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18 March 2012

Poor little Heart!


Poor little Heart!
Did they forget thee?
Then dinna care! Then dinna care!

Proud little Heart!
Did they forsake thee?
Be debonnaire! Be debonnaire!

Frail little Heart!
I would not break thee—
Could'st credit me? Could'st credit me?

Gay little Heart—
Like Morning Glory!
Wind and Sun­ – wilt thee array!
                                                                 F214 (1861)  192

Without any evidence whatsoever I suggest that the poet addresses a child or beloved pet – perhaps her big Newfoundland dog, Carlo or else perhaps her nephew Ned, Sue and Austin’s first-born. Dickinson and Ned became quite close, but when this poem was written he would have been just a baby.
Oil painting, Frances Hodgkins
            The poem has the simple structure of a nursery song: each stanza begins with an adjective for the “little Heart”: Poor, Proud, Frail, and Gay. The last lines, except for that of the last stanza, have repeating phrases. The poet speaks with the familiar “thee” – as one would to a child or pet. And while the first three stanzas sympathize with the “wrongs” done (being forgotten, forsaken, and heartbroken), the final one reassures that all will be well. “Let’s go outside where we can enjoy some sunshine and the lovely breeze!”
            I picture the narrator in a babysitting role, rocking a crying infant or child and comforting it.

9 comments:

  1. What do you think the exhortations of "Then dinna care! Then dinna care!" refers to?

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    1. I'd paraphrase to say, "Have you been forgottin? Well, don't care!"

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  2. Thanks. I wonder if Then dinna care was chosen after Be debonnaire!, or the other way around?

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  3. ‘Dinna’ is north east Scotland dialect. I’m from Aberdeen and it’s a word I’ve used my entire life to mean ‘don’t’ - I’m curious how Emily knows about this word and if she has connections to Scotland or just a general interest in the linguistics. She’s also used the word ‘hame’ for ‘home’ in another poem - also a NE Scottish dialect.

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  4. It's from her reading of Robert Burns. "Dinna care" is a phrase from one of his poems. Same with "hame".

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  5. I'm curious about the versions of this poem. In "As She Preserved Them" it doesn't mention another version of this poem, but online I find

    Poor little heart!
    Did they forget thee?
    Then dinna care! Then dinna care!

    Proud little heart!
    Did they forsake thee?
    Be debonair! Be debonair!

    Frail little heart!
    I would not break thee:
    Could'st credit me? Could'st credit me?

    Gay little heart!
    Like morning glory
    Thou'll wilted be; thou'll wilted be!

    Are there two versions? Which came first? If this one came second, which I strongly believe, then does the meaning of "wilt" change here from a wilt to "will't"? As in "Will it array?" This is a much more positive ending to the poem. (And playing off the sound of "wilt it away")

    It's almost as if Emily IS breaking the heart in the first poem and then taking the "I would not break thee" to heart, she then changes the poem to note the array instead of the away.

    I just went back and looked at the manuscript though and it is pretty hard to tell whether that last word is away or array. I'd guess it is away. Though I love array!

    Regardless, that last line is stronger if the wind and sun is the thing that wilts the heart away, since it is something beautiful, at least, that causes the death.

    see the manuscript and make your call as to array or away.
    https://www.edickinson.org/editions/5/image_sets/85566

    What do you think?


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    1. Thanks for the challenge! I'm on the 'array' side. I agree that the handwritten 'w' and 'r' look pretty similar. But I checked 'wilt' in the Lexicon and it gives 'willing' for a counter meaning to 'droop'. It cites quite a few poems where 'wilt' pretty clearly indicates 'will', several indicate 'droop' and none suggest 'willing':
      examples:

      Fr89/J139 Wilt thou toss again? / By just
      Fr219/J162 runs to thee – / Blue Sea! Wilt welcome me? Fr312/J252 to Giants – / And they'll wilt, like Men – / Give Himmaleh
      Fr911/J951 as the Days resume / The wilted countenance / Cannot correct

      But the editors seem to agree on 'array' anyway -- and I think it makes more sense in the poem: the Gay little Heart is likened to a Morning Glory -- a vine that thrives out in the wind and sun. The Lexicon gives 'array' the following meaning: renew; revive; restore; resurrect.

      As for the alternate poem with 'wilted' I could only find one reference that indicated date and the date was 1924 -- so before the scholarship of Johnson, Franklin, and Miller.
      https://www.shmoop.com/american-romanticism/emotion-characteristic-poor-little-heart-example.html

      So I'd go with Franklin and Miller on the version and stick with the 'array'.




      However, the line makes most sense to me if 'wilt' is read as 'will'

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  6. (My 12 year old daughter Sofia came in as I was writing the last bit. She votes for "array" in the MS. If it IS array, then Emily is playing wit the similarity of not just the rhyme of away and array, but even the way the w looks like rr in the written word. Now that's the height of subtlety! BTW, over on the margin of this page my daughter saw "The Skies can't keep their secret" and immediately wrote in her own notebook, "The clouds can't keep the secret of the sky", which struck me as a surpassingly beautiful thought. : )

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    Replies
    1. What a treasure! Beautiful and evocative and provocative.

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