Thursday, September 7, 2017

"All overgrown by cunning moss" by Emily Dickinson

Here is something special from Emily Dickinson, one of her less often encountered poems, a loving tribute to one of her favorite authors, Charlotte Bronte, written on the fourth anniversary of Bronte's death; this three-stanza version is the one edited by Ralph W. Franklin:

All overgrown by cunning moss,
All interspersed with weed,
The little cage of "Currer Bell"
In quiet "Haworth" laid.

This Bird – observing others
When frosts too sharp became
Retire to other latitudes –
Quietly did the same –

But differed in returning –
Since Yorkshire hills are green –
Yet not in all the nests I meet –
Can Nightingale be seen –

                                                                  - F146 (1860)  148
Emily Dickinson sometimes wrote different versions of the same poem, and that fact (in addition to her often difficult to read penmanship) is among the major challenges editors confront when preparing Dickinson's poems for publication; after all, which of Dickinson's versions should be made available to readers?

Well, there is a reason I mention that editorial challenge. Here is another version of the same poem. This one is edited by Thomas H. Johnson. I have included the different third stanza and the added fourth stanza:

Gathered from many wanderings—
Gethsemane can tell
Thro' what transporting anguish
She reached the Asphodel!

Soft falls the sounds of Eden
Upon her puzzled ear—
Oh what an afternoon for Heaven,
When "Bronte" entered there!

* * * * *

I confess that I prefer the more direct three-stanza version with its lovely bird imagery and geographical references. To my mind the Biblical and mythological allusions in the second version -- in the third and fourth stanzas -- somewhat artlessly complicate the simple tribute.

So, which version do you prefer? Why? 


  1. I prefer the shorter, more direct version, too, Tim. To me, anyway, I think it gets at her real feelings better. But, then, who can ever know what another really feels...

  2. Margot, I think we err if we try to get inside writers' heads. We're better off just focusing on the words and our responses. However, I often err.

  3. i liked the first one as well... with ED, the effort of tracing her metaphors sometimes makes me forget what the poem is about... and vice versa... so i guess it's a tribute to her skill that the poems are effective, even so...