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12 June 2024

I could bring You Jewels—had I a mind to—

I could bring You Jewels—had I a mind to—
But You have enough—of those—
I could bring You Odors from St. Domingo—
Colors—from Vera Cruz—

Berries of the Bahamas—have I—
But this little Blaze
Flickering to itself—in the Meadow—
Suits Me—more than those—

Never a Fellow matched this Topaz—
And his Emerald Swing—
Dower itself—for Bobadilo—
Better—Could I bring?

   -F726, J696, Fascicle 35, 1863

The riddle of this poem goes, “What is a blaze flickering to itself in a meadow, or a topaz on an emerald swing?” David Preest helpfully provides us with the answer: “This poem was probably sent to Emily's sister-in-law Sue and was accompanied by a meadow flower known as a ‘jewelweed.”

compare this jewelweed with a topaz

I’d love to see a book published with all of the poems that Emily Dickinson sent to her friends that were accompanied by flowers. There are many of them. This one, like the flower it describes, is a gem.

The poem’s diction is flowery and full of exotic words; Domingo, Vera Cruz, Bahamas, Topaz and Bobadilo. 

The Dickinson Lexicon tells me Bobadilo is “Francisco de Bobadilla (d. 1502); Spanish governor of Santo Domingo who ordered the arrest of Christopher Columbus and sent him back to Spain in chains; [fig.] autocrat; wealthy man; powerful leader.” 

The phrase that stands out to me in this poem is "this little Blaze/ Flickering to itself." This could be a description of Sue, by all accounts a strong-minded woman, who drew Emily to her like a moth to a flame. 

    Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson

The poet tells the recipient she could give her expensive exotic gifts, if she had a “mind” to. (How? Well, Dickinson has a great mind, she’d figure it out!) But none of these rare things would match what she has in her own back yard of Amherst. Here I think of one of my favorite Dickinson poems, F597, which begins "'Tis little I — could care for Pearls —/ Who own the Ample sea —" Dickinson found her wealth in the natural world, and moreover, she loved to share the wealth with friends and loved ones, of which we can now include ourselves. 

   -/)dam Wade l)eGraff

1 comment:

  1. ED lists flavors of poems she could offer Sue:

    “Odors from St. Domingo— ”
    “Colors—from Vera Cruz— ”
    “Berries of the Bahamas— have I—”

    But the flavor of this poem, “this little Blaze
    “Flickering to itself—in the Meadow—
    Suits Me—more than those—”

    It suits her because “this little Blaze” is the poet herself. Sue, the social butterfly, would never flicker to herself in the meadow, but ED would and does every day. Her self-portrait in words describes her better than those foreign flavors.

    ED’s last line ignites her gift to Sue: “Better - Could I bring?”

    Adam’s topaz pic matches “this little Blaze” perfectly, but what about that “Emerald Swing”? Each orange-red flower hangs on its own thin green pedicel that curves downward and sways in the wind, hence "his Emerald Swing". Wikipedia depicts the pedicel and flower well at .

    The most common “common name” of jewelweed is “Touch-Me-Not”, which warns the unwary of its seed-pod’s “explosive dehiscence”. Mature seed pods literally explode with a light touch, scattering seeds of this annual plant for next year’s crop, but, given ED’s penchant for volcanos, that name might not be appropriate for a love gift.

    Johnson (Metadata 1955): “The text derives from a transcript made by Mrs. Todd, and is followed by the notation: "With jewelweed."

    Franklin (Metadata 1998): "With jewelweed" is the editorial notation at the end of the poem (neither manuscript nor transcript so indicates).” [???]

    There is no evidence a pressed flower was “with” the fascicle manuscript of the poem. Mabel Todd and her husband moved to Amherst in 1881, so she could only have learned of the “jewelweed” if (1) she saw a lost manuscript copy with the attached flower, (2) asked Susan during the 1890s while Todd was editing the first edition of ED’s poetry, or (3) by guessing. Hypothesis #2 seems most likely to me.

    Assuming ED gave this poem and flower to Sue, “the Meadow” was likely the one between their houses, traversed by a well-worn 300’ footpath (Photo in Bianci, 1924, ‘The Life and Letters of Emily Dickinson, by her niece, Martha Dickinson Bianci’). Below the illustration in Bianci’s book is a quotation attributed to ED: "A LITTLE PATH JUST WIDE ENOUGH FOR TWO WHO LOVE" - E. D.

    A computer search of all ED’s poems and letters turned up zero evidence that ED wrote that line. There is a reason professional historians consider Bianci’s 1924 book unreliable, though not entirely useless. Her 1932 book, ‘Emily Dickinson Face to Face’ tries to clarify/correct misstatements and overstatements.

    • [search on poem's first line]
    • Bianchi, Martha Dickinson, 1924, ‘The Life and Letters of Emily Dickinson, by her niece, Martha Dickinson Bianci’, Riverside Press, Houghton Mifflin Co., Photo on p. 52 of 386 pp.
    • Bianci, Martha D., 1932, Face to Face, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, pp. 45-47