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29 April 2012

The Court is far away –

The Court is far away – 
No Umpire – have I – 
My Sovereign is offended – 
To gain his grace – I’d die!

I’ll seek his royal feet – 
I’ll say – Remember – King – 
Thou shalt – thyself – one day – a Child – 
Implore a larger – thing – 

That Empire – is of Czars – 
As small – they say – as I – 
Grant me – that day – the royalty – 
To intercede – for Thee
                                                            Fr250 (1861)  J235

This little poem tries to wheedle a reconciliation to some “Sovereign” whom the narrator has offended. It is probably a love interest for she would give her life in order to regain his “grace” or esteem. This is probably a bit of high-flung hyperbole and so establishes a light teasing tone to the poem. The central metaphor is of  a humble subject appealing to her king.
            The speaker’s strategy for reinstating herself into her king’s good graces depend on her making a good argument. The king and his court are “far away” so this seeking of “royal feet” will probably  have to wait. Nor does the supplicant have anyone to umpire or intercede for her. But she has the postal service! She could mail her argument to him – or this poem!
Seeking his royal pointy feet
            She plans an argument for leniency rather than offering an apology. Her argument is that one day this king will himself have to present himself as a child to the gates of heaven and ask to be admitted. That’s the “larger – thing” that he must “Implore.” She refers to the saints and heavenly hosts as “Czars” for they are, by lights of this poem and other poems Dickinson wrote, greater than any mere mortal. Just as the king must hope for acceptance, so he should grant the poet’s plea for grace.
            The last part of the argument stipulates that heavenly Czars are “As small – they say – as I.” That is probably a reference to Jesus’ claim in the Beatitudes (Matthew 3-12) that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit and that the meek will inherit the earth. Dickinson, who referred to herself as small and meek, is arguing that these Czars will listen to her intercession. This might help out the King when he needs it most!
            The poet, then, is asking two be granted two things: to be reinstated in the good graces of her offended Sovereign and to be granted the royal privilege of interceding for him when he faces his maker. It’s a clever little argument and I have no doubt that any offence the poet may have caused was smoothed over by this poem.


  1. As I am now in my twilight years, I wish I had known this poem when I were younger, for there were many a sovereigns I offended along the way that these words may have smoothed over.

  2. Suppose, for the sake of debate, that ED’s “Sovereign …. King” is the "Master" of the three famous Master Letter-drafts. Franklin (1986) dates these drafts differently than Johnson: ML-1 spring 1858 ("I am ill"), ML-2 early 1861 ("Oh - did I offend it"), ML-3 summer 1861 ("If you saw a bullet").

    And Franklin dates this poem, ‘The Court is far away –’ (F250), “late 1861”.

    Master Letter-draft 2 (early 1861) begins:

    “Oh, did I offend it - Daisy - Daisy - offend it - who bends her smaller life to his[,] meeker every day - who only asks - a task - something to do for love of it - some little way she cannot guess to make that master glad –”

    ‘The Court is far away –’ (F250, late 1861), begins:

    “The Court is far away –
    No Umpire – have I –
    My Sovereign is offended –
    To gain his grace – I’d die!”

    Same saucy "it", same “offend / offending”, logical time sequence. IMO, this is smoking-gun evidence Master Letter 2 and poem F250 concern the same recipient.

    Now suppose that ED’s “Sovereign …. King” and her “Master” is The Reverend Charles Wadsworth, who in March 1860 travelled 250 miles from Philadelphia to Amherst to meet in person a young woman he had only met briefly outside his church in 1855. Something’s afoot. Given the apparent familiarity of the writer and recipient, we have evidence of a lot of missing correspondence between these two.

    Finally, suppose ED had previously sent Wadsworth the preceding poem, F249, ending with the sarcastic

    “[T]here's Heaven –
    The Good Man's – "Dividend" –
    And Bad Men – "go to Jail" –
    I guess –”

    ED intentionally triggers The Reverend Wadsworth’s Christian hot buttons.

    But why? Ask Emily!

  3. Please replace paragraph beginning "Same saucy "it" with:

    The “offend / offending” and logical time sequence are evidence Master Letter 2 and poem F250 concern the same recipient.