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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 comment:

  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.