AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT SIGNED OF HER LETTER-POEM BEGINNING 'SHE SPED AS PETALS FROM A ROSE...', 8 lines, signed 'Emily' at the end, addressed on the verso of the conjoint leaf to 'Sue', written in pencil, paper blind stamped 'Paris', 1 page, octavo [c. 1865]
She sped as Petals from a Rose
Offended by the Wind
A frail Aristocrat of Time
Indemnity to find -
Leaving On Nature a default
As Cricket or as Bee,
But Andes in the Bosoms where
She has begun to lie.
This 'letter-poem' was sent to Emily Dickinson's sister-in-law, Susan Gilbert, who lived, after marrying Emily's brother Austin, at the Evergreens only three hundred yards away ('a hedge away'). They knew one another for nearly forty years. Their relationship was at the core of Emily's emotional and creative life. Sue was in most ways the most important person ('Only Woman in the World') in Emily's life for all its tempestuous episodes (for instance 'The War Between the Houses' which resulted in Emily not visiting her sister-in-law for fifteen years). Sue was the object of Emily's childhood passion, her muse, her collaborator, the primary reader of her work and her best critic, the recipient of a quarter of Emily's surviving letters (many of them cryptic poems and generally with a virtuosity more brilliant than those to others), and her confidante, and was also the person of whom she said 'With the exception of Shakespeare, you have told me of more knowledge than any one living.'
The present poem is not among those for Sue listed by Judith Farr at the end of her The Passion of Emily Dickinson, nor in Open Me Carefully, probably because the addressing of it to 'Sue' was not previously recorded. The poem is printed by Thomas H. Johnson, where it is tentatively dated to c. 1865.
In the first line the printed text has 'of' for 'from' in this manuscript and Emily Dickinson's characteristic dashes are not evident there. The bee and 'Andes in the Bosoms' are erotic references, common in Emily's letters to Sue.
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, to whom Emily Dickinson first sent her poems, said of her handwriting: 'it seemed as if the writer might have taken her first lessons by studying the fossil bird-tracks in the museum of that college town [Amherst]. Yet it was not in the slightest degree illiterate, but cultivated, quaint, and wholly unique...'
Emily Dickinson's papers are mainly at Amherst, Harvard, Boston Public Library and the Jones Library.
REFERENCES: Judith Farr, The Passion of Emily Dickinson, 1992; Judith Farr, Open Me Carefully, Emily Dickinson's Intimate Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson, 1998; Thomas H. Johnson, The Complete Poems, 1970.