“Tie the strings to my life” (F338, J279)

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Tie the strings to my Life,
My Lord, 
Then, I am ready to go! 
Just a look at the Horses – 
Rapid! That will do! 

Put me in on the firmest
side – 
So I shall never fall – 
For we must ride to the
Judgment – 
+ And it’s partly, down Hill –  +And it’s many a mile –

But never I mind the  +steepest – +Bridges
And never I mind the Sea – 
Held fast in Everlasting Race – 
By my own Choice, and Thee – 

Good bye to the Life I used to live – 
And the World I used to know –
+And kiss the Hills, for me, just once –  +Here’s a keepsake for the Hills 
+ Then – I am ready to go!   +Now

Link to EDA manuscript. Originally in Fascicle 16 (H 53), summer 1862. First published in Poems (1896), 174, with the alternatives for lines 9 and 16 adopted. Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Another ride in a carriage, this time with “My Lord,” an ambiguous referent, to “the Judgment,” which the speaker quips, is “partly, down Hill,” suggesting they are descending (morally or spiritually) rather than ascending up to Heaven. This allegorical scene can mean many things. The speaker claims that despite challenges posed by the “steepest” places and by the Sea (which is a threat in many poems, symbolizing erotic desire; see “I started Early – took my dog” F656, J520), she is “Held fast … By my own Choice, and Thee.”

The stabilizing force of choice is not without qualification. Whoever “thee” is, whether God or a beloved, or some kind of Master, this force is necessary  to hold the speaker to this journey. This echoes the speaker’s awareness of the qualified nature of choice in the first lines: “Tie the strings to my Life, My Lord.” She commands him, exercising will, but what she commands is that strings be tied to her life to secure it, bind it, complete it. How close is this to the acceptance of selection and subjection in “He put the Belt around my life” (F330A, J273)?

William Shurr reads the poem mirroring

not a death wish but another … version of [the lovers’] acknowledgement of their oneness, their certain union in heaven and their secure feelings towards Judgment because of their sacrifice.”

Maryanne Garbowsky reads the poem as about “a death to a way of life, rather than an actual death.” And Virginia Oliver counters that the very security and lack of doubt Shurr celebrates and

found in many other Dickinson poems on the subject makes one wonder … if she might be trying to convince herself rather than expressing firmly held convictions.


Garbowsky, Maryanne M. “A Maternal Muse for Emily Dickinson.” Dickinson Studies 41 (Dec. 1981): 12-17.

Oliver, Virginia. Apocalypse of Green: A Study of Emily Dickinson’s Eschatology. American University Studies. Series 24: American Literature 4. New York: Lang, 1989, 149-50/

Shurr, William. The Marriage of Emily Dickinson: A Study of the Fascicles. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1983, 40.

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