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20 February 2012

Is it true, dear Sue?

Is it true, dear Sue?
Are there two?
I shouldn't like to come
For fear of joggling Him!
If I could shut him up
In a Coffee Cup,
Or tie him to a pin
Till I got in –
Or make him fast
To "Toby's" fist –
Hist! Whist! I'd come!
                                                - F189 (1861)  218

Victorian Mum
When Dickinson’s dear friend Sue and her husband Austin, Dickinson’s brother, had their first child (Ned, in 1861), she sent them this poem. I’m not sure why she asks if there are “two” – two what? Maybe it’s a playful way of asking if there weren’t really twins. And of course, “two” rhymes neatly with “Sue.” It was probably a private joke.
            She’s concerned here about “joggling” the new baby and so wonders if she couldn’t just tie him down or put him in a safe container. She’s being quite witty here with shutting the baby up in a “Coffee Cup” or tying him to a pin. The best part, though, is suggesting that Sue might “make him fast” to the cat, Toby.
            All of the diction and rhymes are lighthearted and fun. “tie him to a pin / till I got in –” is pretty cute, as is “shut him up / In a Coffee Cup.” But I like best the slant rhyme of “fast” with “fist – Hist! Whist!” The movement is fast, and we imagine Emily darting over anyway, despite her fears of dandling a newborn.  


  1. When Dickinson says "there are two"? she could just mean the mother and the baby - there used to be one person, and now there are two.

    1. I agree. Not sure why I was so unclear about it when I wrote this!