'Tis little I can do —
And yet the largest Woman's Heart
Could hold an Arrow — too —
And so, instructed by my own,
I tenderer, turn Me to –
F542 (1863) J309
Dickinson sent one copy of this poem to Sue, her sister-in-law and beloved (although at times estranged) friend. The short poem is full of mystery. Why is the first line in the past tense? What is it that the poet might want to do while seemingly regretting that there is "little" she can do? What sort of arrow is Dickinson envisioning: a Cupid's arrow of love or the sharp arrow of pain and grief? The heart can hold an arrow "too" – what else did it hold? And finally, how is one to complete the last thought?
|Woman defending herself against Eros
by William Adophe Bouguereau (about 1880)
One reading might have Dickinson writing directly to and of Sue. She has the largest heart. Perhaps it is so large that Dickinson finds herself rattling around in it along with myriad others and there is not much she can do about it. Yet despite the (gossiped about) flirtatious nature of Sue, she could harbor Cupid's dart. Instructed by her own heart, the poet, feeling more sympathetic by this contemplation, turns herself to … perhaps to her own rich inner life or to a philosophical and generous understanding and acceptance of Sue.
I’m not sure what the honymic rhyme of "too" with "to" adds to the poem, but it doesn't seem accidental.
Any comments on this poem are indeed welcome!