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11 June 2012

I held a Jewel in my fingers –

I held a Jewel in my fingers –
And went to sleep –
The day was warm, and winds were prosy –
I said "'Twill keep" –

I woke – and chid my honest fingers,
The Gem was gone –
And now, an Amethyst remembrance
Is all I own –
                                                            F261 (1861)

This poem of love lost recounts an experience so very familiar to most readers. We have a beloved as precious to us as a jewel. But in the summer of love – its warm days and mild winds, calm and sweet as if it would continue forever – we grow complacent. Alas, when we wake the beloved has slipped away. Only memories remain.
"Woman leaning on a chair:
Frederico Zandomeneghi
            The poet, however, doesn’t really blame herself: the fingers that loosened their hold on the “Gem” were “honest.” It was not their fault; rather, it was a restless lover. The tone is not bitter or heartbroken, however, but nostalgic. A Gem that must be gripped tight, for whose possession sleep is not permitted, is not much of a treasure, after all. We leave the poem with a sense that the “Amethyst remembrance” is not such a bad keepsake after all.

In keeping with its gentle tone, the poem has a regular, song-like construction. In each of the two stanzas the first and third lines are in iambic tetrameter, while the second and fourth are iambic dimeter. The evenness of the lines contributes to the drowsy, nostalgic feel. The prevalence of “w” sounds in the third line also contributes: “The day was warm, and winds were prosy.” The end rhymes of “sleep” and “keep” further lull the senses. It is not an exciting poem but one that is carefully crafted and that rings true. 


  1. What first entered my mind when I read this poem was when I forget to write down a great idea. Later, even if I can concentrate and remember the gist of what the idea had been, it never seems to compare to the original idea, as far as how powerful or creative it had been at first. It always seems to have lost something and is less sparkly and more "purply," like an "amethyst remembrance." Because "amethyst" to Dickinson means purple, which means "the end" to her, whether it is the end of the day or the end of a life, I wonder if her jewel was an idea for a poem instead of a lessening of love. But knowing Emily, it probably means both!

    1. I hadn't even thought of a poem -- but it makes a lot of sense here. Sometimes I get too stuck on biography...

    2. I was struck by the purple idea. In Christianity the Easter season colors are purple - the passion of Christ etc. Dickinson certainly was steeped in this religion. This points to the “Amethyst remembrance” as an elegiac remembrance or some sort of poignancy in the memory.

  2. At first I had no idea what this meant. Then I caught on that the "Jewel" probably was not referring to an actual jewel like the one found in jewelry. I thought, " Maybe she means she lost her child ('the jewel in her fingers') and the second she turned her back ('and went to sleep') ('the day was warm, and winds were prosy'((means that it was a normal humdrum day))) and "I woke" (when she turns back around) the Gem (notice how "gem is capitalized) was gone (her child was abducted/kidnapped/moved on). The Amethyst remembrance I thought was the kid's leftover possessions that she had left that are not as valuable to her as the Jewel in the beginning (hence the amethyst reference). But knowing Emily, I figured it was about love.

  3. i loveeeeeeee it
    cool beans

    1. yeah it reminds me of the kardashains

  4. my husband was looking for a form a few weeks ago and located an online platform that hosts an online forms library . If people are wanting it also , here's a

  5. The metaphorical “Jewel in my fingers” could be an idea for a poem, a summer love, a partner wanting commitment. Possibilities are boundless, and, yes, some readers are “stuck on biography”. That’s okay too, mea culpa, so, to start, here’s who I doubt is the “Jewel”: Reverend Charles Wadsworth. A 24-year-old ED met him only briefly in Philadelphia in 1855 when she attended his sermon with Lavinia. Wadsworth’s mysterious charisma resonated with ED and captured her heart.

    Correspondence ensued. Leap-frogging a long story, in March 1860 Reverend Charles Wadsworth, married with two children and 16 years older than ED, detoured a 250-mile trip from Philadelphia to visit her at Homestead, where they spent an intensely intimate afternoon together walking in her orchard. Both knew an earthly commitment impossible, but he was her Muse for an incredible eruption of 610 poems, 1861-1863. No, the Jewel was someone else.

  6. “In the fall of 1835 Hiram Hurlburt, a young boy growing up in Vermont, paid a visit to the local tailor shop to order a coat. Waiting his turn for service, Hurlburt observed the unusual couple who owned the business. Charity Bryant, a woman in her late fifties and the shorter of the two, took the orders and wielded the scissors to cut the cloth. Sylvia Drake, some years younger, stayed quiet as she plied her needle in working her
    way through a stack of garments. After placing his order and leaving the shop, Hurlburt "heard it mentioned as if Miss Bryant and Miss Drake were married to each other." He
    found the marriage so unusual that he recalled it sixty-two years later, when writing his memoir; however strange the arrangement, though, Hurlburt seemed to approve.
    When he deduced during later visits to the shop that "Miss Bryant was the man" in the marriage, he judged her role to be "perfectly proper." Hurlburt recalled the women as
    church stalwarts who "got along pleasantly together" and earned the approbation of the community.”

    "What, Another Female Husband?": The Prehistory of Same-Sex Marriage in America. Rachel Hope Cleves. 2015. The Journal of American History, Vol. 101, No. 4 (March 2015), pp. 1055-1081

  7. On Thursday, October 9, 1851, when ED and Susan Gilbert were 20 years old, ED wrote Susan, who was teaching math in Baltimore, “It is such an evening Susie, as you and I would walk and have such pleasant musings, . . . and you and I would try to make a little destiny to have for our own.” (L5)

    In March 1853, when Susan was visiting relatives in Vermont, ED sent her a note imploring “Write! Comrade, write!”, followed by F3, ‘On this wondrous sea – Sailing silently –’.

    On this wondrous sea – Sailing silently -
    Ho! Pilot! Ho!
    Knowest thou the shore
    Where no breakers roar -
    Where the storm is o'er?

    In the silent West
    Many – the sails – at rest -
    The Anchors fast.
    Thither I pilot thee -
    Land! Ho! Eternity!
    Ashore at last!

    Many commenters have interpreted “the silent West” as Heaven. However, ED may have intended a more literal meaning of “silent West” as a place where “no breakers roar”, that is, where she and Susan could live together in peace without public castigation of their relationship, a naïve vision of the future where money didn’t matter. However, Susan Gilbert was a realistic orphan and realized that she would need something more than ED’s impossible dream of a “little destiny to have for our own” or a calm harbor “In the silent West” to secure her future. A few days later Susan informed ED that she and Austin were engaged.

    Where might ED have arrived at such a naïve notion?

  8. The following history may answer that question:

    William Cullen Bryant was born November 3, 1794, in a log cabin near Cummington, Massachusetts, 20 miles from ED’s home in Amherst. He was the second son of Peter Bryant (1767-1820), a doctor and later legislator in both the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate. His second son, W. C. Bryant was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1815, but WCB’s fame came later as a poet and editor of the prestigious New York Evening Post. Both the Bryant and Dickinson family lived in their respective towns 20 miles apart for three generations before ED was born.

    Given this history, Edward Dickinson’s profession as a leading lawyer in Amherst and as a member of both the Massachusetts and the US House of Representatives, and the fame of W.C. Bryant as an early American poet suggest that by 1850 the two families would have known about each other and perhaps been acquainted.

    The Dickinsons owned a copy of Bryant’s ‘Collected Poems’, published 1849, and Elizabeth Petrino (2005) considers ED’s 1858 ‘The Gentian weaves her lashes’ a parody of Bryant’s 1829 ‘To a Fringed Gentian’. Bryant’s poem was marked with an X in the margin of the Dickinsons’ copy of ‘Collected Poems’.

    Less well known to modern Dickinson buffs is W. C. Bryant’s 1850 book, ‘Letters of a Traveller: Notes of Things Seen in Europe and America’, a compilation of travelogue letters Bryant had written for The New York Evening Post. In that book, published one year after Bryant’s ‘Collected Poems’, was a chapter entitled, ‘An Excursion to Vermont and New Hampshire’. In that chapter, Bryant’s travelogue Letter XVII, originally published in the Evening Post on July 13, 1843, included the following paragraph:

    “I passed a few days in the valley of one of those streams of northern Vermont, which find their way into Champlain. If I were permitted to draw aside the veil of private life, I would briefly give you the singular, and to me most interesting history of two maiden ladies who dwell in this valley. I would tell you how, in their youthful days, they took each other as companions for life, and how this union, no less sacred to them than the tie of marriage, has subsisted, in uninterrupted harmony, for forty years, during which they have shared each other's occupations and pleasures and works of charity while in health, and watched over each other tenderly in sickness; for sickness has made long and frequent visits to their dwelling. I could tell you how they slept on the same pillow and had a common purse, and adopted each other's relations, and how one of them, more enterprising and spirited in her temper than the other, might be said to represent the male head of the family, and took upon herself their transactions with the world without, until at length her health failed, and she was tended by her gentle companion, as a fond wife attends her invalid husband. I would tell you of their dwelling, encircled with roses, which now in the days of their broken health, bloom wild without their tendance, and I would speak of the friendly attentions which their neighbors, people of kind hearts and simple manners, seem to take pleasure in bestowing upon them, but I have already said more than I fear they will forgive me for, if this should ever meet their eyes, and I must leave the subject.”

    The reason for W.C. Bryant’s coyness was that the woman who “might be said to represent the male head of the family” was his aunt, Charity Bryant. Given the history of the two families, it is likely that ED read the above paragraph sometime between its 1850 publication and March 1853 when she wrote ‘On this wondrous sea – Sailing silently’. If Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake could create a quiet harbor in northwest Vermont “where no breakers roar”, why couldn’t ED and Susan Gilbert do the same?

  9. ‘I held a Jewel in my fingers’ is ED’s wistful retelling of that traumatic transition in the trajectory of her life.