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Envelope Poems

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The publication of “Envelope Poems” and the growing collection of Dickinson’s manuscripts, available online and in inexpensive print editions, coincides with an ambitious restoration of the Dickinson properties in Amherst, including a reconstruction of the poet’s conservatory—a space that was second only to her bedroom in its importance to her art. When, in her later years, she stopped producing these, she was still writing a great deal, and at her death she left behind many poems, drafts, and letters. D'entrée de jeu, ce sont pas les meilleurs poèmes d'Emily Dickinson (même s'il y a quand même des gros standouts), mais c'est tellement beau et intéressant de voir les scans colorés des manuscrits, écrits sur des lettres repliées pour en faire leur propre enveloppe, avec les hachures qu'impliquent un brouillon et les mots placés entre les lignes pour proposer des alternatives à certains vers des poèmes. It is a pleasant fancy to imagine that Dickinson, ever the tortoise in relation to rushing time, knew that, in the end, we would catch up to her.

The book is an art object, with transcriptions of her handwriting facing facsimiles of the scraps of envelopes she wrote upon, some of which you can see through to the other side. This exquisitely produced book The Gorgeous Nothings—lovingly curated by Bervin and Werner—allows you to encounter Emily Dickinson’s ‘envelope poems’ in full-color facsimile for the first time.Much of Lavinia’s pile ended up at Amherst College, the cornerstone of its special collections; Susan Dickinson’s batch went to Harvard, along with several household treasures that had been preserved at the Evergreens. Most of the scraps remained in Amherst’s archive, curiosities sought out by tenacious Dickinson scholars but unknown to the public at large. The envelope poems suggest the current exhilarating paradox of Dickinson’s work: her unique actions of mind are bound in unusually dramatic ways to slips of paper a hundred and fifty years old or more, rarities whose near-perfect reproductions are nevertheless now widely and freely available online. La rovescia, la smembra, la apre, la dispiega, la sviscera (…) In queste scritture Emily sembra giocare con il dentro e il fuori, con l’involucro, la custodia, il contenitore: non c’è niente in verità da nascondere, in ciò che sta nell’aperto della parola.

But neither is it a mere draft: the scraps represent the audacious pinnacle of Dickinson’s mingled verbal and graphic gifts.The poems often detail their own state of evanescence: in “A 316,” Dickinson addresses the “sumptuous moment” and entreats it to “Slower go / That I may gloat on thee. Her first collection of poetry was published in 1890 by personal acquaintances Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd, both of whom heavily edited the content.

Her own transformative power, often frightful even for her to contemplate, is their presiding subject: the “still—Volcano—Life” she describes as ever churning under her daily rounds. When, in 1866, Dickinson’s “A narrow Fellow in the Grass” appeared in the Springfield Daily Republican (under a title likely chosen by its editors, “The Snake”), Dickinson complained to Higginson that, among other problems, she was “defeated .The Dickinson scholar Domhnall Mitchell and others have suggested that “the layout of a Dickinson autograph is deliberate or motivated” in potentially every regard, from the capital letters of various sizes, to the spaces between letters and words and lines, to the marginalia, which are often crammed with variant choices of word or phrase. We use Google Analytics to see what pages are most visited, and where in the world visitors are visiting from. In the 1850 national census, Dickinson listed her occupation as “keeping house”; the scraps might have kept her as she did so.

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