's fear: The Silent Man might be frugal with speech because he may be 'Grand' – that is to say, per the essential Emily Dickinson Lexicon, 'noble' or 'lofty'. He thinks before he speaks; he weighs his words and the words of others. He, no doubt, is not the popular guest, although perhaps the most respected.
            Dickinson uses a metaphor of commerce in this last stanza. As one might weigh the goods before expending money on them, so one can weigh thoughts before expending words on them. The Haranguer and Babbler (and most of us) will squander words, spend them all at the drop of a hat ('Expend their furthest pound'), while the Man of frugal Speech ponders words: are they relevant? True? of Value?

Edward Dickinson: Emily's father, Amherst
College Treasurer, and US Congressman   
I wonder if this poem expresses some of Dickinson's feelings towards her father, Edward Dickinson. Perhaps the foremost citizen of Amherst and practically essential to its well-being, he was known for his rectitude, character, and  dignity. In a sermon that eulogized him after his death, Reverend Jonathan L. Jenkins said that "our friend and father was a silent man" (The Life of Emily Dickinson, Richard B. Sewall, p.68).

            Having been raised by a serious and taciturn man, Dickinson would know about the depth; she would know about the contrast between such a person and the ones with clever prattle. But despite the many words written about how oppressive it must have been in the Dickinson household, it must always be remembered that Emily Dickinson adored her home, hated to be away from it, and in her letters frequently expressed her joy and appreciation for the entire family as a unit – including her father.

14 comments:

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  3. I like the word "Haranguer". It comes from german. The latim absorbed the german word and in portuguese it became "arenga"(substantive), "arengador" (adjective). But people dont use that word any more.

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  4. I am enchanted with the singular indicative third person "weigheth". Very elegant!

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    1. I agree. And wouldn't it be terrible if she had followed 'weigheth' with 'expendeth'?

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  5. The expression "the rest (of)" is considered plural, I know that. But, I do not agree with semantic concordance. For me, as a linguistic and mathematician; language is syntax and there is no semantic without syntax.

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    1. It is only considered plural when appropriate: 'the rest are okay'; 'the rest is history', etc. But how does this comment apply to this poem and commentary?

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    2. I just see the expression "while the rest" used as plural, and utilise it to censure the grammar by and large.

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  6. The last line I think that it should be:

    "I fear that He be Grand", since the sentence is a subjunctive sentence.

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    1. Well, technically you are right, but ED is using her poet's ear and availing herself of her poet's license.

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  8. The more I read this poem the more I feel your suggestion is correct that she had her father in mind. An excellent poem!

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