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22 March 2012

You love me – you are sure –

You love me – you are sure –

I shall not fear mistake – 

I shall not cheated wake – 

Some grinning morn – 

To find the Sunrise left – 

And Orchards – unbereft – 

And Dollie – gone!

I need not start – you're sure – 

That night will never be – 

When frightened – home to Thee I run – 

To find the windows dark – 

And no more Dollie – mark – 

Quite none?

Be sure you're sure – you know –

I'll bear it better now – 

If you'll just tell me so – 

Than when – a little dull Balm grown – 

Over this pain of mine – 

You sting – again!
                                                            F218 (1861)  156

In its expression of fearful insecurity in love, the poem mentions two kinds of pain. The first is the dull ache of dread. The narrator fears that the love object, Dollie, doesn’t truly love her despite Dollie’s implied claim to the contrary. This fear causes an anticipatory pain that one “grinning morn” the “Sunrise” – or Dollie – will be gone, or that some night when the narrator needs Dollie, she won’t  be there. The “windows dark” seem to indicate that Dollie might be gone for good.
Some night the house might be
completely dark...
            The second pain would be worse, for it would be the “sting” of betrayal. Dollie might insist that she surely loves the narrator. This loving assurance provides a “Balm” – a soothing ointment  that provides a pleasant relief from the pain of insecurity. But should Dollie “Sting – again” the underlying pain would be much worse. Stings offer a sharp, acute pain, whereas insecurity is a chronic pain. Betrayal would cause the first and increase the second. “Just tell me so” now, the poet writes, and save me that grief.
            In  “Come slowly—Eden!” (F205) Dickinson writes of a bee losing itself in Balm as a metaphor for sexual completion. This imagery is twisted in this poem. Here the Balm is false reassurance and Bee doesn’t hum around the chamber of  its beloved flower but rather stings.
            To take the poem from the general to the personal, “Dollie” was a pet name for Sue, Dickinson’s sister-in-law, object of her very intense desire (possible romantic, possibly physical, possibly just intense love). Their relationship had its roots in an extremely warm youthful friendship, adoring on Dickinson’s part. Imagine how complicated this became when Sue married Dickinson’s brother Austin! And then the marriage started going south.
            But tensions between the two women were growing. It isn’t hard to imagine Sue, a mother, wife, and social figure, trying to disentangle herself from whatever form her youthful affair with Emily Dickinson took. Dickinson on her part was becoming disenchanted with Sue’s high-society ways and her perceived ‘neglect’ of Dickinson.
            Sue may not have read this poem while Dickinson was alive, although she was a recipient of hundreds of others. It would be like spilling your heart out in an email and although it felt good to do it you ultimately decide not to hit the “send” button.
            But Richard Sewall notes in his biography of Dickinson that sometime in the 1860s Emily stopped visiting Sue and Austin’s house, The Evergreens. She stayed away for 15 years. Only 300 feet separated their two doors.


  1. Dear Susan,
    While looking for comments on "The skies can't keep their secret" I found through Google your blog for all the poems of Emily Dickinson. Great! I am surprised I didn't end up in here before, for I am translating Emily Dickinson's poems in Dutch. Probably not all of them, but a lot. So your comments, opinions and analysis can be of great help, I'm sure!

  2. Thank you, Ans! I am working my way through Dickinson's considerable body of work: only, as of today, 1446 more to go (out of 1789). I wish you great joy and, of course, a great outcome, on your translations. Drop a comment with any questions!

  3. Same here Susan! I've been translating Dickinson into Spanish for three years now and have visited this blog quite a few times for your accurate yet cautious analyses. She's one of the hardest nuts! Great work! :)

    1. thank you! I've stopped for a while but do mean to start up again. I've had another iron in the fire for a while... But my Dickinson blog is very important to me -- and I treasure the comments.

  4. Finally I see an image of their love's negation: an unbereft orchard. Fruits and flowers unindulged. Now this is the kind of discovery that might make others "sneer" at her. Dollie has a big job.

  5. Holy Macaroni, this poem drops my jaw.

    The Queen of Ambiguity skips all ambiguities. ED is scared, starved for certainty of Sue’s love. What a leap, from boasting self-confidence in ‘Bumble of the Bee’ (F217) to childish insecurity in ‘You Love Me – You are Sure’ (F218).

    ED bound Variant A in her Fascicle 9, but a second copy of ‘You Love Me’, which Lavinia loaned Mabel Todd for publication after ED’s death, was apparently "Lost" (Johnson 1955, Work Metadata). Fortunately, Todd (1856 – 1932) transcribed ED’s original before it disappeared, but ,for some reason, she excluded it from four volumes of ED’s poetry, which she published in 1890, 1892, 1894, and 1896.

    Finally, in 1945, Todd's daughter, Millicent Todd Bingham (1880–1968), published 'You Love Me – You are Sure' in ‘Bolts of Melody’, 59 years after ED's death.

    As for those "stings", Farr conjectures that "[ED] fears Dollie will not be faithful or loving. But [ED] has asked of [Dolly] a momentous, impossible competency: to overcome night and death. She has asked [Sue] to become a vast and magical mother, always at home for her to run to. Sue's ''stings'' may have come, in part, from her fear.”

    Judith Farr. 1992. The Passion of Emily Dickinson. p135.