Doubt me! My dim companion! (F332A J 275)

Doubt Me! My Dim Companion!
Why, God, would be content
With but a fraction of the Life – (Of the Love –)
Poured thee, without a stint –
The whole of me – forever –
What more the Woman can,
Say quick, that I may (so I can –)
dower thee
With last Delight  (least Delight) I own!

It cannot be my spirit –
For that was thine, before –
I ceded all of Dust I knew –
What Opulence the more

Had I – a freckled Maiden
Whose farthest of Degree,
Was – that she might –
Some distant Heaven,
Dwell timidly – with thee !

Sift her, from Brow to Barefoot!
Strain till  your last Surmise –
Drop, like a Tapestry, away,
Before the Fire’s Eyes –
Winnow her finest fondness –
But hallow just the snow
Intact, in Everlasting flake –
Oh, Caviler, for you!

Link to EDA manuscript. Originally in Packet XIV, Mixed Fascicles, written in ink, ca. 1860-1862. First published in Poems (1890), stanzas 1 and 2, with the alternative for line 3 adopted. Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

This address to a “doubting” lover reprises language in the Third Master Letter. It identifies the speaker as “a freckled Maiden” with a dowry of “Delight,” who had “ceded” all her spirit to the lover who doubts her, and wishes simply to “Dwell timidly” with this lover. The final stanza complicates this simplicity with stronger images of “surmise,” “fire,” and “just the snow / Intact, in Everlasting flake,” and strong verbs like “sift,” “strain,” “winnow,” “hallow.” The final epithet for the lover is “Caviler,” a strong word that, according to Dickinson’s 1844 Webster’s Dictionary, means “one who is apt to raise captious objections,” that is, find fault or ensnare in criticism. Dickinson used this word only once more, as a variant in “Whoever disenchants” (F1475A, J1451), a poem dated to 1878 .

Cynthia Wolff finds the poem’s most notable aspect to be “the speaker’s command over a supple series of verbal attitudes in her wooing of the ‘Caviler’ who has raised suspicions about her sincerity.” She observes that like other love poems, this one draws on Old and New Testament language, specifically from the conclusion of the Book of Proverbs, “the quintessential Old Testament description of a good wife, thereby providing the appropriately conclusive rebuke to the speaker’s doubting consort:”

Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her. … she is not afraid of the snow for her household. … She maketh herself coverings of tapestry.

(Proverbs 31:10-11, 21-22).

This language, Wolff asserts, becomes explicitly sexual and “moves into an attitude of frank invitation. … There is playfulness in this poem, but no coyness; and the bold blasphemy in the notion of Revelation is used in other love poems with the same sure tone of wonder and ecstasy.” Indeed!

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