Toward a poetry and poetics of the Americas (14)

Emily Dickinson, 'A Letter to the Master,' lineated

Summer 1861



           If you saw a bullet

hit a Bird — and he told you

he was’nt shot — you might weep

at his courtesy, but you would

certainly doubt his word —

One drop more from the gash

that stains your Daisy’s

bosom — then would you believe?

Thomas’ faith in Anatomy, was

stronger than his faith in faith.

God made me — [Sir] Master —

I did’nt be — myself. I dont know how

it was done. He built the

heart in me — Bye and bye

it outgrew me — and like

the little mother — with the

big child — I got tired

holding him. I heard of a

thing called “Redemption” — which

rested men and women —

You remember I asked you

for it — you gave me something

else. I forgot the Redemption

[in the Redeemed — I did'nt

tell you for a long time, but

I knew you had altered me —

I] and was tired — no more — [so dear

did this stranger become, that

were it, or my breath — the

Alternative — I had tossed

the fellow away with a smile.]

I am older — tonight, Master —

but the love is the same —

so are the moon and the

crescent. If it had been

God's will that I might

breathe where you breathed —

and find the place — myself —

at night — if I (can) never forget

that I am not with you —

and that sorrow and frost

are nearer than I — if I wish

with a might I cannot

repress — that mine were the

Queen’s place — the love of

the Plantagenet is my only

apology — To come nearer than

presbyteries  and nearer than

the new Coat  that the Tailor

made  the prank of the Heart

at play on the Heart  in holy

Holiday  is forbidden me 

You make me say it over 

I fear you laugh  when I do

not see  [but] “Chillon” is not

funny. Have you the Heart in

your breast  Sir — is it set

like mine  a little to the left 

has it the misgiving  if it

wake in the night — perchance 

 itself to it  a timbrel is it 

itself to it a tune?

These things are [reverent] holy, Sir,

I touch them [reverently] hallowed, but

persons who pray  dare remark

[our] Father! You say I do

not tell you all — Daisy “confessed 

and denied not.”

Vesuvius dont talk  Etna  dont 

[They] one of them  said a syllable 

a thousand years ago, and

Pompeii heard it, and hid

forever  She could’nt look the

world in the face, afterward 

I suppose — Bashfull Pompeii!

Tell you of the want  you

know what a leech is, dont

you  and [remember that] Daisys arm is small 

and you have felt the Horizon

havnt you  and did the

sea  never come so close as

to make you dance?

I dont know what you can

do for it  thank you  Master 

but if I had the Beard on

my cheek  like you  and you — had Daisys

petals — and you cared so for

me  what would become of you?

Could you forget me in fight, or

flight  or the foreign land?

Couldnt Carlo, and you and I

walk in the meadows an hour 

and nobody care but the Bobolink 

and his  a silver scruple?

I used to think when I died 

I could see you  so I died

as fast as I could — but the

“Corporation” are going too  so [Eternity] Heaven

wont be sequestered  now [at all] 

Say I may wait for you 

say I need go with no stranger

to the to me  untried [country] fold 

I waited a long time  Master 

but I can wait more  wait

till my hazel hair is dappled 

and you carry the cane 

then I can look at my

watch — and if the Day is

too far declined  we can take

the chances [of] for Heaven 

What would you do with me

if I came “in white?”

Have you the little chest to

put the Alive  in?

I want to see you more  Sir 

than all I wish for in

this world  and the wish 

altered a little — will be my

only one — for the skies 

Could you come to New England 

[this summer  could] Would you come

to Amherst  Would you like

to come  Master?

[Would it do harm  yet we both

fear God ] Would Daisy disappoint

you  no — she would’nt — Sir 

it were comfort forever  just

to look in your face, while

you looked in mine — then I

could play in the woods till

Dark  till you take me

where Sundown cannot find

us  and the true keep

coming  till the town is full.

[Will you tell me if you will?]

I did’nt think to tell you, you                                                                                                                            did’nt come to me in white                                                                                                                            nor ever told me why,


No Rose, yet felt myself

No Bird — yet rode in Ether.


[NOTE. I published this earlier in a nonlineated prose rendering in America a Prophecy, coedited with George Quasha in the early 1970s. Well-enough known as one of three Dickinson letters addressed to an unidentified “Master,” this version, following closely her handwritten draft, emerges (for me at least) as a near-projective forerunner to what would become a dominant form of North American experimental composition a century after her own writing. The result anyway is based on the transcription in The Master Letters of Emily Dickinson, edited by R.W. Franklin and published by Amherst College Press in 1986. It will likely be the version used by me and Heriberto Yépez in our transnational anthology of North and South American poetry, now in preparation for University of California Press. That the full-blown sense of thwarted intimacy here is both surprising and overwhelming is also to be noted, as is the quirky and volatile language that connects the voice behind the letter to that of her better-known poems. (J.R.)]