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13 November 2011

“Mama” never forgets her birds

“Mama” never forgets her birds,
Though in another tree –
She looks down just as often
And just as tenderly
As when her little mortal nest
With cunning care she wove –
If either of her "sparrows fall,"
She "notices," above.
                                                      - F130 (1860)  164

In his discussion of this poem, David Preest suggests it was written to Dickinson’s cousins after their mother died. It certainly sounds as if it were written to console little girls. She indicates two sparrows in the poem with “either” of the sparrows falling, and she had two cousins.
            Heaven here is “another tree” from which the dear departed can still watch what goes on on earth. This sounds so much like a platitude, however, that Dickinson may not have actually believed it. But her efforts at consolation, here and in other consolation poems, indicate a warm and sympathetic heart.
            The poem is written in strict ballad or hymn form.

1 comment:

  1. Dickinson’s custom of sending original verse in sympathy notes to mourning relatives began in a letter to Louisa Norcross [age 18 and her sister Frances L. Norcross, age 13,] after the death of her [their] mother, [ED’s favorite aunt,] Lavinia Norcross, in 1860. According to R. W. Franklin, some of the poems included in sympathy notes are:

    1. ““Mama” never forgets her birds” (Fr130); occasioned by the death of Lavinia Norcross,
    2. “There came a Day—at Summer’s full” (Fr325); occasioned by the death of Elizabeth Dwight),
    3. “Further in Summer than the Birds” (Fr895); occasioned by the accidental shooting of Gertrude Vanderbilt,
    4. “She sped as Petals from a Rose” (Fr897); occasioned by the death of Susan Dickinson’s niece (?),
    5. “Unable are the Loved to die” (Fr951); occasioned by the death of Susan Dickinson’s sister, Harriet Cutler,
    6. “Were it to be the last” (Fr1165); occasioned by the death of Henry Sweetser,
    7. “Death’s Waylaying not the sharpest” (Fr1315); occasioned by the disappearance of Joseph A. Sweetser,
    8. “How know it from a Summer’s Day” (Fr1412); occasioned by Mary Channing Higginson’s terminal illness,
    9. “How brittle are the Piers” (Fr1459”; occasioned by the death of Mary Channing Higginson,
    10. “Than Heaven more remote” (Fr1460); occasioned by the death of Samuel Bowles,
    11. “The Face in Evanescence lain” (Fr1521); occasioned by the death of Thomas Higginson’s infant, Louisa,
    12. “How much of Source escapes with thee” (Fr1567); occasioned by the death of Josiah Gilbert Holland, and
    13. “The Heart has many Doors,” “Pass to thy Rendezvous of Light,” “Expanse cannot be lost,” and “Climbing to reach the costly Hearts” (Fr1623, Fr1624, Fr1625, and Fr1626); all occasioned by the death of Dickinson’s nephew, Gilbert.

    (Ann Beebe. 2006. Dickinson's Immortal is an Ample Word. The Explicator 65:1, 36-39)