December 17-23, 1862: Second Crossroads Collaboration

On Monday, December 10th, we journeyed down the Connecticut River Valley in a large yellow school bus with Steve Glazer and his 7th grade class from Crossroads Academy. Our destination was Amherst, Massachusetts, where we would celebrate Dickinson’s 188th birthday in her home town. This week, we describe that visit, explore some children who were crucial in Dickinson’s life, and admire more of the students’ projects from their portfolios on Dickinson.

This Week in History
This Week in Biography
This Week's Poems
This Week's Reflection – Eliot Cardinaux
Emily Dickinson by Crossroads student, 2019

Dickinson Day!

On December 10th, we journeyed down the Connecticut River Valley in a large yellow school bus to Amherst, Massachusetts, to celebrate Dickinson’s birthday in her home town. It was a bright, cold day and, as we like to say in the “Upper Valley,” “at least it wasn’t snowing!”

The students in Steve Glazer’s 7th grade class from Crossroads Academy, in Lyme, New Hampshire, were restless with anticipation. As the Pioneer Valley opened up and flattened out, dotted with farms and old tobacco drying sheds, Steve tried to focus the students’ attention with his characteristic call and response: “Where was Emily Dickinson born?” he called through cupped hands to be heard over the rattling bus. “In Amherst, Massachusetts,” the children called back. “What year?” – “In 1830” and so on.

We stopped first at Special Collections in the basement of the Frost Library at Amherst College. Archivist Michael Kelly had a stunning display of objects and manuscripts laid out for us, including a lock of Dickinson’s hair, which is surprisingly ruddy. He showed us manuscripts of poems from early, middle and late in Dickinson’s writing career to illustrate the palpable changes in her handwriting. He was surprised and impressed when he held up the manuscript of a poem, announced its first line and, as if on cue, the entire class recited the poem with one voice. “I see I can up my game with this group,” he responded.

In Amherst College Special Collections
In Amherst College Special Collections, 2018

We then walked over to the Homestead for tours of the house and Dickinson’s bedroom. Perhaps the highlight of the day occurred next door at the Evergreens, where one of the students played her original piano composition inspired by the poem, “ ‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers.” The Museum graciously allowed her to use the Evergreen’s Steinway and we all crowded into Sue and Austin’s parlor to hear it. You can see a video of this performance and more of the students’ projects in the Poems section of this week’s post.

West Cemetery with Crossroads 7th graders, 2018

West Cemetery with Crossroads students, 2019

Then, back to the Homestead where students recited the poems they had memorized in the double parlor with the doors thrown open, under the watchful eyes of the Dickinson children’s group portrait. And, finally, a quiet walk through West Cemetery, flooded with winter afternoon light, to the Dickinson family plot, where we surrounded Dickinson’s gravestone and sang, “This is my letter to the World.” I think, I hope, Emily was listening.

“The Reverent Faith of Childhood”

Springfield Republican, December 20, 1862

Review of the Week, page 1
“Disappointment and disaster cover the week’s history. The march to Richmond by any of Fredericksburg has begun and ended. Our army is in camp again on the north side of the Rappahannock, but weaker by the loss of fifteen thousand men and by the consciousness that it has failed in one of its greatest efforts.”

The National Currency System—Its Advantages to New England, page 2
“[A currency] is designed as a medium of exchange to facilitate the business intercourse [of the people], enabling them to buy and sell, and to receive and make payments. The most indispensable qualities for this medium are, that it should be simple, uniform, and of undoubted value. The local paper currencies of the United States have not these qualities.”

The Reconstruction Puzzle, page 4
“The true way to settle the question as to how the South shall be got back into the Union is to destroy the rebel armies. When the rebellion is ‘crushed out,’ the theoretical difficulties of the problem will disappear. But the theoretical difficulties have very little reality to them. They are chiefly got up by those ingenious amateurs in state craft who think in some way to circumvent the stubborn facts of the situation and get rid of the hard necessity of fighting down the rebellion. The territorial lines, the constitutions and laws of the states in rebellion still exist. South Carolina is still a state, and her state officers elected legally are her rightful state authorities. The act of secession is null and void, and all the acts connected with it—if we can make it so by success in the war.”

Bransby Williams (1870-1961) British comic actor who played Dickens's Mr. Gradgrind
Bransby Williams (1870-1961) British comic actor who played Dickens's Mr. Gradgrind

Books, Authors, and Arts, page 6
“This is a literal age. While seeking to master material forces, they have well-nigh mastered us, leading us to rest content with physical facts, instead of regarding them as the lowest and coarsest forms of subtle spiritual truth. We have lost the reverent faith of childhood; we are like raw schoolboys, who, knowing a little, fancy they know all. Our juvenile libraries contain no fabulous legends or fairy tales; they seem to have been selected by clerical Gradgrinds and offer only ligneous lessons and ferruginous facts.”

Hampshire Gazette, December 23, 1862

Poetry, page 1 [Bayard Taylor (1825-1878) an American poet, literary critic, translator, travel author and diplomat.]

Poem by Bayard Taylor

A New Cabinet, page 2
“The entire cabinet of President Lincoln, with the exception of Secretary Stanton, is said to have resigned. It seems well established that Secretary Seward has resigned the position of Secretary of State, and his son that of assistant secretary. These statements will take the country by surprise, as there had been no previously well-founded rumors of any proposed changes in the cabinet.”

Atlantic Monthly, December 1862

from Lyrics of the Street (Part III) by Julia Ward Howe [see earlier parts of the series]

The Charitable Visitor.

She carries no flag of fashion, her clothes are but passing plain,

Though she comes from a city palace all jubilant with her reign.
She threads a bewildering alley, with ashes and dust thrown out,
And fighting and cursing children, who mock as she moves about.

Why walk you this way, my lady, in the snow and slippery ice?
These are not the shrines of virtue, — here misery lives, and vice:
Rum helps the heart of starvation to a courage bold and bad;
And women are loud and brawling, while men sit maudlin and mad.

I see in the corner yonder the boy with the broken arm,
And the mother whose blind wrath did it, strange guardian from childish harm.
That face will grow bright at your coming, but your steward might come as well,
Or better the Sunday teacher that helped him to read and spell. …

Harper’s Monthly, December 1862

Love by Mishap, page 47 [by Edward Howard House]
“There is nothing in the world like the beautiful devotion of a woman to the sick. She feels no toil, nor pain, nor timid terrors. If she has grief, she hides it, lest it add one feather’s weight to the afflictions of her charge. Her courage rises as her hopes recede. The grim spectre that hovers and threatens may appall her, but she gives no sign. Her eye is clear and gentle; her voice soft and sweet as the breath of summer; her touch so tender that the simplest kindly office soothes like a caress. The dawn of her smile chases away suffering as light dispels the mists of the universe. In her weakness she is stronger than the strong.”

“This Slew all but Him”

Besides the neighborhood urchins, with whom (as we learned in the earlier post on Children) Emily Dickinson was reputedly a popular figure, she had a few young people in her daily world. Notably, the three children of Sue and Austin, who proved to be crucial to her life, writing, and reputation.

Edward (Ned) Dickinson (1861-1898)
Edward (Ned) Dickinson (1861-1898)

The eldest of these was Edward, called “Ned.” He was a difficult child who was plagued with illness and eventually became a librarian at Amherst College, but died at age 37 of heart problems. Shortly after he was born, Dickinson sent this arch poem to Susan:

Is it true, dear Sue?
Are there two?
I should'nt like to come
For fear of joggling Him!
If you could shut him up
In a Coffee Cup,
Or tie him to a pin
Till I got in –
Or make him fast
To "Toby's" fist –
Hist! Whist! I'd come! (F189, J218)

But by early March 1866, Dickinson wrote to her friend Elizabeth Holland:

We do not always know the source of the smile that flows to us. Ned tells that the Clock purrs and the Kitten ticks. He inherits his Uncle Emily’s ardor for the lie (L315).

Despite Dickinson’s early fears of being displaced in Susan’s affections, she and nephew Ned became cheerful companions, sharing a love of words. Ned’s sister Martha recalled, in her soft-focus memoir:

His love of books kept him near her, and his sense of humor delighted her. He saved all his funniest stories, his gift of mimicry, his power of offhand description for her; and if his Aunt Lavinia went to a neighbor’s for an evening chat, Ned was usually to be found in front of the fire with his Aunt Emily, perched on the edge of a stiff-backed chair, the light of the flames flickering over her white dress, her hands crossed for permanence, but in easy position for flight should their talk be broken by an unwelcome knock.

Martha Dickinson later Bianchi (1866-1943)
Martha Dickinson later Bianchi (1866-1943)

Martha, called “Mattie” by her intimates, was the family memoirist, a poet and an early editor of Dickinson’s works. She was the middle child of Susan and Austin. In a letter to Susan away on holiday in Europe, Aunt Emily described her as “stern and lovely–literary they tell me–a graduate of Mother Goose and otherwise ambitious’” (L333, autumn 1869). Caught in the middle of her parents’ tumultuous relationship, Mattie was a staunch supporter of her mother. After her own failed marriage to an erstwhile “count” Bianchi and her mother’s death, Martha resided at the Evergreens and in 1913 began publishing Dickinson’s poetry and her reminiscences of Dickinson and the family. She eventually published eight volumes of Dickinson’s writings.

Although scholars have sharply criticized her editing of the poems and her sentimentalized recollections, which contributed to the myth of Dickinson as a woman in white who renounced the world because of frustrated love, Bianchi was the first editor to try to faithfully reproduce Dickinson’s original lineation as it appeared in the manuscripts. As Jonathan Morse notes in his helpful essay on the complicated publication history of Dickinson’s work, Bianchi was “ahead of her time” in this regard. The 1924 Complete Poems, which she edited, though in no way “complete,” brought more of Dickinson’s poetry into the world than ever before.

Thomas Gilbert (Gib) Dickinson (1875-1883). Todd-Bingham Picture Collection, Manuscripts and
Thomas Gilbert (Gib) Dickinson (1875-1883). Todd-Bingham Picture Collection, Manuscripts and

Last but not least is the third child of Susan and Austin, Thomas Gilbert, called “Gib” by the family. Born to his parents in their middle years and much younger than his siblings, Gib was adored by all, especially his aunt. Biographer Alfred Habegger recounts this story about them:

Once, when little Gilbert was in kindergarten and boasted about a beautiful white calf that proved to be imaginary, his teacher reprimanded him for the sin of lying and made him cry. Sue tried to convince the benighted woman of the validity of the imagination, but Aunt Emily, as her niece [Martha Bianchi] recalled, was too indignant for reasoning and “besought them one and all to come to her, she would show them! The white calf was grazing up in her attic at that very moment!” A note she drafted for the wounded boy to take to his teacher had a poem on “The vanity . . . / Of Industry and Morals” (Fr1547B) and pointedly contrasted the punitive Jonathan Edwards with Jesus.

When Gib, barely 8 years old, died suddenly from typhoid fever, Dickinson reportedly rushed over to the Evergreens to be with the family, the first time she had visited there in fifteen years! She wrote to Elizabeth Holland about this death ( L873, late 1883) and wrote several poems and letters of condolence to Susan about Gib (see L886, F1624, F1666), one which asserted:

Some Arrows slay but whom they strike –
But this slew all but him …  (F1666)

Gib’s death deeply affected the family and apparently precipitated Austin’s affair with the young and alluring Mable Loomis Todd, who, with Thomas Higginson, was the first editor of Dickinson’s poetry. Their affair caused further divisions and enmity among the already hostile parties.

Although Dickinson would suffer other losses around this time—the death of her mother and Judge Otis Lord, a man whom she loved (but refused his offer of marriage)—it was Gib’s death that, some say, contributed to her final illness. There is nothing like the death of a child to reinforce the blighting existence of frost as perennial threat to the youth and innocence of the earthly garden.

Read this week's poems

Credit: Emily Dickinson Museum


Eliot Cardinaux

Have you ever come across an ED poem about Disillusionment? Anxiety? Reality? About how words themselves can be affected by life’s challenges, at least within us, as we grow into and out of and recede from them?

I wonder because her ideals were so wrapped up in her status as a woman at that time, there’s often a bite to what she says.

I was thinking of the way in which words can be struggled with, the way meanings wrap around their things, in language and without, how certain words can produce in us, personally, the need to grapple with how we live, the questions they provoke in us.

While their letters remain the same, each of these words, like tattoos, reel in the years or cause us to, in both senses of the word. A tattoo can change its meanings over time, acquire new ones, and shed those that life has caused us to question, their validity.

A tattoo of a gull caught by a fishing hook might be a good analogy, because to reel, to be struck, for example, like an eagle in flight by a crow, is to lose all sense of balance, and yet fishing for something down below the surface, we can never possess it — whatever mystery that fish holds, the weight of its bite, the force of its pull — without reeling it in. Some violence there, perhaps, in pursuit of the unknown.

Some thoughts on a cold, wet Monday as the snow thaws.

This ― Illusion― Meant

in the loop ― and out
it’s nothing ― personal if
you stay ― calm ― you
stay ― an anxious ― wreck

did you want me ― to scorn
the ear ― did you need
my throat ― to sing
did you want me ― here

to live ― in an unknown
word ― meanings coil ― around
their things ― havoc rings ― my head
a hydra’s ― lizard’s tail ― expendable

wrap ― your tongue ― around
a dash ― in the way ― I need you
there ― this way ― to go
did you want me ― dead

adapting ― hand in
hand ― with blindness
to the drug ― is the score
the truth ― that ― malleable

out the loop ― and in
it’s nothing ― special
you stay ― calm ― to
stay ― an anxious ― wreck


bio: Eliot Cardinaux
Poet, Pianist, Multimedia Artist


Atlantic Monthly, December 1862
Harper's Monthly, December 1862
Hampshire Gazette, 
December 23, 1862
Springfield Republican, December 20, 1862


Bianchi, Martha Dickinson. Emily Dickinson Face to Face: Unpublished Letters with Notes and Reminiscences by Her Niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1932, 169.

Habegger, Alfred. My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson New York: Random House, 2001, 548.

Morse, Jonathan. “Bibliographical Essay.” A Historical Guide to Emily Dickinson. Ed. Vivian Pollak .New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 255-83, 258-60.

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August 27-September 2, 1862: Home

This week in 1862 the Springfield Republican published an article under the eye-catching title “Immigration to Be Encouraged.” Given our present-day conflicts about immigration and the ongoing tragedy of separating immigrant parents and children, we decided to focus this week on the image of “home” in Dickinson’s life, thinking and writing, and what it means to be or feel homeless.

This Week in History
This Week in Biography
This Week's Poems
This Week's Reflection – Eliot Cardinaux

This week in 1862 the Springfield Republican published an article under the eye-catching title “Immigration to Be Encouraged.” This was rather surprising in a largely homogenous white and Protestant nation, which saw anti-immigrant riots in the 1840s and 1850s, as well as the rise of the Know-Nothing Party, whose dominant issue was restricting immigration. But apparently,

almost every farming town, and especially in the West, has exhausted all its available labor and the cry is for more men to cultivate the fields.

Given our present-day conflicts about immigration and the ongoing tragedy of separating immigrant parents and children, we decided to focus this week on the image of “home” in Dickinson’s life, thinking and writing, and what it means to be or feel homeless.

Emblem of the Know Nothing Party 1844-1860
Emblem of the Know Nothing Party 1844-1860

Several prominent literary scholars and psychologists—Gaston Bachelard, Kenneth Burke, Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson to name a few—have explored what Jean McClure Mudge calls “the reverberatory power of this central symbol” of home in our culture and literature. For psychologist Erikson, “the optimum sense of identity is to possess a feeling of at homeness.” In 1975, Mudge applied some of their insights to Dickinson’s extensive use of this image and found that it

is perhaps the most penetrating and comprehensive figure she employs, [emerging] as a unique and unifying touchstone to several facets of the poet’s consciousness.

Mudge also sees a “universality” in Dickinson’s “situation, which was sometimes, if not gnawingly, to feel out-of-place as woman and writer, in short, homeless.” Still, Mudge notes how frequently other writers of the time—Hawthorne and Melville, for example—expressed a similar feeling, and how “it seems to be the hallmark of our own day.” By exploring Dickinson’s many homes and houses—the house of nature, the body, the mind, poetry, memory, God—and their layered associations, we might illuminate our own fraught experiences of home and away.

“Praesidium et Dulce Decus”

Springfield Republican, August 30, 2018

Progress of the War, page 1
“The withdrawal of Gen. McClellan’s army from the James, while our army in eastern Virginia was on the banks of the Rapids involved great and obvious hazards. It gave the rebel leaders the best opportunity they could desire to throw their entire force against the smallest division of our army and annihilate before the army from the James could arrive to the rescue, and they were not slow to see and to seize their opportunity. But this had been foreseen and provided against as fully as could be. Gen. Pope made a quick and unmolested retreat from the Rapids to the Rappahannock, where he could make a better defense against the vastly superior members.”

Immigration to Be Encouraged, page 2
“The recent letter of Secretary Seward addressed to J.N. Gamble of Cincinnati, in which the subject of aid in our farming and industrial pursuits from foreign laborers is presented, is the key-note to a matter of vast and growing importance in our country, especially the West. The letter was in reply to a suggestion of Mr. Gamble that special efforts should be made to make up for a deficiency in laborers by encouraging immigration. We are glad that the foresight of our secretary anticipated the need, for almost every farming town, and especially in the West, has exhausted all its available labor and the cry is for more men to cultivate the fields.”

Feminine Advisers, page 6
“It is a wonderful advantage to a man, in every pursuit or avocation, to secure an adviser in a sensible woman. In woman there is at once a subtle delicacy of tact, and a plain soundness of judgment, which are rarely combined to an equal degree in man. A woman, if she really be your friend, will have a sensitive regard for your character, honor, repute. Female friendship is to man, ‘praesidium et dulce decus’—bulwark, sweetener, ornament of his existence. To his mental culture it is invaluable; without it all his knowledge of books will never give him knowledge of the world.”

Hampshire Gazette, September 2, 1862

Curious Case of Superstition, page 1
“A widow lady in Paris, aged about sixty-three, was accustomed to spend several hours every day before the altar dedicated to St. Paul in a neighboring church. Some villains, observing her extreme weakness, resolved, as she was known to be very rich, to share her wealth. One of them accordingly concealed himself between the carved work of the altar, and when no person but the old lady was there, he contrived to throw a letter right before her. She took it up, supposing it to be a miracle. In this she was more confirmed when she saw it signed ‘Paul, the Apostle,’ expressing the satisfaction he received by her prayers addressed to him, when so many newly canonized saints engrossed the devotion of the world and robbed the primitive saints of their wonted adoration.”

A Nice Girl, page 1
“There is nothing half so sweet in life, half so beautiful, or delightful, or so lovable as a ‘nice girl.’ Not a pretty, or a dashing, or an elegant girl, but a nice girl. One of those lovely, lively, good-tempered, good-hearted, sweet-faced, amiable, neat, natty, domestic creatures met within the sphere of home, diffusing around the domestic hearth the influence of her goodness, like the essence of sweet flowers.”

Atlantic Monthly, August 1862

The New Gymnastics, page 129 by Dr. Dio Lewis (1823-1886)
“The common remark, that parents are too much absorbed in the accomplishments of their daughters to give any attention to their health, is absurd. Mothers know that the happiness of their girls, as well as the character of their settlement in life turns more upon health and exuberance of spirits than upon French and music. To suppose that, while thousands are freely given for their accomplishments, hundreds would be refused for bodily health and bloom, is to doubt the parents’ sanity.

“Home, Sweet Home!”

Of all the poets in an age that idealized home and associated women with domestic space, Dickinson is probably the one most closely associated with a house and home. Given that at some point in the 1860s, she started not leaving the Homestead, the gracious house her grandfather built and her father expanded and moved the family back into in 1855 after being forced to leave for a humiliating period of fifteen years. “Home” was a pervasive cultural icon of this period of growing industrialization and civil conflict. So redolent of peace and security that, according to Patrick Browne, popular songs like “Home, Sweet Home!” were banned in the Union Army camps because they incited desertions. To this day, and thanks to the loving curation of the Homestead’s buildings and grounds (pictured above), Dickinson is closely associated with this place, the literal house where she wrote all but a few of her poems and many of her letters.

But “home” was also a fraught space for Dickinson. She mentioned “emigrant” twice in her letters, both times in relation to the Homestead, suggesting that she experienced being a kind of immigrant at her home. In a letter to her dear friend Elizabeth Holland written in January 1856, Dickinson describes the move from the family’s Pleasant Street home to the Homestead, all of a block and a half away, in humorous terms with a cutting edge:

It is a kind of gone-to-Kansas feeling, and if I sat in a long wagon, with my family tied behind, I should suppose without doubt I was a party of emigrants!
They say that "home is where the heart is." I think it is where the house is, and the adjacent buildings (L 182).

According to Patricia Thompson-Rizzo, who does a thorough reading of this complicated letter, Dickinson may be alluding to the sentiments if not the words of John Greenleaf Whittier's 1854 poem, "Song of the Kansas Emigrants,” which also contains the resonant term “Homestead:”

We cross the prairies, as of old
Our fathers crossed the sea;
To make the West as they the East
The Homestead of the Free.

At the time of this move, Dickinson’s father Edward was a congressman and proponent of the manifest destiny embodied in the immigration to Kansas, also known as “Bloody Kansas,” the site of bitter controversy and strife over the legality of slavery. Thompson-Rizzo concludes:

Reluctantly dragged to the neoclassically refurbished Homestead, Dickinson exposes the myth [of manifest destiny] so keenly lived by her father,” thus “providing an overt, albeit imaginative critique of the expansionist aims underlying the cult of domesticity as recently deconstructed by Amy Kaplan.

The second mention of emigrants comes in a June 1869 letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson:

You noticed my dwelling alone -To an Emigrant, Country is idle except it be his own (L330).

Dickinson did not dwell “alone,” but was very much a part of her family's life. In some ways, though, Dickinson still felt like an immigrant in her father’s house or, at least, wanted Higginson to believe so. She recognized and sympathized with the emigrant’s sense of loss and “idleness” in a strange land.

Over her life, Dickinson made many more striking assertions about her home and the concept of home especially in her letters. For example, in 1851 she wrote to her brother Austin, away at school, about the Dickinsons’ second home on Pleasant Street (which was razed): “Home is a holy thing” (L59). In 1870, she wrote to a friend congratulating him on his marriage, saying: “Home is the definition of God” (L355). In 1875, she wrote to Maria Whitney: “Consciousness is the only home of which we now know. That sunny adverb had been enough were it not foreclosed” (L591). As Jean Mudge remarks, enclosures like houses and bodies and coffins were never far in Dickinson’s world from “closures,” endings, separations, death. Perhaps most famously, in 1876, Dickinson sent this resonant declaration to Thomas Higginson:

Nature is a Haunted House – but Art – a House that tries to be haunted (L459a).

Homes and houses abound in the poetry as well. One Dickinson’s speaker declares, “I dwell “in Possibility – / A fairer House than Prose –” (F466A, J657) and another tells how she is exploring “Vesuvius at Home” (F1691A, J1705).

Scholars who work on Dickinson’s images of home and houses approach them from different directions: as an index of her attitude towards space and her body, as forms of containment, as structuring images, as “a sheltering framework,” as a metaphor for “breaking down the boundaries of consciousness.” All link her physical experiences of houses with her metaphysical concerns, which raises her poetry of domestic space to existential heights. As J. Brooks Bouson explains it, the house image

explores her Chinese-box view of reality: the soul or the mind of the poet is in the body which dwells in a house (in Amherst). That house, in turn, is contiguous to nature's house which borders on the heavenly home. Her special complication in considering this topic is that Dickinson uses the image in a paradoxical sense: that which is finite is replete with the infinite.

This is what Dickinson calls her “Compound Vision -/ Light enabling Light – The Finite furnished with the Infinite” (F830A, J906). Exploring these boundaries, Dickinson “is paradoxically both released and confined in safety or as a prisoner.” The downside to this is that she can never achieve a resolution or synthesis

but only unresolved paradox as she uses her art to define the space she occupies and to bring into focus different planes of reality which are simultaneously remote and near.

Read this week's poems

Credit: Emily Dickinson Museum


Eliot Cardinaux

Passing, Exaltation, Pastorale


That wood in the wind clatters
slowly as laughter yawns
in the belly of weeping,

that the pain splits the earth
in her laughing,
the same two masks

which pale as noon marble
into sunset, crowding
the dome with shadow,

that heap in her folds,
to measure like wings, and
swallow a dream between.


On nature a dying love is placed;
she melts over the pines,
her shadow waxen.

An emblem of guilt
we embrace,
he invented the mind.

Like sinew, her wings’ acting
comfort the will
demands graces,

like thistle below a sign,
somewhere an action
we keep still.


Odd, how her soft-
spoken, uncanny
twin and the wicked

tresses dye in
the midday sun;
it bleaches dust on

too — she’s
gone to market, slown
down like

cartwheels in
a gloaming

Today I was surprised and very excited to receive an email from the poet and scholar Ivy Schweitzer that my recent poems, “Passing, Exaltation, Pastorale,” were published as this week’s reflection on White Heat, an online Dartmouth publication about Emily Dickinson.
Since I had sent the poems but wasn’t anticipating them being published on such short notice, I decided to write a prose reflection in addition to the verse she published. The topic of this week’s entry on White Heat is “Home.” Since, as you will see, the events that correlate on this week in 1862 pertain to immigration, and Ivy decided to focus on homelessness, I though I’d share this.
The rents are rising. Homelessness is on the rise as a statistic. Or I might be wrong, but I notice myself more aware of my privilege every time I walk to the store, and of the precariousness of that position in society: that of having a roof over one’s head. As I settle into a new living situation (I’ve been in Western Massachusetts, the town over from Dickinson's hometown of Amherst, for just over a month), I have felt the contention of the forces of capitalism at its decay quite potently, to put it mildly. Not having bus fare. Having to work odd jobs to scrape by. These are not news to me. But all around me I see people struggling. From the man who sleeps out back of the Amherst bookstore where I work, who asked  to put in the good word. He was trying. To the hobos that lay under the bridge a block from my house in Northampton. I often stop off with a bottle of water or a nip, and hand them a couple of cigarettes. I can hardly afford it.
The fact that helping people sustain basic needs puts me in jeopardy is a good thing because it teaches me the lesson of what it means to go without. In an age where those in power are taking everything for themselves, including the rights of citizens to their own citizenship, it is empowering to learn how to survive with the bare minimum, and I think it deepens the empathy I have for people who are living this as a constant, often not by choice. As we near the third decade of what was once a new century, I find it poised within me to stand guard over people who have less because I know how it feels. 
I just wanted to share that in terms of what this is teaching me; I think I have a long way to go, but that accepting this life has taught me that I’m not alone.
Enjoy the poems, peruse the blog (Ivy has put together a great project on a phenomenal poet), and think a little on others. It will do you good.

Bio: Eliot Cardinaux
Poet, Pianist, Multimedia Artist


Mudge, Jean McClure. Emily Dickinson and the Image of Home. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1975, xvii-xviii, 1, 13.

Atlantic Monthly, August 1862

Hampshire Gazette, September 2, 1862

Springfield Republican, August 30, 1862


Browne, Patrick. “'Auld Lang Syne’ Banned.” Historical Digression. January 2, 2011.

Bouson, J. Brooks. “Emily Dickinson and the Riddle of Containment.” Emily Dickinson Bulletin 31 (1977), 33-35.

Mudge, Jean McClure. Emily Dickinson and the Image of Home. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1975, 6-7.

Thompson-Rizzo, Patricia. “Gone-to-Kansas: A Reading of Dickinson's L182.” RSA Journal 14, 2003: 17-35, 21-22.

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February 12-18, 1862: Entitle

This week, we explore the importance of naming. Dickinson’s own conception of identification was as unconventional as the rest of her—she sneered at her era’s narrow definition of womanhood and rarely if ever gave titles to her poems. Much of her poetry in 1862 ruminates on titles, self-naming and self-possession. What exactly was her relationship to naming, and how did it influence her life and her writing?

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The Power of Naming

What does it take for a person to be named a person? What did it take for a woman in rural New England in the second half of the nineteenth century to be named and name herself a person worthy of regard and respect? Much less a poet?

It is, perhaps, telling that in her first letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Dickinson did not sign her name but included it on a separate card in its own envelop. Under the religious and gender conventions of Dickinson’s day, women became worthy if they made a declaration of faith in God, married a man (which involved taking his name), had and raised children, bore up humbly under burdens and sacrifices, and had a “good” (that is, willing) death.

Dickinson sneered at this narrow definition of womanhood, dismissing it as “dimity convictions” (dimity was a sheer cotton fabric used to make curtains) in a poem Franklin dates to 1863:

What Soft – Cherubic Creatures -
These Gentlewomen are -
One would as soon assault
 a Plush -
Or violate a Star -

Such Dimity Convictions -
A Horror so refined
Of freckled Human Nature -
Of Deity – Ashamed -

It's such a common – Glory -
A Fisherman's – Degree -
Redemption – Brittle Lady -
Be so – ashamed of Thee – (F675A, J401)

For Dickinson, personhood was bound up with womanhood, sainthood and poethood, and involved a different kind of “degree.” In the poem above, she calls it “A Fisherman’s – Degree,” a qualification linked to the messy “freckled” realities of the laboring class and also to a proselytizing Jesus who would make his disciples “fishers of men.” In many poems from 1862, Dickinson’s speakers refer to degrees of royalty, self-sovereignty and spiritual entitlement, as well as self-naming and self-possession.

Dickinson’s Webster’s Dictionary defined “title” as a “right” in many spheres, such as law, society, and literature. Titles as “an appellation of dignity, distinction or pre-eminence” run counter to an American democratic spirit. Benjamin Franklin, Tom Paine and Thomas Jefferson all fiercely rejected European distinctions of rank, social hierarchy, and inherited position, though Dickinson’s father and her brother Austin after him were both known informally as the “Squire” of Amherst. Titles, entitlement, and power for Dickinson are entangled with complex and sometimes ambivalent feelings.

In the literary sphere, titles denote the names of works and authors; it is telling that Dickinson rarely if ever gave titles to her poems. In Dickinson’s Webster’s, both "title" and "entitle" define literary distinction through the daunting representative of the patriarchal poetic tradition, John Milton. The second definition of “entitle” as “to superscribe or prefix” continues:

Hence as titles are evidences of claim or property, to give a claim to; to give a right to demand or receive. The labor of the servant entitles him to his wages. Milton is entitled to fame. Our best services do not entitle us to heaven.

The fifth definition of “title” is “A name; an appellation,” and offers an example from Milton that makes the opposite claim of distinction in reference to women:

“Ill worthy I such title should belong / To me transgressor. ”– Milton.

This is Eve speaking, hesitant to accept the title of “Mother of all Mankind,” because she fears she has ensnared Adam in the temptation and fall (Paradise Lost Bk 11, 163-64.) Even if Dickinson did not consult her Webster’s for these definitions, she knew Paradise Lost and would have been well aware, through religious teachings, of the original opprobrium attached through Eve to women.

For the theme of entitle, we take our cue from a group of letters Dickinson wrote to her friend Samuel Bowles, who was absent on a health-restoring trip to Europe. In one of these letters (L 250) she encloses the touchstone poem “Title divine – is mine!” (F194A and B, J 1072) with this comment:

Here's – what I had to ‘tell you’ –.

We will discuss this poem, and its variants, in more detail in the selection of poems. It contains a cluster of images that recur in poems during this period, exploring issues of and attitudes towards entitlement and power.

“True womanhood” = “good Union woman”


The Springfield Republican happily reports that England and France will not intervene in the war, once the news of the latest victories reach them. If they do come to the aid of the Confederacy, the columnist says, they are not true allies of the United States.

Another column ponders using war loans to pay for the Civil War. It cites England’s four billion-dollar debt, taken on years ago to wage war against France, to justify using foreign money to pay for a war that would essentially put the United States back together.


Springfield Republican, February 15, 1862:
Review of the Week. This week’s review takes up nearly three columns and discusses the “Progress of the War,” chronicling the preparations, battles, and other small happenings related to the Civil War from all over the country.

Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), General and 18th president

Among the highlights are reports of General Ulysses S. Grant’s capture of Fort Henry on February 6, the arrest of Union General Stone (and other civilians) on the grounds of treason and collusion with the enemy, and the sense of hopelessness among the rebel forces, covered constantly in the North’s newspapers.

Charles P. Stone (1824-1887)

Grant’s capture of Fort Henry will soon be followed up by reports on the pivotal capture of Fort Donelson on February 16. These last two successes of his campaign in Kentucky and Tennessee definitively captured both states for the Union, and also earned Grant the nickname “Unconditional Surrender.”

Fresh Gossip of Books, Authors, Art, and Artists: An anonymous columnist relates the latest in titles ready to be released—as soon as the War dies down. The author says some famous authors are set to release both heavily-anticipated sequels and new books, and even reveals some plot points and details about a few of them.

Augusta Jane Evans, the controversial Southern writer, is one such author.

Augusta Jane Evans Wilson (1835-1909)

Her novel Beulah became popular during the Civil War, and this article hints at the release of her next book, Macaria, but also questions Evans’ character. The article aligns “true womanhood” with being a “good Union woman,” but also concedes that as long as Evans stands behind her beliefs and

draws a line between her northern friends and the wicked “invaders,”

she remains a respectable woman and writer.

On Emancipation. Various columns this week focus on “The Emancipation Question” from different viewpoints. “Emancipation and its Effects” is the last of these articles written by a “gentleman from the eastern part of Massachusetts” who will publish all his columns in pamphlet form. It summarizes the abolitionist argument, stating that the North has much more to gain than lose by emancipating all slaves in the Confederacy, and that–contrary to popular belief of the time—freed people of color are harmless, capable, and ready to take on freedom.

“A Promiscuous Rampage” by a few anonymous writers attacks the government for being too forgiving to the Confederate states and border states, and for not aiming to completely subjugate the South and abolish slavery in every part of the country before declaring a restored Union—if there could ever be one.

“Taking Care of the ‘Contraband’” gives some updates on how the North aims to help freed slaves who come from the South. Some states have constructed living spaces with schools and churches; instructions on how to donate clothing are at the end of the column.

A strange three sentence long column appears on the corner of page 2, describing what Ralph Waldo Emerson thinks of the war. With no author or title, we cannot be sure who wrote it.

Atlantic Monthly, February 15, 1862:
Battle Hymn of the Republic.Julia Ward Howe’s famous poem-song makes its debut in this month’s Atlantic. The piece raised morale and became wildly popular in the North, and remains an important influence on poetry, song, and pop culture to this day. Originally taken as a patriotic song for the North, it now acts as a general cry of loyalty, whether in the United States or abroad. The “hymn” uses long lines, each stanza containing three 15-syllable lines in iambic rhythm followed by a 6-syllable refrain in a trochaic rhythm, and a very regular rhyme scheme: aaab, cccb, dddb, eeeb. These elements give the impression of a marching army, straight lines and perfect timing.

A poem titled “Snow” paints a vivid picture of a wintry nature scene, specifically focusing on how snow changes the landscape. Likewise, the poem “Midwinter” watches the silent invasion of a snowfall. This poem’s stanzas vary in length and in meter, but all lines are almost consistently octosyllabic, and are in couplet pairs. The subtly varying feet disrupt the normal flow of the piece that the first stanza establishes with the traditional (but still cut short!) iambic tetrameter, as if seasons are slowly shifting and a snowstorm moves in to take over from warm fall weather.

“At Port Royal” by John Greenleaf Whittier speaks in the voice of “the Negro Boatmen,” glorifying the black population soon to unite and rise to freedom, as “De Lord” intended. Last week, we highlighted this poem, reprinted in the Hampshire Gazette, as an example of the ballad measure. The use of black vernacular by a white author plays into “the Emancipation Question”–Whittier was an outspoken abolitionist and used poetry to advocate for the cause. As discussed last week, this poem uses extremely regular and traditional metric forms: 12 quatrains, with abab rhyme schemes in each stanza, and a refrain. Metrically, the poem is very similar to “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Such a stately meter used with black vernacular language reinforces what the poem aims to do: elevate the black speaker, his cause of freedom, his personhood, to show that emancipation is not only possible but the only moral way to proceed.

A final poem titled “Ease of Work” is about the struggle all authors feel in living up to their best work, even when what they produce surpasses the expectations of their readers.

Articles on Italian landscape art and natural history also appear this month. Dickinson may have had some interest in them, because the natural sciences were considered appropriate for women, and as a child, she worked on multiple herbariums like many other young girls at the time.

“Samuel Bowles and Power”

One of Emily Dickinson’s main correspondents during this period was  Samuel Bowles, editor of the Springfield Republican.

Samuel Bowles (1826-1878)

Dickinson wrote a cluster of letters to Bowles, which Thomas Johnson dates to “early 1862.” Alfred Habegger, in My Wars Are Laid Away in Books, dates them to late 1861, and Jay Leyda, in The Years and Hours of Emily Dickinson, dates each of them sporadically, and also adds Letter 229, which the other scholars date to February 1861. For simplicity’s sake, and to explore the relationship between Dickinson and Bowles in one place, we present all the letters in a group here.

In Letter 249 Dickinson apologizes for “amazing” Bowles’ “kindness,” perhaps meaning she overstepped a boundary in a previous interaction or correspondence. This letter also contains a poem:

[Sh]ould you but fail
[at] – Sea -
[In] sight of me -
[Or] doomed lie -
[Ne]xt Sun – to die -
[O]r rap – at Paradise -
unheard -
I’d harass God
until he let [you]
Emily.    (F275A)

Bowles traveled by ship to Europe, and Dickinson wishes him well in this letter. The “you” in the poem is evidently very important to the speaker, as she would “harass God” to give her friend eternal peace should his ship go down.

Letter 250 contains a version of “Title divine – is mine!” a poem Dickinson also sent to Susan Dickinson in a much more contained form around 1865. After the poem in the letter to Bowles, Dickinson writes:

Here's – what I had to "tell you" -
You will tell no other? Honor – is it's
own pawn -

As Bowles was the publisher and editor of the Springfield Republican, perhaps the request, “you will tell no other?” asks Bowles to promise not to publish the poem without her consent, as some of her poems were during her life. The phrase,“Honor – is it’s own pawn -,” also concludes Dickinson’s first letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson (L260), again following a line that asks him not to “betray” her.

Letter 251 also includes a poem, “Through the strait pass of suffering” (F187).

Through the strait pass
of suffering -
The Martyrs – even – trod.
Their feet – opon Temptation -
Their faces – opon God -
A stately – shriven -
Company -
Convulsion – playing round -
Harmless – as streaks
of meteor -
Opon a Planet's Bond -
Their faith -
the everlasting troth -
Their expectation – fair -
The Needle – to the North
Degree -
Wades – so – thro' polar Air!

The letter preceding the poem seems to be an introduction to it:

If you doubted my Snow – for a moment – you never will – again – I know -
Because I could not say it – I fixed it in the Verse – for you to read – when your thought wavers, for such a foot as mine -

Bowles might have reacted negatively to another poem Dickinson sent to him, and said as much. In response, Dickinson tries to convince him never to “doubt her Snow – for a moment.” The “feet” here also refer to the poetic foot, and Dickinson uses snow and whiteness as a symbol of poetics in other places as well, most relevantly in “Publication – is the Auction” (F788, J709) when the speaker criticizes the publication process as a “foul” thing, one that renders poets as sellouts, something in which the speaker would rather not “invest – Our Snow -”.

Letter 252 thanks Bowles for his gracious understanding, and wishes that he could come to Amherst for a visit that very day. It also encloses another poem about emotional distress:

“Speech” – is a prank
of Parliament -
“Tears” – a trick of
the nerve -
But the Heart with
the heaviest freight
on -
Does'nt – always – move -
Emily.    (F193A)

This poem may be an exploration of the numbness Dickinson refers to in relation to the “terror” she experienced in September of 1861, the exact nature of which is unknown. Bowles was one of her correspondents to hear about it and provide support, which may be the reason for sending such a grateful letter to him and confiding her feelings about power and entitlement to him. 

Read this week's poems

Credit: Emily Dickinson Museum



Eliot Cardinaux

The word entitle — with its (timely up-)rooting as a term used in gender-, class-, and race-studies, relations, and activism — causes such tremors in the foundations of Western thinking at present in history that I found myself hesitant in writing a reflection on it this week for White Heat. Emily Dickinson’s use of the word seems to be one of meta-positivity, a sort of anointed power vested in the “entitled” provident, that must be respected, along with a self-awareness of the dangers attached to power, generally, that we might see quite readily on the surface of Shakespeare, for one, in his tragedies of royalty.

It seems, however, inversely, to be quite subversive in its seduction, inviting a sort of meta-ironic image of an evil, caught in its own net, as say Baudelaire might have put it, as a flâneur and poet living in Paris around the same time. As a verb of endowment, opening towards an invitation of another’s entitlement, as viewed in the political context that it receives today — seems rather than a “knighting,” or even a “crowning” — to be inviting no less (even more) of a sovereign position whose danger lies in a fall towards tyranny, and to those in a position of power and authority, who would likewise abuse it.

It is in fact, rather than purely a seductive word, also a sobering one.


That church’s space —
is quiet that lonely thing
that sings over morning,

a dusty light fluorescence.

In liminal loneliness, life —
is like some wooden door,
around whom blind corners

turn — on its hinges; to those

who have not yet known it —
a practiced goodbye — are learning it
indeed — that in hymns, it is — already —

procreating endlessly, along tomorrow.


Bio: Eliot Cardinaux is a pianist and poet. He is the founder of The Bodily Press through which he has released the works of others, as well as several of his own chapbooks, including, most recently, Mother of Two. His first album as a leader, American Thicket, was released in 2016 on Loyal Label. His poetry has been featured in Caliban Online, Big Big Wednesday, Hollow, and Bloodroot Literary Magazine. Cardinaux performs and records regularly around the East Coast and in Europe. His latest musical project, Sweet Beyond Witness, is an album of solo piano compositions and spoken word with accompanying writings and film, slated for release in 2018.


Atlantic Monthly, February 15, 1862
Springfield Republican, February 15, 1862

Johnson, Thomas H. The Letters of Emily Dickinson. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1986.

Leyda, Jay. The Years and Hours of Emily Dickinson. Archon Books, 1970.

Habegger, Alfred. My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson. The Modern Library, 2002.