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03 July 2012

Me, change! Me, alter!

Me, change! Me, alter!
Then I will, when on the Everlasting Hill
A Smaller Purple grows –
At sunset, or a lesser glow
Flickers upon Cordillera –
At Day's superior close!
                                                            281 (1862)  268

This short poem expresses a sort of shocked outrage at the notion that the narrator could change. Perhaps a lover has suggested that her feelings may not last; that what she feels today she may not feel next year.
Cotopaxi, Frederick Church, 1862
            Not so, she protests. As long as the sunset fills the evening sky with purple or “Flickers upon Cordillera,” I will remain constant. “Cordillera” is Spanish for mountain range. Dickinson would probably be referring to the Andes here. Her Yankee compatriot, Frederick Church was painting wildly popular scenes from South America and no doubt Dickinson was familiar with them. Dickinson scholar Judith Farr notes that Church’s “The Heart of the Andes,” an epic picture based on Ecuadoran scenery, “was not a mere painting but a national event in 1859." Cotopaxi, another famous Church painting, shows a sunset made vivid by smoke and ash from the volcano.

Dickson emphasizes her indignation by using a spondee to begin the poem: “Me, Change.” The next line begins with an anapast (“Then I will”) that delivers an internal rhyme with “Everlasting Hill.” The contrast between the first and second lines sets up the contrast between change and the flowing continuity of nights and sunsets.


  1. The defiant and scornful tone certainly animates this fiesty little poem, the very brevity of which suggests that the speaker does not have much to say on the matter; she will not change.

    The rhyming of 'will' with a word that denotes permanence, the eternal 'Hill' (capitalised to forceful effect), suggests the absolute stubbornness of the speaker's own volition that will not alter.

    The speaker's obduracy is given greater magnitude in the subsequent image of the 'Cordillera', a more expansive mountainous range, and even greater image of permanence, than a single 'Hill'. The internal syllable '-dil' of 'Cordillera' extends the rhyme of 'will' and 'Hill', thereby heightening further the obstinate nature of the speaker that will be as fixed as any mountain and as regular as the daily sunset that emblazens it.

    This poem could be addressed to a lover, as you say, or act as a riposte to a critic/publicist. It may even express a general defiance to live eternally as she is in her corporeal plight (ie to not change her state of being).

    The speaker's aloofness is implied by her affinity with the lofty heights of the hill and the snow-capped, faraway mountains of the Cordilleras, and to the penultimate word of the poem, 'superior'.

    1. Thank you for this insightful commentary (which I just now saw -- my comment notification wasn't working for a while). You add important analysis to the poetics, as well.

  2. Filled with gratitude for your insight and dedication!

  3. A scenario: Reverend Wadsworth and ED have corresponded since 1858. ED’s forthrightness and train-of-thought style of prose alarmed the good Reverend, and he offered good Christian advice on how a lady should behave. ED is having none of it.