Who own the Ample sea —
Or Brooches — when the Emperor —
With Rubies — pelteth me —
Or Gold — who am the Prince of Mines —
Or Diamonds — when have I
A Diadem to fit a Dome —
Continual upon me —
F597 (1863) J466
The poet doesn't care much about Pearls, Brooches, Gold, or Diamonds because she has the ocean, rubies galore from an Emperor, a mining empire, and a crown as big as a dome. Dickinson scholar Judith Farr believes that pearls represent Sue (based on poems such as "One Life of so much consequence" [F248]) and that the Emperor, the sea, etc., represent the adored Master to whom Dickinson wrote a series of powerful love letters.
But I think the range of best things indicates more than just one man, no matter how adored or superlative, or how generous with his Rubies (Farr finds the imagery of the man pelting the speaker with rubies to be phallic and assaultive). In each case Dickinson dismisses the particular in favor of having the general and more encompassing richness. Pearls are just one precious commodity of the "Ample sea". One brooch will never equal a pelting of rubies, nor gold outweigh all the gems from all the various mines. Diamonds wouldn't fill out a dome the way a Diadem might.
|Rubies in the rough
I find this poem as clear a pronouncement of Dickinson's brimming-over poetic calling as in "For this – accepted Breath" [F230] where (I believe) poetry is her "Crown" and her "perennial bloom" – and her portal into something like the "glory" experienced in heaven. Each metaphor supports this. The ocean is not only a symbol of the feminine but of creativity. To own it is to delve at will into its unpredictable and fertile depths.
The ruby-pelting Emperor is a fun version of a poetic muse. Each ruby is an insight or idea more delightful to the poet than a brooch. The rubies are in their natural state, ready for the artist's hand, whereas the brooch is a finished piece: good for adornment but not for creativity.
As a Prince of Mines, the poet can not only delve in the seductive sea but in the richness of the mineral earth. The giant Diadem, or crown, is as it was in F230: the crowning glory of Dickinson's life – poetry.
This poem is among the most regular of Dickinson's verse. With its ballad meter and simple rhymes, it seems almost a cheerful ditty. One could truly sing it to "The Yellow Rose of Texas" and it would sound just right.