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26 December 2012

The face I carry with me—last—

The face I carry with melast—
When I go out of Time—
To take my Rank
byin the West—
That face
will just be thine—

I'll hand it to the Angel—
Sir—was my Degree—
In Kingdoms
you have heard the Raised 
Refer topossibly.

He'll take it
scan itstep aside—
with such a crown
As Gabriel—never capered at—
And beg me put it on—

And then—he'll turn me round and round—
To an admiring sky—
As One that bore her Master's name—
Sufficent Royalty!

                                                                        F395 (1862)  J336

Perhaps the ultimate girly dress-up fantasy: take your beloved's face up to heaven, show it to the Angel at the golden gate, and be welcomed with a glorious crown. Then the angel will twirl you around for the delight of angels and an "admiring sky." 
          This love poem is part of the Master's sequence of poems and letters. Scholars debate about who Master was, for Dickinson was passionate about several people—men and women—and it is looking as if we will never know for sure. Clever Dickinson to maintain such a mystery!
          The poem begins with self effacement. Rather than go to heaven ("the West" here) as herself, when the poet goes "out of Time" she will use the face of her beloved Master. She expects a better "Rank" that way. Dickinson has, in earlier poems, referred to the ranks of the Saints and of angels, and to how the saints (dead Christians) will become royalty in heaven. 
          Her effacement, however, isn't abject humility but rather a happy playfulness about how wonderful her master is. In actuality, any of the potential Masters have long since been eclipsed by Dickinson. I wonder if she ever suspected that in future generations it would be her name and life and works that are celebrated.
          The second stanza is a bit of playful dialog the newly arrived poet will have with the angel: "This face, sir, was my claim to nobility back where I came from—and no doubt you've heard other folks here talk about those "Kingdoms." And of course once the receiving angel looks closely at the face he hustles off to get a more beautiful crown than even the famous Arc Angel Gabriel had ever seen.          In the last stanza, the poet is pirouetting and being admired by all and not just for the beautiful crown but because the poet came bearing "her Master's name" —and that is "Sufficient Royalty." This is an arch turn around of the Christian notion that Christians should efface themselves in Jesus and do everything in his name and with his spirit guiding them. But in this playful poem, the poet puts on the face of her beloved and is very much admired for it.
          Another thing Dickinson scholars don't know: Did Master ever read these poems or the Master letters? If he did, one wonders what he would have made of them.


  1. Franklin (Metadata 1998) provides some history of this manuscript and estimates its date:

    “About autumn 1862, in Fascicle 19 (a 80-7), a leaf folded in thirds and addressed on the verso to "Sue" (erased). Although the manuscript was prepared for Susan Dickinson, matching stationery, sewing holes, and pin impression indicate that ED retained the manuscript and bound it into the fascicle. The name may have been erased by Austin Dickinson or by Mabel Todd, who transferred the manuscript elsewhere (Todd 80). The poem does not otherwise appear in the fasciclesan appearance [format] to be expected if this manuscript were not ED's record copy.”

    After ED’s death in 1886 and before publication of her poems, beginning in 1895, Austin (and Mabel?) carefully erased or obliterated evidence of the close relationship between ED and Sue. Many poems were folded and addressed to Sue on the verso (back), but never sent.

    Sue’s name was erased in every case, except for one especially revealing poem, ‘One Sister have I in this house’ (F5), which was completely obliterated with black ink, the vandalized manuscript preserved only because a different poem was handwritten on its verso.

    Fortunately, Mabel Todd had transcribed the poem without Austin’s knowledge, preserving it for posterity.

    1. Thank you for this interesting background. Must have been difficult to have been Austin what with Emily, Sue, and Mabel complicating his life and sense of the world.

  2. An interpretation of F395, ‘The face I carry with me’:

    The face I carry with me—last—
    When I go out of Time —
    To take my Rank—by [Wadsworth]—in the West [San Francisco]—
    That face—will just be thine [Wadsworth’s]—

    I'll hand it to the Angel [Saint Peter]—
    That—Sir—was my Degree [Mrs. degree, see F194 below]
    In Kingdoms [U.S. west coast] — you have heard the Raised—
    Refer to—possibly.

    He'll take it—scan it—step aside—
    Return—with such a crown
    As Gabriel—never capered at— [see below and Comment 13, F209]
    And beg me put it on—

    And then—he'll turn me round and round—
    To an admiring sky—
    As One that bore her Master's name— [“Wadsworth”]
    Sufficent Royalty!


    “Title divine, is mine.
    The Wife without the Sign –
    Acute Degree conferred on me –
    Empress of Calvary –
    Royal, all but the Crown –”


    “I lost a World - the other day!
    Has Anybody found?
    You'll know it by the Row of Stars
    Around its forehead bound.”

  3. Gabriel appeared to newly pregnant Virgin Mary and told her God had chosen her as the mother of his son, Jesus. Many Renaissance paintings depict Gabriel's annunciation of Mary, some with 12 stars in Mary's crown.

    1. The relevance of this to poem 209 isn't clear to me.

    2. F209 tells us that ED lost her Crown of the World with 12 stars on it "the other day!". Many Renaissance paintings depicted 12 stars in the halo of Mary at her Annunciation.

      After St. Peter sees ED's credentials, a picture of the face of Wadsworth, "He'll take it [the picture]—scan it [on a scanner?] —step aside— / Return—with such a crown / As Gabriel—never capered at—", that is, with a crown even finer than the one Mary wore when Gabriel "capered" around Mary as he told her she would soon be the mother of God's son.

      "And then—he'll [St Peter will] turn me round and round— / To an admiring sky— / As One that bore her Master's name— [“Wadsworth”] / Sufficient Royalty!"

      These lines are proof positive of ED's huge imagination and (perhaps imaginary) self-confidence.