Search This Blog

08 August 2011

When Katie walks, this simple pair accompany her side

When Katie walks, this simple pair accompany her side,
When Katie runs unwearied they follow on the road,
When Katie kneels, their loving hands still clasp her pious knee—
Ah! Katie! Smile at Fortune, with two so knit to thee!
                                                                                          - F 49 (1859)

Dickinson met Kate Scott Anthon in 1859, the year of this poem and wrote several letters to her until Kate married and dropped the correspondence. Although Kate was originally Sue Dickinson's friend, Emily became quite fond of her. This poem accompanied a pair of garters Dickinson knitted for Kate (who transcribed the poem along with a note about the garters).
     The several extant letters Dickinson wrote Kate are effusively affectionate, but then so were many of her letters to friends. In one letter probably a year or so after meeting Kate, Dickinson writes: "Oh! our Condor Kate! Come from your crags again! Oh: Dew upon the bloom fall yet again a summer's night...."
          The poem trips along, keeping up with Katie, in long iambic lines (seven feet, or heptameter) until the last line that slows almost to a halt. It begins with a spondee and a trochee for two accented syllables in a row. The "Ah!" is a sustained sound, and Smile's long vowel also slows it down. I read the "two so knit" as spondees although the 'so' may be read as unaccented. Regardless, the last line is emphasized.
     It seems to me that Dickinson is having a bit of love fun here, with both she and Sue Dickinson playing the role of the loving garters. Katie is lucky to have them, both 'knit' to her--and both wanting to 'clasp her pious knee'! 
     The garters would have been intended to hold up long stockings. Here's a picture of one that might have been like what Dickinson knitted.
Knit garter for stockings


  1. Thanks for providing this background! I just started reading through Franklin's Reading Edition, and am trying to look up contextual info on poems that are clearly about a specific person.

  2. In 1848 at age 17, Susan met Katie, age 16, at Utica [NY] Female Seminary, a prep school for daughters of wealthy NE families. Katie married in 1855, became a widow in 1857, and visited Susan D for 2 months in summer 1859. Susan, Emilie (sic), and Katie, all now about 28 years old, apparently enjoyed each other’s company immensely, given this poem. Susan and ED would chase "unwearied" Katie down the road, and when they finally caught up, Katie would "kneel" and Susan and Emilie would each “clasp a pious knee” with “loving hands”.

    After Katie left Amherst, Emilie knitted a pair of garters for Katie and mailed them with this poem. ED loved a joke, especially disguised in antonym code like “pious”. How can anyone read this poem without concluding it describes a physical ménage à trois? Just askin.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. To make certain Katie got the poem's semi-disguised message, ED underlined the words "two" and "knit to thee" in the last line.

    ED's original manuscript is missing, but Katie Anthon's transcription is owned by Harvard College Library (HCL), and Johnson used that transcription in his 1958 three volume "Letters of Emily Dickinson". Susan K also used that transcription. However, in preparation of her 1894 "Letters of Emily Dickinson" Mabel Loomis Todd apparently transcribed Katie's transcription, except that she underlined only one word in the last line, "knit". Todd notoriously expunged any reference to Susan Dickinson, Austin Dickinson's wife, at every opportunity, and this may be an example. Todd's transcription is in the Amhert College Dickinson Collection (ACDC). Interesting acronym, don't you think?