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14 March 2012

I lost a World - the other day!

I lost a World - the other day!

Has Anybody found?

You'll know it by the Row of Stars

Around its forehead bound.

A Rich man – might not notice it – 

Yet – to my frugal Eye,

Of more Esteem than Ducats – 

Oh find it – Sir – for me!
                                                            - F209 (1861)  181

The poet seems to have lost something of value to her – perhaps a book with stars on its binding. Some books do indeed contain a world. Dickinson’s private library held many such books: the Bible and Shakespeare, of course; books of essays by Thoreau and Emerson; Paradise Lost by Milton; several books by Dickins, and various volumes of poetry – among many others.
Victorian era Bible
with fancy leather binding
            It’s not clear whom the narrator is addressing. I know if I lose a book I’ll call my husband in to look, so perhaps it was Dickinson’s father or brother. Or, to generalize from the poem,  just a sketch of human nature. We turn to books to discover new realms. When we lose them we call for help. I’m sure books were of much more importance when we didn’t have digital libraries, TV, movies, and computers to compete with them. 

UPDATE: I just reread my commentary and it is really lame. There's just not that much to say about this poem. If you have some good thoughts, please add them in Comments!


  1. Dear Susan!

    My interpretation is different.

    She is mother of a lost boy (Saturn). She asks passersby for help to finding him. Her boy’s feature is a headband (ring) around his forehead.

  2. That's cool! I also like the idea that our earth itself is lost -- and the rich don't care. "Sir," in that case, would be appealing to the Deity to find it again for us.

  3. Hi Susan,

    The 'World' might be an ideal, or a wish or desire which was somehow lost along the way because the poet realized it couldn't be obtained.
    The 'Row of Stars' might refer to the fact that it was something truly desired although many would have deemed it trivial.
    She is ready to take it back though should it be returned to her.

    Thanks for your excellent blog !!


    1. It imparts a clear picture of the hope--- through the phrase ' the other day'. We know that we people have a trend to say ' i will catch it other day' ---- i thing it is a clear picture of ' in search of lost hope'.
      She had lost it throughout the life i suppose.
      Of couse she wrote poem ' hope is the thing with feathers' with the painful motive of some sort of lost hope😊

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  5. Hey Susan. kudos on this amazing blog! Your commentary isn't that lame but according to me, she refers to her precious dog 'Carlo,' which was gifted by her Father. A pet can mean a 'World' to someone and they often get lost. She is probably asking her Father ('Sir') to find it for her. However the 'Row of stars around forehead bound' part stumps me.

  6. My 2 cents.

    The head of Liberty depicted on copper one-cent and half-cent coins during the first half of the 19th century was surrounded by 13 stars, for the original colonies. Ducats, on the other hand, minted in silver or gold were worth one or two American dollars in the 1850's.

    The speaker lost a penny which a rich man may not notice but to the speaker's "Frugal eye" it held more esteem than ducats. Now, the six million dollar question: What does the penny symbolize? What does she mean by losing a world? Clearly the answer the is something more important to her than monetary value (Ducats). Yet it is also something that the rich man might not notice. I think he would notice his dog missing. He might even notice a book that he valued. The "frugal eye" could be similar to the "discerning eye", one that finds value in that which others find mundane or worthless--a thought, a memory, an hour wasted, a missed opportunity, a poem. Sir, could refer to God whom she is making her plea.

    The opening line of losing a world which many would associate with a person is contrasted with that a very small valued coin depicting a person, the face of liberty. The second stanza is what baffles the mind. "A Rich man-might not notice it" seems to rule out a person.

    Whatever this world is, only a very frugal eye would find valuable. I keep coming back to those things that money can't buy like time or perhaps some form of liberty or beauty unnoticed by many.

    What stands out most in my mind besides the first line is the image of "the Row of Stars Around its forehead bound." This is the clue to unlocking the poem as Dickinson tells us "how we will know it". Besides the literal coin, it certainly reminds us of the diadems and crowns she often writes about.

    I thought I could be more help, but this is a tough one to pin down. Slant for sure!

    1. I am really taken by the penny idea. I looked up an image of the penny you describe and the stars do indeed go around the forehead of the coin. It also makes sense with the contrast to the ducats. Dickinson may well have had a lucky penny, or one that was a keepsake from a dear one -- and it might have meant the world to her. Thanks for the comment!

    2. Indeed, his interpretation is Amazing!

  7. The more I think about this, I thinking of a small trinket that the speaker misplaced, something not worth very much but had sentimental value and represented a world to the owner. Perhaps it was something related to someone who passed that the speaker held dearly, someone that she likened to the image of the lady on the coin with stars around her forehead.

  8. Perhaps Dickinson is the first to suggest a 'world complete' and the loss of one element compromises the whole. I think she was ahead of her time in many respects.

  9. Readers, and author, in 2016, and '17, were somewhat stumped in regards to this poem, and if it helps, so is this individual in 2021. I've read this poem 10 times, trying to think of something tangible she may have lost, or as a metaphor of some such, but I too am at a loss. I could not buy the fact that she lost a penny, and then decided to write a poem about it? But what the heck, I'm stumped, so what the heck, it's a penny!

  10. I think she is referring to Christ's crown of thorns.

  11. So, even a good poet can write bad poems.

  12. World, universe/ multi- world, multi- universe/ “ I lost a world” sums it all

  13. The story of ED and Susan Gilbert Dickinson’s 40-year relationship began about 1847 when the two 16-year-olds discovered their mutual love of poetry. Over the next few years that shared interest deepened into shared feelings, physical attraction, and lesbian love. When ED died in 1886 her sister honored her request and burned all correspondence from Susan, but a lifetime of ED’s letters and poems to Susan paint a mural in time, from early passion, through agony of a year’s separation in 1851-52, to Susan’s courtship and 1857 marriage to ED’s brother, Austin.

    This poem, ‘I lost a World’ dates from 1861, a particularly difficult year for ED because Susan gave birth to her first child, Edward, on June 19. Unsurprisingly, ED suffered a loss of closeness when Susan shifted her full attention to Edward.

    ED knew the Bible, practically by heart, and her favorite book, for some strange reason, was Revelation. It’s possible this poem refers to Chapter 12, KJV, with the gender camouflage, "it", changed to "her":

    1 And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:

    2 And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.

    3 And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.

    4 And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.

    5 And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne………..

    “The woman clothed with the sun is traditionally believed to be the Virgin Mary, described in Chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation (written c. AD 95).” Wikipedia,

    The rich man may be Austin.