Search This Blog

30 April 2012

If He dissolve – then – there is nothing – more –

If He dissolve – then – there is nothing – more
Eclipse – at Midnight
It was dark – before

Sunset – at Easter
Blindness – on the Dawn
Faint Star of Bethlehem –
Gone down!

Would but some God – inform Him –
Or it be too late!
Say – that the pulse just lisps
The Chariots wait

Say – that a little life – for His –
Is leaking – red
His little Spaniel – tell Him!
Will He heed?
                                                            F251 (1861)  236

This cringing poem is reminiscent of F237:

What shall I do – it whimpers so – 
This little Hound within the Heart

The poet uses an excessive amount of italics to emphasize the emotions – as if the exaggerated list of woes is not enough. Things have deteriorated, however, since F237. If the beloved “He” “dissolves” or fades away out of her life, then there will be nothing more left. Life would be as dark as an “Eclipse – at Midnight.” It might have been dark before, but her life will be even blacker. She continues: Instead of the glorious sun rise of Easter, a glorious emblem of the Resurrection when Jesus rose from the dead, it will be sunset. The Dawn, instead, will be black as blindness. The star that blazed in the heavens leading the way to the holy manger where baby Jesus lay would have “gone down” – a more dire image than had it simply faded away. The loss of the beloved would be as if the Christian Saviour, Jesus, had never been born, had never been resurrected – and so all hope of life eternal and forgiveness of sins, etc., would be lost.
This carriage hearse is waiting
for the coffin
            The poem continues in the third stanza with the hope that unless “some God” tell the beloved about all this nasty stuff that will happen to the speaker, it might be “too late!” Her pulse is faint, just lisping along. The chariot of death is waiting at her door. Hey, no pressure. Apparently there isn’t time enough for a letter or human messenger to reach him: it has to be the oddly phrased “some God,” as if Mercury or Venus might help her out.
            The last stanza returns to the whimpering dog image. But this time the dog isn’t just whimpering, it is “leaking – red” with its blood. His “little Spaniel” is dying. He must be told! But, the question is asked, “Will he heed?” Reader, what would you do? Probably, you would run. This poem, however, was probably never sent to the missing beloved. It was tucked away in the same fascicle or booklet as the Little Hound poem and others that scholars have concluded refer to Samuel Bowles.
            Dickinson’s love poetry gets better – and several earlier poems are already better. This one is a private outpouring of heartbreak. I’ve been there and written even worse poetry. I’d hate to think that someone would excavate it after I die!


  1. Amazing explication, clear, convincing, closing with delightful flippancy. Format of Stanza 1 troubles me, three lines in a poem of quatrains. Would that be a ‘triplet’?

    Close inspection of ED’s handwriting in this poem and others reveals a never-noticed clue: Every capital ‘T’ has its crossbar firmly fixed on top its pole; every lower case ‘t’ has crossbar floating over succeeding letters, not touching its pole. Differentiating isn't always easy. If that habit holds here, Stanza 1 is a quatrain:

    If He dissolve – then –
    There is nothing – more –
    Eclipse – at Midnight –
    It was dark – before –

    1. That makes sense to me. And thank you for the compliment!

  2. At risk of being boring and hopefully raising ruckus, evidence suggests ED and Bowles never shared romance; rather, they enjoyed each other intellectually and as confidents, at least until one 12-year betrayal-based hiatus, 1862-1874. Black & white evidence confirms that ED disguised poems by simply switching genders. This poem concerns Sue, not Bowles, as did F237, ‘What shall I do – It whimpers so’:

    If She dissolve – then –
    There is nothing – more–
    Eclipse– at Midnight –
    It was dark – before –

    Sunset– at Easter –
    Blindness– on the Dawn–
    Faint Star of Bethlehem –
    Gone down!

    Would but some God – inform Her –
    Or it be too late!
    Say – that the pulse just lisps –
    The Chariots wait –

    Say – that a little life – for Her’s –
    Is leaking – red –
    Her little Spaniel – tell Her!
    Will She heed?

    More of that Jungian stuff. Only difference, ED’s “little Hound” transmogrified itself into a “little Spaniel”, but that’s poetic license.

  3. ED thought of herself as a combination of two personalities, an adult poet and a little girl (or little dog}. In this poem she’s a “little Spaniel”, in F237 she was a “little Hound”.

    Her Newfoundland dog, Carlo, was huge, “as large as I am” she said in a letter, which makes me think Austin and Sue owned a small dog, a lapdog of some kind. She refers to a little dog in several poems, including F1236, ‘A little Dog that wags his tail’, which she composed and gave to her nephew, Edward (Ned) Dickinson, in 1871 when he was 10 years old.
    Here are Stanzas 1 & 2:

    A little Dog that wags his tail
    And knows no other joy
    Of such a little Dog am I
    Reminded by a Boy

    Who gambols all the living Day
    Without an earthly cause
    Because he is a little Boy
    I honestly suppose —

    She took for granted Ned knew how little dogs behave, perhaps from playing with his family's dog(s). Methinks ED envied that dog.

  4. Commenting on ED’s poems in Franklin order, F336 is under my belt. Amazing what a difference three months and 85 poems can make. Her “little hound” / “little Spaniel” are still ED’s alter egos, but biographies, especially George Whicher’s ‘That was a Poet’ (1st edition 1938, special edition 1992 by Amherst College with a new Introduction by Richard Sewall, Professor of English Emeritus, Yale University) have convinced me that “He” is not a gender-switched Sue, but rather Reverend Charles Wadsworth. It’s a long story told in several comments, so not rehashed here.

    Yes Susan, overdone italics (28 of 66 words = 42%) swamped ED’s normally careful editing. Let’s blame it on love-sickness. We know for certain the celebrated Philadelphia Reverend visited her in March 1860 during his 500-mile roundtrip visit to James Clark of Northampton, MA, an hour's buggy ride SE of Amherst.

    As Whicher points out, content of ED’s poems and letters suggests a second visit at her home in summer 1861, just before she wrote this poem. Franklin dates F251 “last half of 1861”.

    It was 1862 when Wadsworth decided to leave the east coast for San Francisco, sailing June 1 from New York. ED was devastated.