It was given to me by the Gods —
When I was a little Girl —
They give us Presents most — you know —
When we are new — and small.
I kept it in my Hand —
I never put it down —
I did not dare to eat — or sleep —
For fear it would be gone —
I heard such words as "Rich" —
When hurrying to school —
From lips at Corners of the Streets —
And wrestled with a smile.
Rich! 'Twas Myself — was rich —
To take the name of Gold —
And Gold to own — in solid Bars —
The Difference — made me bold —
F455 (1862) J454
Those who feel pity or sad bafflement about Emily Dickinson’s famous reclusiveness are missing not only the extremes of joy and anguish that punctuated her ‘quiet’ life, but her self-aware pride. That pride is on full display here.
“The Gods” give us their gifts when “we are new – and small,” and Dickinson’s gift was poetry. Unlike many of us who are given gifts, only to ignore, squander, or reject them, Dickinson, even as a young girl, clutched hers like a precious gem. She “never put it down,” spending her life writing poem after poem until there were (at last count) 1789 of them! Her magnificent letters, too, give evidence of the poetry that radiated from her.
In one letter she describes herself as “small, like the wren,” although her hair is “bold, like the chestnut bur.” Yet there is no sense of smallness here as she recalls smiling to herself as townspeople talk about wealth, knowing that she possessed bars of golden talent while they were just speculating and using a label. What made her bold was knowing the difference between what she had –consuming, compelling poetry – and the more dubious and transitory glory of material riches.
One image I like in this poem is that of the “lips at Corners of the Streets” who talk about getting rich, or who’s rich and who isn’t. I think there are lips like those at all the corners.