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09 August 2012

You see I cannot see—your lifetime—

You see I cannot see—your lifetime—
I must guess—
How many times it ache for me—today—Confess—
How many times for my far sake
The brave eyes film—
But I guess guessing hurts—
Mine—got so dim!

Too vague—the face—
My own—so patient—covets—
Too far—the strength—
My timidness enfolds—
Haunting the Heart—
Like her translated faces—
Teasing the want—
It—only—can suffice!
                                                            F313 (1862)  253

Christina Rossetti (1866)
another famous woman in love
In this simple love poem, the poet wonders if her lover misses her the way she misses him (or her). Although she imagines that he “aches” for missing her, she can only guess at how often that happens. She imagines his eyes filming with tears and confesses that her own “got so dim” with her own tears.
            When someone is gone for a long time we lose a clear mental picture of them. And so Dickinson writes that the face she “covets” has become “vague” in her imagination. Although she misses his strength, she believes her own timidness can increase it.
            Like so many lovers, she wants to haunt his heart, tease out the love he has for her alone, for it would surely would not do to have him forget her or find someone else.   


  1. What is up with those “Translated faces”?

    1. It isn't entirely clear, so good question. I think the woman 'translates' her fading memories into the loved one's face. She can't quite recall the true face because her memory becomes 'too vague' over time Each memory of the beloved wears a slightly different face.

      If you have other ideas I'd love to hear them!

  2. Just realised that a lovely piece of music by German jazz musicians Roger Cicero and Julia Hülsmann is based around this poem. The music captures beautifully the uncertainty and ache of the poem in a great connection across 150 years. Timeless art...

    1. Is there a link to this you can share?

    2. Here is the YouTube link:

    3. Thank you! It’s lovely.

  3. In ‘You see I cannot see’ (F313) ED is probably trying to imagine what Charles Wadsworth is thinking about her now that he has moved to San Francisco:

    “How many times for my far sake / The brave eyes film —”

    The “her” in line 6 is likely a common gender-switch camouflage ED used to conceal her private life from possibly prying eyes.

    We can infer from F313 how far ED’s romantic dreams wandered. Apparently, Wadsworth had written some words in their correspondence, beginning about 1858, or said some things during conversations when he visited her in Amherst in 1860 (and possibly in 1861), which ED had interpreted as romantic. Whether he meant them romantically is unknown because they both burned their letters.

    For example, as she was dying ED asked Lavinia to burn her correspondence, which she did except for one short, unsigned letter of concern from Wadsworth to ED that closes with text a love-sick young woman could misinterpret:

    “My Dear Miss Dickenson

    “I am distressed beyond measure at your note, received this moment, — I can only imagine the affliction which has befallen, or is now befalling you. . . . I am very, very anxious to learn more definitely of your trial—and though I have no right to intrude upon your sorrows yet I beg you to write me, though it be but a word.

    Sincerely and most affectionately Yours ”

    “Wadsworth clearly intended to show his disturbed correspondent she had his complete attention. But did his pressing concern and last underlined word [Yours —] stir an unintended thought?” (Habegger, 1998, My Wars Are Laid Away in Books)

    Habegger confirmed that this short note was sent from Philadelphia and he inferred it dates from early in their correspondence because Wadsworth spells her name “Dickenson”.