No Man instructed me—
But oftentimes, among my mind,
A Glee possesseth me,
That had I Ballet knowledge—
Would put itself abroad
In Pirouette to blanch a Troupe—
Or lay a Prima, mad,
And though I had no Gown of Gauze—
No Ringlet, to my Hair,
Nor hopped to Audiences—like Birds,
One Claw upon the Air,
Nor tossed my shape in Eider Balls,
Nor rolled on wheels of snow
Till I was out of sight, in sound,
The House encore me so—
Nor any know I know the Art
Nor any Placard boast me—
It's full as Opera—
F381 (1862) 326
Dickinson is having some fantasy fun here. Probably most of us have imagined what it would be like if we were a great singer or rock star or other performer, and that is what Dickinson is doing. In a particularly gleeful mood she imagines that despite her lack of training she might, with just some basic “Ballet knowledge,” amaze the crowds and drive a prima ballerina “mad” with envy.
|Ballerinas still have the "Claw upon the Air"|
Her performance would be so dazzling that she would get a huge encore. And, finally, although no one would have heard of this new ballerina before, and no advertising placard promoted her, the ballet house would be as full as the opera house. Yes, I’d say she’s feeling imaginatively frisky.
But Dickinson might be using this ballet theme euphemistically. She may very well be talking about her abilities as a poet. After all, this poem was sent to her poetry mentor, Thomas Higginson, who had commented that her poetry needed better organization and a little better use of standard meter and syntax. This poem is her lighthearted, virtuosic, response. “No one taught me,” she may be saying, “and if they had, I could please the crowd just as well—better!—than the current crop of poets. What is unspoken but implied throughout the poem—by fact of the poem’s quality and clever originality—is that Dickinson wouldn’t want to be a conventional poet hopping about on the stage for an audience and being promoted on placards. No, she may not be able to “Dance upon [her] toes,” but she would indeed take the world by storm with her own original poetic pirouettes.