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11 August 2013

Fame of Myself, to justify,

Fame of Myself, to justify,
All other Plaudit be
Superfluous — An Incense
Beyond Necessity —

Fame of Myself to lack — Although

My Name be else Supreme —
This were an Honor honorless —
A futile Diadem —
                                                                      F481 (1862)  J713

The poem is a bit difficult to read. Intuitively, it seems to want to read as the poet's statement of artistic inte
Thurible with incense
grity: if she believes her work is good, then any fame she achieves is a bonus, "An Incense / Beyond Necessity." If, however, she finds her work lacking, she would find even the highest honors "honorless" and the crown of her reputation "A futile Diadem."

    In  F455 , Dickinson claims her poetry is a gift from the "Gods," one she "never put down." Is it any wonder then, that she guards the integrity of her poetry?

Unfortunately, getting to this interpretation requires torturing the poem:

"If I can justify my fame to myself, then …"  and "If my fame lacks justification, then although … ." I get the sense that Dickinson wrote a memo to herself, a two-column comparison titled "Fame of Myself." That has a rather lofty tone to it versus, say, "My Fame" – which doesn't sound interesting at all!

The lofty tone of the poem is further maintained by the word "Incense." Dickinson was surely familiar with the various Biblical injunctions to use incense because it offered "a pleasing odor to the Lord" (Lev.2.1). It has been ritually used in the Roman Catholic Church since antiquity and is not uncommon in other denominations and religions. So while the [godlike] poet would be pleased by the incense of fame – if justified, it is "Superfluous." What matters most to this poet is her own assessment.


  1. this was a great analysis! Great work!

  2. you always help me in the translation of the poems to portuguese. thanks.

  3. ED chose a lonely life. Letters help relieve loneliness, and ED’s correspondence was stupendous. But writing letters and composing poems don’t replace essential vitamins of a healthy tête-à-tête. One result of social starvation is navel-gazing like this poem, a vacuous self-centered conversation with herself. I guess now and then we all fluff our own feathers in a mirror, but it’s embarrassing when someone sees us do it.