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11 April 2012

What shall I do – it whimpers so –

What shall I do – it whimpers so – 

This little Hound within the Heart

All day and night with – bark and start – 

And yet –  it will not go?

Would you untie it, were you me – 

Would it stop whining, if to Thee – 

I sent it – even now?

It should not tease you – 
by your chair –
Or, on the mat – 
Or if it dare –
To climb your dizzy knee – 

Or sometimes – at your side to run – 

When you were willing – 

May it come –
Tell Carlo – 
He'll tell me!
                                                            F237 (1861)  186

It seems servile and pathetic to modern readers that a poet likens the love in her heart to a dog. Dogs are devoted to their masters (mistresses) and if they are tied up or otherwise not free to go to him they will whimper and whine.  They are not like contemporary women who just charge ahead and never sit around whimpering (ummm… not usually, anyway).
Who wouldn't untie this
sad little hound?
            The poet’s heart is like such a dog. When it is not near its beloved master it carries on “All day and night” barking, whimpering, and starting – straining on its leash. And so the poet would very much like to send it on its way. She asks permission first. To help it find acceptance, she promises the dog will not be a pest: won’t pester or tease for play, won’t try to climb up on Master’s lap via the tall, “dizzy knee.” What the dog will do is to run by Master’s side – if he is willing!
            Thus the narrator promises to be no trouble to the man she loves (assumed to be Samuel Bowles since this poem was among the poems and letters from Dickinson found in his estate). She softens the begging tone first by asking, “If you were me would you let this hound/love free?” rather than pleading that he let her free it. Then at the end she introduces the playful idea of Master telling her dog Carlo (named after a dog in Jane Eyre). Carlo can be the intermediary between Master the hound of the heart.
            In the first stanza she says that although the heart hound “whimpers so” it won’t go,” and the second stanza explains that it won’t go because it is tied up. The narrator has leashed her emotion, but like a dog, it strains against its tether.

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