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20 December 2012

We talked as Girls do—

We talked as Girls do—
Fond, and late—
We speculated fair, on every subject, but the Grave—
Of ours, none affair—

We handled Destinies, as cool—
As we—Disposers—be—
And God, a Quiet Party
To our Authority—

But fondest, dwelt upon Ourself
As we eventual—be—
When Girls, to Women, softly raised

We parted with a contract
To cherish, and to write
But Heaven made both, impossible
Before another night.
                                                                   F392 (1862) 586

Girl time! I love the first two lines—the two friends talking "Fond, and late" about everything. Do guys do this? I think they may have in Victorian days, back when American men would share the same bed and give each other a little kiss good night. That doesn't happen so much today. 
          There was only one subject they avoided and that was Death. After all, they were just girls! So death was none of their affair. But they did talk about what they'd do when they grew up. Just as I remember doing with  my best friend, they talked as cool and confidently about their destinies as if they had the power to dispose their own fates. God was just "a Quiet Party" listening on their authoritative discussion.
          They made a contract before the night was over to love each other and to write letters. But as occasionally happens in Dickinson's poems, this was not to be. Within a day the other girl was dead. At least that's what I read into this poem. Heaven made it impossible for them to fulfill their contract. By this I assume that the Quiet Party had the last laugh. It's a cruel bit, there. God hears their girlish plans and his response is to let one die (or perhaps even cause her death).


  1. I don't see cruelty of impermanence but a matter of fact ness the deepens with the intimacy those two girls shared into, expectantly, Women softly raised. And I love that the girls could handle Destinies by their own authority, and God, the Quiet Party, I don't think has much to do with anything, maybe allows, but has no force of engagement that would give it a last laugh.

    1. Yes, I agree that the poem doesn't imply God has the last laugh. I guess I was reading the poem in a sort of bitter mood or something. Yet Dickinson did include Heaven in the sad end, so I'm not sure the deity is entirely off the hook for truncating this lovely friendship in some way. If not death, than in some other way.

  2. It’s pretty bitter that god plays a part in quashing their resolutions, but is only a disinterested partner to their dreams of life.

  3. I wonder if this is about Sue getting married? Then it becomes about how the plans of girls get thwarted by conventional marriages.

  4. Tres insightful, d scribe.

    Susan Gilbert Dickinson (1830-1913), born in Monson, MA, 20 miles SE of Amherst, orphaned at 11, lived in Geneva, NY, with her aunt Sophia (1841-46), then in Amherst with her sister Harriet (1846-56). She attended Amherst Academy (1846-1847) where she met ED. Their friendship centered on a shared love of poetry but gradually grew into emotional closeness and, during their late teens-early 20s, lesbian love. They contracted to forever “cherish” each other and to “write” poetry. That was the plan, anyway.

    Orphan Sue, a realist, knew she couldn’t live on love. Her aptitude for mathematics led to teaching high school in Baltimore, 1851-52, and extreme separation pain for ED. Sue infrequently responded to ED’s torrent of letters and poems, which ED forgave because she imagined Sue lacked time. Sue did save ED’s letters, which paint in bright and amorous colors, ED’s complete devotion to Sue.

    Meanwhile, Austin took a shining to Sue, which led to a secret engagement that culminated in a secret rendezvous at the Revere Hotel in Boston on 23 March 1853 and subsequent announcement of their engagement. For Sue that was the “night” that made her eternal-love-and-poetry “contract” with ED “impossible”.

    ED’s “night” might be that night, but my money’s on a night in March 1855, after she heard Charles Wadsworth deliver a sermon at Philadelphia’s Arch Street Presbyterian Church. He was a charismatic 41-year-old but, alas, married man. Many poems and letters later, in fact 27 years later when he died April 1, 1882, she revealed her constant love and admiration in four letters to Wadsworth’s close friend, Charles Clark, a coincidentally shared acquaintance of 40 years.

  5. You who claim god is unjust and not fair and is not interested those who claim god is evil are completely wrong he loves us so much, that he died for us so we could be with him, it’s the devil who allows such things in the world, repent turn to god and he will forgive you for what you have done