Search This Blog

17 June 2012

What would I give to see his face?

What would I give to see his face?
I'd give – I'd give my life – of course –
But that is not enough!
Stop just a minute – let me think!
I'd give my biggest Bobolink!
That makes two – Him – and Life!
You know who "June" is –
I'd give her –
Roses a day from Zanzibar –
And Lily tubes – like Wells –
Bees – by the furlong –
Straits of Blue –
Navies of Butterflies – sailed thro' –
And dappled Cowslip Dells –

Then I have "shares" in Primrose "Banks" –
Daffodil Dowries – spicy "stocks" –
Dominions – broad as Dew –
Bags of Doubloons – adventurous Bees
Brought me – from firmamental seas –
And Purple – from Peru –

Now – have I bought it –
"Shylock"? Say!
Sign me the Bond!
"I vow to pay
To Her – who pledges this –
One hour – of her Sovereign's face"!
Ecstatic Contract!
Niggard Grace!
My Kingdom's worth of Bliss!
                                                            F266 (1861)  247

It was only in poem F258, I came to buy a smile – today – , that the poet was willing to trade diamonds and rubies for a small smile from her beloved. Here she extravagantly proposes to give not only her life but her “Bobolink.” And not just any old bobolink, either, but her biggest one. That makes two presents: the bobolink and her life. But the besotted poet doesn’t stop there: she is also prepared to give all the flowers, bees, and butterflies of June.
A good-sized Bobolink
(Chester Reed's The Bird Book, 1915)
            In listing the largesse included in her offering of June, Dickinson goes all out: She has her usual contingent of “B”s: in addition to Bobolink there are Bees (“by the furlong), Blue seas, and Butterflies. She then piles on with “D”s: Cowslip Dells, Daffodil Dowries, Dominions (“broad as Dew”), and gold Doubloons. These last seem to be stars, for “adventurous Bees” brought them to her from the sky – like gold stars.
            Again hearkening back to F258, she is confident that even the Jewish Shylock would find her terms irresistible. But she is teasing: Have I bought it now, Shylock? Well?? Then sign right here: “One hour”  of my beloved’s face. That alone is “Ecstatic Contract and her “Kingdom’s worth of Bliss.”
            The poem was sent to … who else? Samuel Bowles, the love of her life at this point. She’s playful and confident – a nice change from the whimpering spaniel of earlier love poetry.
            The diction and images are fun, but so are the rhymes: Bobolink and think; Dew and Peru, for example. 

1 comment:

  1. “What would I give to see his face?”.

    To begin, whose face? My money is on Rev. Charles Wadsworth, who captured ED’s heart in 1855 with a sermon at his Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. His early and only surviving letter to her misspelled her name and expressed heartfelt concern for her (mental?) health.

    Apparently, she had written him a disturbing letter from Amherst, perhaps about her mother’s health. Sixteen years her senior, married, and father of two, he visited her in Amherst for a memorable afternoon in March 1860. Other poems suggest their (intimate?) conversation that afternoon meant one thing to the Reverend and something else to ED.

    Comment 2: Neither Johnson nor Franklin list a recipient of this poem. Evidence to the contrary would be helpful.

    Comment 3: Who is Shylock, with whom ED signs an “ecstatic contract” to see the Reverend’s face for just “one hour”. The pronoun in ED’s manuscript is illegible, with Johnson and Franklin inferring “To Her – who pledges this”, but close inspection easily renders “Him” as well.

    My guess is Shylock is God, and ED isn’t satisfied with "His" failure to produce Wadsworth’s face. She offered God “My Kingdom's worth of Bliss!”, and all she got in return was “Niggard Grace”.