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24 March 2014

I pay — in Satin Cash —

I pay — in Satin Cash —
You did not state — your price —
A Petal, for a Paragraph
Is near as I can guess —
                  F526 (1863)  J402

Scholar Judith Farr reads this witty poem as Dickinson's offer to pay correspondents with flowers – the longer their letters to her, the more petals Dickinson would include in her response. This makes some sense as Dickinson did indeed send flowers to friends. 
Auguste Toulmouche, 1866.
Detail from The Reluctant Bride

"Satin Cash" also conjures the lovely gowns and ribbons worn by women of the time. While Victorian women were raised to be and to be regarded as untouchable, their gowns signaled sexual readiness. From their silk and satin fabrics to the wasp waists, hoops and crinolines, the gowns promised sensuality and fertility. Young maidens venturing out to their first balls would surely be wearing the finest "Satin Cash" their fathers could afford. The dress might well attract a man of means. 


  1. I really enjoy your blog. Try to get to it every day. This poem, in my untutored opinion, is an example of how distracting the dashes are. I know that scholars now feel the dashes go beyond language, but it still seems to me unedited provisional writing. The dash after "price" is not necessary to open meanings between words since "price" is at the end of a line.
    I say this as a fan, as this poet is honestly one of my three favorite poets in literary history.
    One last comment, but with regard to F208 which you blogged some time ago. I have always interpreted that poem as though the poet is the Whippowill (maybe something Bowles once called her), the song being her stream of verse. Also, when I was young, schoolboys called a certain marble, "a beryl."
    L. Silverwood

    1. Thanks! Those dashes have bothered all sorts of people. Must confess that as a teacher I once took them out for a handout of Dickinson poems. I wouldn't do that now – I've adopted the dash myself! But in places like the one you point out it really isn't clear what is added or meant by the dash. I suspect they are reading and thought guides – pause indicators stronger than a comma. But since she uses them liberally at line breaks one must simply go with them and feel an extended caesura.

    2. It feels most (if not all) of Dickinson's dashes are premeditated, and indicate not just a pause/caesura, but also other things mainly to do with meaning. In "I pay - in Satin Cash - ", for example, there are two separate sentences conjoined: 1. I pay, and 2. I pay in Satin Cash. A similar subtlety I can remember is in A Bird Came Down the Walk, in the line: "And ate the Fellow - Raw -"... This is how I "read" her dashes... I may well be wrong...

  2. I enjoy this blog, too.
    I just read how Dickenson was raised in a family of
    lawyers and I too wondered if this poem had a duel meaning towards more than just writing to one another, caused by the dashes. There are 5 dashes, so
    in the spirit of total speculation, I filled in the 5 dashes with the following possible meanings that (really only she would know their true meaning)
    dash 1. I will give
    dash 2. more of me-thru dress or words,
    dash 3. if you tell me more
    dash 4. proportionate to your interest shown
    dash 5. since were guessing along

    Isn't this fun!

    1. Fun indeed! I think your referencing Dickinson's exposure to lawyers and the law is germane. She is, after all, detailing a transactional proposition.

  3. “I pay in satin cash. You did not state your price. A petal for a paragraph is near as I can guess.”

    Efficient, anonymous, and boring.

  4. ED often complained in a polite way about late, stingy, or no replies to her letters. For example, Sam Bowles, editor of The Springfield Republican, was notoriously delinquent, but for good reason. 'I pay in Satin Cash’ is witty, but also seems needy.

    1. I think Farr has the right of it. ED is paying, not looking for payment. She's coaxing her correspondents to write longer letters!