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18 June 2011

"Sic transit gloria mundi"

"Sic transit gloria mundi,"
"How doth the busy bee,"
"Dum vivimus vivamus,"
I stay mine enemy!

Oh "veni, vidi, vici!"
Oh caput cap-a-pie!
And oh "memento mori"
When I am far from thee!

Hurrah for Peter Parley!
Hurrah for Daniel Boone!
Three cheers, sir, for the gentleman
Who first observed the moon!

Peter, put up the sunshine;
Patti, arrange the stars;
Tell Luna, tea is waiting,
And call your brother Mars!

Put down the apple, Adam,
And come away with me,
So shalt thou have a pippin
From off my father's tree!

I climb the "Hill of Science,"
I "view the landscape o'er;"
Such transcendental prospect,
I ne'er beheld before!

Unto the Legislature
My country bids me go;
I'll take my india rubbers,
In case the wind should blow!

During my education,
It was announced to me
That gravitation, stumbling,
Fell from an apple tree!

The earth upon an axis
Was once supposed to turn,
By way of a gymnastic
In honor of the sun!

It was the brave Columbus,
A'sailing o'er the tide,
Who notified the nations
Of where I would reside!

Mortality is fatal—
Gentility is fine,
Rascality, heroic,
Insolvency, sublime!

Our Fathers being weary,
Laid down on Bunker Hill;
And tho' full many a morning,
Yet they are sleeping still,—

The trumpet, sir, shall wake them,
In dreams I see them rise,
Each with a solemn musket
A marching to the skies!

A coward will remain, Sir,
Until the fight is done;
But an immortal hero
Will take his hat, and run!

Good bye, Sir, I am going;
My country calleth me;
Allow me, Sir, at parting,
To wipe my weeping e'e.

In token of our friendship
Accept this "Bonnie Doon,"
And when the hand that plucked it
Hath passed beyond the moon,

The memory of my ashes
Will consolation be;
Then, farewell, Tuscarora,
And farewell, Sir, to thee! 

                                                                      J2,  Fr2 (1852)

This is another valentine, this one to William Howland, a law student in her father's office and a tutor at Amherst college. It was published anonymously in the Springfield Republican, submitted by Howland, but Emily discovered it and had it removed.
        The poem revels in turning upside down the book learning of school. She begins with 'Sic transit gloria mundi" -- "Thus passes the glory of the world," but jumps immediately to "Dum vivamus vivamus"--"Let us live while we live," presenting a playful dichotomy in how we are taught to live our lives. Perhaps her own opinion is best expressed in the second line: "How doth the busy bee." From what I've read of her later work, she is very concerned with what the busy bee does--and as we saw in poem 1, what he does with the flower! 
        She is the Pied Piper, calling Adam to put down that tainted apple from Eve and go along with her to have a pippin from her own father's orchard--presumably an apple without the fatal strings. She also draws some counter-intuitive conclusions from the book learning: in the 11th stanza she says "mortality is fatal / Gentility is fine"--which seem a pair of truisms. But then she follows up with "Rascality, heroic / Insolvency, sublime" which seem paradoxical until you consider that the great heroes of Greek myth and even Western history often are rascals, that the saints are indeed insolvent. 
        The deeper paradox comes in stanza 14 where she says "A coward will remain, Sir, / Until the fight is done; / But an immortal hero / Will take his hat and run." Is she poking fun, here, at the masculine concern with reputation--that it is braver to risk scorn that a bullet?
        She writes here in iambic trimeter and makes little use of the slant rhymes that pepper her later work. It's a fun poem, but I'm still anxious to move on.


  1. love that you are doing this project

  2. The poem "Sic transit gloria mundi,"
    was written for William Howland a Law Student in her Father’s office.
    Note: Comedic and outrageous parody of her education full of quotable bits from all over and the idea world of historical lore, religion, Shakespeare and a mundane life of tea, orchards, moons and stars. Life, full of fun, sound and fury and death: a painted picture of absurdity and glory signifying nothing. She was 22 years old (supposedly the year of her engagement to George Gould.) One can imagine any number of reasons for her asking for it to be retracted from the Springfield Republican. Gould or Father Edward might not of approved? Too crazy for her Amherst world! See joe dimattio - unraveling Emily Dickinson.

    1. Yes, well said -- I quite agree with it all. So irrepressible.

  3. Susan:

    You note that Dickinson "retracted" this poem. Would you share your sourcing of that information? Thanks!


  4. Susan:

    You note that Dickinson "retracted" this poem. Would you share your sourcing of that information? Thanks!

    Dear Stephen,

    Your question was intriguing. I followed up on it with the aid of Google search.

    My original source was Susan Kornfeld

    The poem "Sic transit gloria mundi," was submitted by Howland to the Springfield Republican in 1852.

    Emily discovered it and had it removed? Not clear as to meaning.

    What does removed mean? Is it different from retracted?
    Removed means ‘stop publishing it and don’t do it again’ whereas retracted suggests a taking back and acknowledging an error in publishing.

    Samuel Bowles, editor of the Springfield Republican.

    Poem 3 Valentine is the ""Sic transit gloria mundi."
    The more famous Valentine was published 4 or 5 years earlier in the Amherst College publication and has been attributed to ED and meant as a Valentine for George Gould, the editor.

    Poem 3 was discussed in Johnson’s notes with an explanation that it was a Valentine by E. Dickinson:
    One of the Monson, Massachusetts, relatives, Eudocia Converse - a first cousin of ED's mother - transcribed it into her 1848-1853 commonplace book, withi the notation "Valentine by Miss E Dickinson of Amherst." The knowledge of her authorship clearly was abroad. One word differs:

    It was introduced in the Springfield Republican with:
    The hand that wrote the following amusing medley to a gentleman friend of ours, as "a valentine," is capable of writing very fine things, and there is certainly no presumption in entertaining a private wish that a correspondence, more direct than this, may be established between it and the Republican.

    It was submitted by Howland but this leaves it clearly possible that it was written by Emily for George Gould! She was 22 years old and from my estimates just when she was engaged to Gould. It was a statement of exuberance and a sign of her excitement and general happiness.

    As I have discussed in my blogs, her father and brother, Austin, were against her wayward, extravagant behavior and against her relationship with Gould. It is very likely that they all exerted pressure on her to stop this very public behavior and had her do whatever to prevent further public outbursts.

    It is important to note that the poem was ‘submitted’ by Howland not for him as has been reported.

    Thank You,
    Joe DiMattio

  5. I'm sorry, gentlemen, about the "removed" sentence. I wrote this on the second day of my Emily Dickinson project and had only a few reference books. I used Google, of course, too, and subscribed to the ED Bulletin. I have tried to retrace my research steps from those six years ago and have come up short. Clearly the poem was published. As Mr. DiMattio notes, the word 'removed' is problematic. I can only guess that my source, whatever it was (for I didn't make the idea up out of whole cloth) claimed that Dickinson wanted the work removed from files or archives or somesuch -- or not reprinted.

    My apologies. Thank you Stephen for helping me keep this blog on the straight! And thank you Joe for some interesting info and thoughts!

  6. I'm impressed that this is a poem written in high spirits.... she mocks her father gently--"Unto the Legislature/my country bids me go..."; herself--"Columbus notified the nations/Where I would reside..." and bids the world farewell! Great fun!

  7. William Howland, who was 10 years older than ED and a lifelong bachelor, forwarded this Valentine poem without ED’s permission to the Springfield Republican where it was published on February 20, 1852 with an introduction, probably by Samuel Bowles, that invited the poem’s “author” to send more “correspondence”. Bowles, who inherited the newspaper from his father in 1851, would not meet the then 21-year-old poet until 1858.

  8. Many of the lines were well known pop culture touchstones and even cliched notions of her time. I think another theme (in addition to the obvious existential dilemma) was the nostalgic and perhaps ironic observation that what seemed important at school, what was repeated, and memorized, and emphasized by teachers, would fade in time to obscurity (Peter Parley series). Another annotated example:

    I climb the "Hill of Science,"
    I "view the landscape o'er;"
    Such transcendental prospect,
    I ne'er beheld before!

    The phrase "hill of science' appeared in many commencement addresses in the 19th century, to the point of cliche. "View the landscape o'er" was a line from a religious hymn, and later appeared in sermons quite often. (Search She combined the two discrete cliches and made a portmanteau of sorts, a tongue in cheek jab at the popular transcendental movement. What's old is new, or is it? How clever.

    The Tuscarora were an indigenous people who were relocated by colonials, their land stolen; doomed in time via the proverbial trail of tears. ED closes her poem with this reference, just as an entire culture fades, just as she bids farewell, to eventually sleep the graveyard sleep. From many to one. From macro to micro.

    1. Thank you -- all so interesting. I didn't know about the Tuscarora.