Her smile was shaped like other smiles (F335A, J514)

Her smile was shaped like other smiles –
The Dimples ran along –
And still it hurt you, as some Bird
Did hoist herself, to sing,
Then recollect a Ball, she got –
And hold opon the Twig, –
Convulsive, while the Music
crashed –
Like Beads – among the Bog –

A happy lip – breaks sudden –
It does’nt state you how
It contemplated – smiling –
Just consummated – now –
But this one, wears it’s merriment
So patient – like a pain –
Fresh gilded – to elude the eyes
Unqualified, to scan –

Link to EDA manuscript. Originally in Packet XIV, Mixed Fasciles, ca. 1860-1862, Fascicle 12, Houghton Library – (77b, c). First published in Unpublished Poems (1935), 123, in part, as three quatrains. Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

As part of the “Sue cycle,” this poem details the destructive power of the beloved woman. The violence is disguised, however, in seemingly familiar smiles and dimples, a situation mirrored by the nearly perfect form of common meter (alternating iambic tetrameter and trimeter) but with wildly erratic rhymes. There are no rhymes, even slant one, in the first stanza, suggesting, perhaps, how out of sync the speaker feels with her female beloved.

Also notable here is the reversal of the bird imagery. Farr examines early poems in which Dickinson uses bird imagery to describe Sue and the friendship she wants to have with her. For example, in the early poem,“One Sister have I in our house” (F5A, J14) from 1858, which we discussed in this week’s post, Dickinson describes Sue

as a bird her nest,
Builded our heart among.

She did not sing as we did –
It was a different tune–
Herself to her a music
As Bumble bee of June.

Sue is a bird of a different stripe, singing a singular, even self-referential music, like the bumblebee, which Dickinson often associates with sexuality and pain (the sting).

By contrast, in “Her smile was shaped like other smiles,” the speaker is the bird, ready to sing her praises of the beloved’s smile, when it “recollect[s] a Ball, she got”–, that is, remembers that she was shot by a hunter’s gun, and grabs the twig “convulsive” while the music of her song and the hope of her bliss crashes around her head. This image recalls the first line of the Third Master letter discussed in a previous post:

If you saw a bullet hit a Bird – and he told you he was’nt shot – you might weep at his courtesy, but you would certainly doubt his word.

This imagery connects the speaker’s feelings for the beloved woman and the Master, though Farr argues that the renunciation each elicits from the poet is different. In the case of Sue, their passion “is forbidden as a type,” while the passion for the Master is forbidden because he is already taken, and union is postponed to the afterlife.  The presence of the bird connects both forms of renunciation with singing and poetry.


Farr, Judith. The Passion of Emily Dickinson. Harvard University Press, 2004, 160.

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