Emily’s Enigma

The enigma of Emily Dickinson for me is how she shows that the very act of writing, and then recording that writing in some simple enduring way, if only, as she did, by sewing pages of preserved poems, together into small handmade booklets, is publication enough.

Everything that may happen after that moment – when the writing on the page is given to the world – is not part of the creative process, and is incidental to the purpose of the poet. Of course, recognition in all its forms is longed for – whether that be  prizes or sales or just likes on a blog. But recognition can carry a burden that makes the writing less free.

I am temperamentally reclusive, like Emily, and her example has always strengthened me to write as I will, not as the crowd calls for. So, each time I press these keys and make a thing that endures in the world, despite any fears I may hold, Emily sits at my back and quietly whispers her incantations of possibility.

Here in thanks is Emily Dickinson’s poem 709, which I discovered this morning after borrowing her complete poems from the library.

Publication – is the Auction

Of the Mind of Man –

Poverty – be justifying

For so foul a thing


Possibly – but We – would rather

From Our Garret go

White – Unto the White Creator –

Than invest – Our Snow –


Thought belong to Him who gave it –

Then – to Him Who bear

In Corporeal illustration – Sell

The Royal Air –


In the Parcel – Be the Merchant

Of the Heavenly Grace –

But reduce no Human Spirit

To Disgrace of Price –

Emily Dickinson, c 1863, from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed TH Johnson  (public library)

Image source: Emily Dickinson Museum

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