January 22-28: Poems from Fascicle 12


Dickinson's Writing Desk
Dickinson’s Writing Desk

Because we could not focus on all the poems in the fascicle and have already discussed several in earlier posts, we chose poems that exemplify Fascicle 12’s imagery of God and sound, and the ambivalence and agnosticism in relation to these motifs. Each poem, except perhaps “I taste a liquor never brewed –” questions the power of the divine, either in an abstract concept labeled immortality or in the being of God. “Many a phrase” stands out in this respect due to its lack of direct godlike imagery, but the last two lines may skirt the subject, especially in the context of this fascicle: “Say it again, Saxon! / Hush, only to me!” Saxon is usually associated with Dickinson’s Master Letters, and the identity of the Master could be taken to be God as well.

In terms of sound, “I got so I could hear his name –” and “Many a phrase has the English language –” both explore sound as an agent of “extasy,” love, fear, power, and perhaps even divine manifestations. Every poem also has a unique metric rhythm to it, especially when we take Dickinson’s own written line breaks into account.

“I taste a liquor never brewed -” starts the fascicle off, and hence colors the fascicle’s first impressions and initial thematic explorations. Perhaps this fascicle means to inebriate the reader, or transport the reader to another scale of space. It is worth thinking about the differences of scale in this fascicle as well–starting as small as bees and butterflies, ending with God and immortality.

Cristanne Miller dates Fascicle 12 from “early 1861” (sheet 1) to “early 1862” (sheet 2, on to sheet 8); “early” here is only in terms of the year, as the presence of the poem “One Year Ago – jots what?” indicates Dickinson was still working on it in April (as the date discussed in the poem is the anniversary of the Civil War). The Fascicle contains twenty-six poems, including some well known ones. Here is the list in the order Miller assigns them:

Sheet One

  • I taste a liquor never brewed–
  • Pine Bough/A feather from a Whippowil
  •  I lost a World –the other day!
  • I’ve heard an Organ talk, sometimes–
  • A transport one cannot contain
  • “Faith” is a fine invention

Sheet Two

  • I got so I could hear his name–
  • A single Screw of Flesh
  • A Weight with Needles on the pounds–

Sheet Three

  • Father–I bring thee–not myself–
  • Where Ships of Purple –gently toss–
  • This – is the land – the Sunset washes–
  • The Doomed –regard the Sunrise
  • Jesus! thy Crucifix
  • Did we Disobey Him?

Leaf Four

  • Unto Like Story– Trouble has enticed me–

Sheet Five

  • One Year ago–jots what?
  • It’s like the Light –
  • Alone, I cannot be–

Sheet Six

  • He put the Belt around my life –
  • The only Ghost I ever saw

Sheet Seven

  1. Doubt me! My Dim Companion!
  2. Many a phrase has the English language–

Sheet Eight

  • Of all the Sounds despatched abroad–
  • Her smile was shaped like other smiles–

The meaning of the Fascicles, of course, is a matter of interpretation. This one focuses on themes of religion and sound––or at least has a good range of poems containing God or godlike imagery and sonic qualities, both in meter and in imagery that could inform the readings of these poems.