“Kill your Balm – and it’s Odors” (F309, J238)

Kill your Balm – and it’s
Odors bless you –
Bare your Jessamine – to
the storm –
And she will fling her
maddest perfume –
Haply – your Summer night
to Charm –

Stab the Bird – that built
in your bosom –
Oh, could you catch her
last Refrain –
Bubble! “forgive” – “Some better” – Bubble!
“Carol for Him – when I
am gone”!

Link to EDA manuscript. Originally in Packet XIV, Mixed Fasciles, ca. 1860-1862. First published in Bolts of Melody (1945), 289. Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

This poem is an example of Dickinson’s use of long meter, quatrains of 9898 syllables that often rhyme abab, but where, as in this poem, the odd numbered lines use syllabic, assonantal or slant rhymes. Miller finds a similar form in John Greenleaf Whittier’s “A Memorial MAC,” from In War Time and Other Poems (1863), a volume that Susan Dickinson owned. Other Dickinson poems that use this stanza or slight variations on it are “Trudging to Eden, looking backward” (F1031) and “I am afraid to own a Body” (F1050).

This poem recommends committing a certain, perhaps necessary, violence to produce positive effects and takes it lead from botany. The Dickinson Lexicon defines “balm” as

a plant of the genus Amyris. Its leaves yield, when bruised, a strong aromatic scent; and from this plant is obtained the balm of Gilead,

a rare perfume used medicinally and mentioned in the Bible as signifying a universal cure. For example, at a time of crisis in Judea, the prophet Jeremiah asks, “is there no balm in Gilead?” (Jer. 8:22).

The prosody of this poem produces or enacts this violence with its many trochaic substitutions at the beginning of lines. Every line except line 3 begins with a foot that is stressed/unstressed (Su), substituting a trochee (Su) for an iamb (uS): “Kill your … Bare your … Haply … Stab the …Oh, could …Bubble! … Carol.”

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