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14 August 2011

I've got an arrow here.

I've got an arrow here.
Loving the hand that sent it
I the dart revere.

Fell, they will say, in "skirmish"!
Vanquished, my soul will know
By but a simple arrow
Sped by an archer's bow.
                                             - F 56 (1859)

The pen is mightier than the sword or, as here, arrow. The poet has received a “Dear John” type of letter and although it fells her she still values the missive as it came from a loved one’s hand. Another old saw comes to mind: “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” Dickinson wrote hundreds and hundreds of letters, eschewing the banal for the deepest observations and feelings of her heart. And so a letter can either transport or slay her. There is nothing ‘simple’ about a slaying letter. One might read the poem as describing a letter shot from Cupid’s bow, the recipient being vanquished by love. While I’d rather think of the poet receiving a love letter, I’m on the side of the “Dear John.” The poet already loves the recipient, so there wouldn’t be much to vanquish. Also, it is not interesting to ‘revere’ a love letter from one you love. It is (moderately) more interesting to revere the one that brings terrible hurt.
My favorite part of the poem is the offhand opening line: “I’ve got an arrow here.” It’s only later than we realize how deadly it was.

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