Your – Riches – taught me – poverty!
Myself, a “Millionaire”
In little – wealths – as Girls can boast –
Till broad as “Buenos Ayre” –
You drifted your Dominions –
A Different – Peru –
And I esteemed – all – poverty –
For Life’s Estate – with you!
Of “Mines” – I little know – myself –
But just the names – of Gems –
The Colors – of the Commonest –
And scarce of Diadems –
So much – that did I meet the Queen –
Her glory – I should know –
But this – must be a different wealth –
To miss it – beggars – so!
I’m sure ’tis “India” – all day –
To those who look on you –
Without a stint – without a blame –
Might I – but be the Jew!
I know it is “Golconda” –
Beyond my power to dream –
To have a smile – for mine – each day –
How better – than a Gem!
At least – it solaces – to know –
That there exists – a Gold –
Altho’ I prove it, just in time –
It’s distance – to behold!
It’s far – far – Treasure – to surmise –
And estimate – the Pearl –
That slipped – my simple fingers – thro’
While yet – a Girl – at school!
Link to EDA manuscript. Originally a note and poem signed “Emily” to Susan Huntington Dickinson, [early 1862] Ink; 3 1/3p. MS Am 1118.5 (B44), Fascicle 14. First published by Higginson, Atlantic Monthly, 68 (October 1891), 446, from the copy sent to him (B); Poems (1891), 91-92, from the fascicle (C). Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
This poem was included in a note Dickinson sent to Sue at the Evergreen in 1862, which read simply:
Dear Sue–You see I remember–Emily.
To emphasize its status as a letter directed to a particular person, Dickinson also wrote above the poem, “Dear Sue.” But she also sent a copy to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, whom she was soon to ask to become her “preceptor,” some think, as a replacement for Sue. She also copied the poem into Fascicle 14 after the poem just discussed, “Removed from Accident of Loss” (F417A, J424).
This poem is both a farewell to Sue, who had recently become a mother and was making her place as the wife of one of Amherst’s most influential men, and an evocation of what Sue meant to the poet. Paula Bennett observes that it is
the only poem in which Dickinson ever felt totally free to express in direct and undisguised form the love she felt for this extraordinary and very much underrated women.
It is part of the “pearl sequence,” although here the speaker admits letting the pearl slip through her fingers while she was a school girl, not as a result of losing a competition with a dusky male figure.
The poem uses ironic reversals: Sue, who had been poor, is now rich as Austin’s wife, but the “riches” of her allurements, compared to exotic, torrid places like “Buenos Ayre,” “Peru” (known for its silver mines), and “India,” also make the speaker feel impoverished or inadequate as a woman and suitor. Still, the speaker says she would give all she had, “For Life’s Estate with you–.” Sue is described not only in terms of wealth, especially the wealth of mines and diamonds, but as a Queen, with a diadem and a degree of royalty that in other poems Dickinson takes for herself as the sign of her maturity and independence. The “smile” in stanza 6 is the inverse of the deadly smile of “Her smile was shaped like other smiles” (F335a, J 514).
Judith Farr notes that Harper’s Monthly, the Atlantic Monthly and Scribner’s had all run articles about diamond mining and cutting in South America and India at the time. The imagery of “mines” also puns on the notion of possession and in stanza 5 hints at the forbidden love. If the speaker could be “the Jew,” alluding to the common image of Jewish merchants who were often diamond traders, she could look at Sue without “blame.” This emotion is intensified in the next stanza through the reference to “Golconda,” a region in India known for its diamond production as well as a notorious fort and prison where the famous Koh-i–Noor diamond was once stored in the vaults, along with other diamonds.
Bennett, Paula. My Life, a Loaded Gun: Female Creativity and Feminist Poetics. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986, 53-55.
Farr, Judith. The Passion of Emily Dickinson. Harvard University Press, 2004, 140-42.
Leiter, Sharon. Critical Companion to Emily Dickinson: A Literary Reference to her Life and Work. New York: Facts on File, 2007, 234-35.