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Her own words shed new light on Emily Dickinson

'Open Me Carefully'
By Emily Dickinson
edited by Ellen Louise Hart and Martha Nell Smith

(CNN) -- For the millions of readers who love Emily Dickinson's poetry, "Open Me Carefully" brings new light to the meaning of the poet's life and work. Gone is Emily as lonely spinster -- here is Dickinson in her own words, passionate and fully alive.



Why Susie!

Early Writings, 1850 to mid-1850s

During the early and mid-1850s, Emily's correspondence to Susan is effusive and filled with puns and references to the act of writing. The first letter that is preserved from Emily to Susan is dated 1850. While it is not certain how Emily and Susan met, it is likely that they were friends by 1847 or 1848. In an 1850 letter to Susan, Emily's brother Austin remarks on the previous Thanksgiving and expresses his happiness when Emily and their sister Lavinia (Vinnie) asked Susan's "family into the circle which had for two or three years been gradually forming." The letters from Emily to Susan and drafts of letters from Austin indicate that Susan is the object of passionate attachment for both brother and sister.

The boundaries of the correspondence from Emily to Susan are defined by what Susan saves rather than by what Emily writes, and it is likely that Emily sends letters to Susan that have not survived. Perhaps Susan begins to keep letters from Emily following the 1850 death of her sister Mary, in childbirth. Or Susan may save Emily's letters when she begins to keep letters from Austin.

In the early years of the correspondence, between 1851 and 1852, Susan moves to Baltimore to teach at Robert Archer's school for gifts. Her decision to go away is sudden, and she writes to her brother Dwight, declaring that she has left her "good friends in Amherst actually staring with astonishment." Susan is independent, outspoken, deeply engaged with spiritual concerns, and like Emily, she is committed to pursuing intellectual growth without benefit of continuing education.

Emily's and Susan's impatience and resentment of household duties are nearly identical. In a letter to her friend Samuel Bartlett, Susan says: "I've fairly commenced the Spring siege of sewing, and such quantities of garments and furbelows, to be made, lie stretching away before my crooked needles, I am quite in despair, and continually wondering and fretting, that we are not clothed like the lilies, without any spinning and toiling -- I find no time to read or think, and but little to walk -- but just go revolving round a spool of `Coat's cotton' as if it were the grand centre of mental and moral life --"

While Emily sends Susan passionate and playful letters, Austin formally courts Susan, and Emily secretly delivers his letters to her "Darling Sue." In 1853, humor suffuses an edge of envy for Austin's heightened status in the family as an ambitious and "learned" person; having graduated from Amherst College, he now attends Harvard Law School. Although Emily "loves the opportunity to serve those who are mine," she writes to Susan in markedly shaky handwriting, identifying with Miss Julia Mills in David Copperfield, whom Dickens describes as "interested in others' loves, herself withdrawn."

The intellectual intimacy between Emily and Susan begins in the early years of their relationship. In her letters to Susan, Emily frequently refers to the novels she is reading and uses various characters as metaphors or codes to relate her feelings about herself and Susan, and comment about friends, relatives, and literary and political luminaries and events.

In early 1853, Susan travels to Manchester, New Hampshire, to visit Mary and Samuel Bartlett, her sister Mary's in-laws. On the return rail trip from Manchester on Wednesday, March 23, Susan arrives in Boston for a tryst with Austin at the Revere Hotel, and the couple becomes engaged. When Susan returns to Amherst, she shares the news with Emily who then writes to Austin: "Oh my dear `Oliver,' how chipper you must be since any of us have seen you?" and "I hope you have been made happy." In this letter, she blames Austin because Susan seems distracted and absent, and Emily devises punishment: "You deserve, let me see; you deserve hot irons, and Chinese Tartary ..." She then reminds him how often she is seeing Susan while he is away at law school and closes with: "Dear Austin, I am keen, but you are a good deal keener, I am something of a fox, but you are more of a hound! I guess we are very good friends tho', and I guess we both love [S]us[ie] just as well as we can." As the brackets indicate, Emily's references to "Susie" have been altered or erased. In another letter written several weeks later beginning, "Do you want to hear from me, Austin?" affectionate references to Susan are erased as well, though kindly references to Lavinia remain untouched. Emily asks Austin, "How long it is since you've been in this state of complacence towards God and our fellow men?" She then follows with, "I think it must be sudden." Facetiously she recommends religious texts to guide Austin in meditating on self-discipline and submission of his will. She hopes that he has "enjoyed" "sanctuary privileges."

In April 1854, Austin, Lavinia, and their mother visit Washington, D.C., where Edward Dickinson is serving as a member of Congress. They arrive on April 7, and stay for several weeks. At this time, Susan lives with Emily, in the company of John Graves, a cousin from nearby Sunderland, who is attending Amherst College. In mid-April, Susan writes to Mary Bartlett saying, "I am keeping house with Emily, while the family are in Washington -- We frighten each other to death nearly every night -- with that exception, we have very independent times."

Three months later, Susan becomes seriously ill with "nervous fever." Describing Susan's condition to a friend, Emily writes that "every hour possible I have taken away to her." Susan recovers in August and travels to Geneva and Aurora, New York, where she stays with family for nearly three months. Austin, now graduated from Harvard Law School and admitted to the bar, prepares to seek his fortune in the West.

From Aurora, New York, Susan travels to Grand Haven, Michigan, where she stays with her brother Dwight through the early winter. In a letter mapping out her travel plans Susan tells her brother, "I have always felt so like a child the idea of really being married seems absurd enough and if the event ever occurs I think I shall experience a feeling of odd surprise --"

When Susan accuses Austin of interfering with her correspondence with Emily, Austin writes: "As to your deprivation of `Spiritual converse' with my sister -- I Know Nothing -- I was aware that you had been in correspondence for some time, but had never had an intimation that the correspondence was at an end -- ... So you will not suspect me of having interfered with your epistolary intercourse with her."

In the letters that follow, Emily and Susan are in their early twenties. Though Emily's feelings of love, desire, and longing for Susan have often been dismissed as a "school-girl crush," the letters resonate with intelligence, humor, and intimacy that cannot be reduced to adolescent flurry.


Thursday noon.

Were it not for the weather Susie -- my little, unwelcome face would come peering in today -- I should steal a kiss from the sister -- the darling Rover returned -- Thank the wintry wind my dear one -- that spares such daring intrusion! Dear Susie -- happy Susie -- I rejoice in all your Joy -- sustained by that dear sister you will never again be lonely. Dont forget all the little friends who have tried so hard to be sisters, when indeed you were alone!

You do not hear the wind blow on this inclement day, when the world is shrugging it's shoulders -- your little "Columbarium is lined with warmth and softness," there is no "silence" there -- so you differ from bonnie "Alice." I miss one angel face in the little world of sisters -- dear Mary -- sainted Mary -- Remember lonely one -- tho, she comes not to us, we shall return to her! My love to both your sisters -- and I want so much to see Matty.

Very aff yours, Emily

autumn/winter 1850
In this letter Emily refers to Susan's sister Mary, who died on July 14, 1850. In December, Susan's sister Martha ("Matty") came from Michigan, and the Gilbert family was temporarily reconstituted in the Amherst home of their eldest sister Harriet. The allusion to "Alice" is to Alice Archer of Longfellow's Kavanagh (1849) whose room is "that columbarium lined with warmth, and softness, and silence." Throughout the correspondence, and long before Susan is actually her sister-in-law, Emily addresses Susan as "Sister."


Thursday evening

I wept a tear here, Susie -- on purpose for you -- because this "sweet silver moon" smiles in on me and Vinnie, and then it goes so far before it gets to you -- and then you never told me if there was any moon in Baltimore -- and how do I know Susie -- that you see her sweet face at all? She looks like a fairy tonight, sailing around the sky in a little silver gondola with stars for gondoliers. I asked her to let me ride a little while ago -- and told her I would get out when she got as far as Baltimore, but she only smiled to herself and went sailing on.

I think she was quite ungenerous -- but I have learned the lesson and shant ever ask her again. To day it rained at home -- sometimes it rained so hard that I fancied you could hear it's patter -- patter, patter, as it fell upon the leaves -- and the fancy pleased me so, that I sat and listened to it -- and watched it earnestly. Did you hear it Susie -- or was it only fancy? Bye and bye the sun came out--just in time to bid us goodnight, and as I told you sometime, the moon is shining now.

It is such an evening Susie, as you and I would walk and have such pleasant musings, if you were only here -- perhaps we would have a "Reverie" after the form of "Ik Marvel," indeed I do not know why it would'nt be just as charming as of that lonely Bachelor, smoking his cigar -- and it would be far more profitable as "Marvel" only marvelled, and you and I would try to make a little destiny to have for our own. Do you know that charming man is dreaming again, and will wake pretty soon -- so the papers say, with another Reverie -- more beautiful than the first?

Dont you hope he will live as long as you and I do -- and keep on having dreams and writing them to us -- what a charming old man he'll be, and how I envy his grandchildren, little "Bella" and "Paul"! We will be willing to die Susie -- when such as he have gone, for there will be none left to interpret these lives of our's.

Longfellow's "golden Legend" has come to town I hear -- and may be seen in state on Mr. Adams' bookshelves. It always makes me think of "Pegasus in the pound --" when I find a gracious author sitting side by side with "Murray" and "Wells" and "Walker" in that renowned store -- and like him I half expect to hear they have "flown" some morning and in their native ether revel all the day -- but for our sakes dear Susie, who please ourselves with the fancy that we are the only poets -- and every one else is prose, let us hope they will yet be willing to share our humble world and feed upon such aliment as we consent to do!

You thank me for the Rice cake -- you tell me Susie, you have just been tasting it -- and how happy I am to send you anything you love -- how hungry you must grow before it is noon there -- and then you must be faint from teaching those stupid scholars. I fancy you very often descending to the schoolroom with a plump Binomial Theorem struggling in your hand which you must dissect and exhibit to your incomprehending ones -- I hope you whip them Susie -- for my sake -- whip them hard whenever they dont behave just as you want to have them! I know they are very dull -- sometimes -- from what Mattie says -- but I presume you encourage them and forgive all their mistakes. It will teach you patience Susie -- you may be sure of that. And Mattie tells me too of your evening carousals --and the funny frights you give in personating the Master -- just like you Susie -- like you for all the world -- how Mr Payson would laugh if I could only tell him, and then those great dark eyes -- how they would glance and sparkle! Susie -- have all the fun wh' you possibly can -- and laugh as often and sing, for tears are plentier than smiles in this little world of our's -- only dont be so happy as to let Mattie and me grow dimmer and dimmer and finally fade away, and merrier maids than we smile in our vacant places!

Susie, did you think that I would never write you when you were gone away -- what made you? I am sure you know my promise far too well for that -- and had I never said so -- I should be constrained to write -- for what shall separate us from any whom we love -- not "hight nor depth["] ...

October 9, 1851

Susan is now teaching in Baltimore and Emily writes to her frequently. Ik Marvel's (Donald G. Mitchell) Reveries of a Bachelor (1850) was a bestseller and enjoyed by Emily, Susan, and Austin, as was Longfellow's Golden Legend (1851). Both books celebrate romantic passion and emotional attachment. Lindley Murray, William Harvey Wells, and John Walker were lexicographers and grammarians. In an October 1 letter to Austin, every allusion to "Susie" is erased.


Friday forenoon --

Will you let me come dear Susie -- looking just as I do, my dress soiled and worn, my grand old apron, and my hair -- Oh Susie, time would fail me to enumerate my appearance, yet I love you just as dearly as if I was e'er so fine, so you wont care, will you? I am so glad dear Susie -- that our hearts are always clean, and always neat and lovely, so not to be ashamed. I have been hard at work this morning, and I ought to be working now -- but I cannot deny myself the luxury of a minute or two with you.

The dishes may wait dear Susie -- and the uncleared table stand, them I have always with me, but you, I have "not always," why Susie, Christ hath saints manie -- and I have few, but thee -- the angels shant have Susie -- no -- no no!

Vinnie is sewing away like a fictitious seamstress, and I half expect some knight will arrive at the door, confess himself a nothing in presence of her loveliness, and present his heart and hand as the only vestige of him worthy to be refused.

Vinnie and I have been talking about growing old, today. Vinnie thinks twenty must be a fearful position for one to occupy -- I tell her I dont care if I am young or not, had as lief be thirty, and you, as most anything else. Vinnie expresses her sympathy at my "sere and yellow leaf" and resumes her work, dear Susie, tell me how you feel -- ar'nt there days in one's life when to be old dont seem a thing so sad --

I do feel gray and grim, this morning, and I feel it would be a comfort to have a piping voice, and a broken back, and scare little children.

Dont you run, Susie dear, for I wont do any harm, and I do love you dearly tho' I do feel so frightful.

Oh my darling one, how long you wander from me, how weary I grow of waiting and looking, and calling for you; sometimes I shut my eyes, and shut my heart towards you, and try hard to forget you because you grieve me so, but you'll never go away, Oh you never will -- say, Susie, promise me again, and I will smile faintly -- and take up my little cross again of sad -- sad separation. How vain it seems to write, when one knows how to feel -- how much more near and dear to sit beside you, talk with you, hear the tones of your voice -- so hard to "deny thyself, and take up thy cross, and follow me --" give me strength, Susie, write me of hope and love, and of hearts that endured, and great was their reward of "Our Father who art in Heaven." I dont know how I shall bear it, when the gentle spring comes; if she should come and see me and talk to me of you, Oh it would surely kill me! While the frost clings to the windows, and the World is stern and drear; this absence is easier -- the Earth mourns too, for all her little birds; but when they all come back again, and she sings and is so merry -- pray, what will become of me? Susie, forgive me, forget all what I say, get some sweet little scholar to read a gentle hymn, about Bethleem and Mary, and you will sleep on sweetly and have as peaceful dreams, as if I had never written you all these ugly things. Never mind the letter Susie, I wont be angry with you if you dont give me any at all -- for I know how busy you are, and how little of that dear strength remains when it is evening, with which to think and write. Only want to write me, only sometimes sigh that you are far from me, and that will do, Susie! Dont you think we are good and patient, to let you go so long; and dont we think you're a darling, a real beautiful hero, to toil for people, and teach them, and leave your own dear home? Because we pine and repine, dont think we forget the precious patriot at war in other lands! Never be mournful, Susie -- be happy and have cheer, for how many of the long days have gone away since I wrote you -- and it is almost noon, and soon the night will come, and then there is one less day of the long pilgrimage. Mattie is very smart, talks of you much, my darling; I must leave you now -- "one little hour of Heaven," thank who did give it me, and will he also grant me one longer and more when it shall please his love -- bring Susie home, ie! Love always, and ever, and true! Emily--

February 1852

Throughout Emily's letters to Susan, she combines a language of courtly love with terms of spiritual devotion. In 1915, Susan's daughter Martha Dickinson Bianchi described her Aunt Emily in the Atlantic Monthly, saying: "Her devotion to those she loved was that of a knight for his lady."


Wednesday morn

It's a sorrowful morning Susie -- the wind blows and it rains; "into each life some rain must fall," and I hardly know which falls fastest, the rain without, or within -- Oh Susie, I would nestle close to your warm heart, and never hear the wind blow, or the storm beat, again. Is there any room there for me, or shall I wander away all homeless and alone? Thank you for loving me, darling, and will you "love me more if ever you come home" ! it is enough, dear Susie, I know I shall be satisfied. But what can I do towards you? -- dearer you cannot be, for I love you so already, that it almost breaks my heart -- perhaps I can love you anew, every day of my life, every morning and evening -- Oh if you will let me, how happy I shall be!

The precious billet, Susie, I am wearing the paper out, reading it over and o'er, but the dear thoughts cant wear out if they try, Thanks to Our Father, Susie! Vinnie and I talked of you all last evening long, and went to sleep mourning for you, and pretty soon I waked up saying "Precious treasure, thou art mine," and there you were all right, my Susie, and I hardly dared to sleep lest some one steal you away. Never mind the letter, Susie; you have so much to do; just write me every week one line, and let it be, "Emily," I love you," and I will be satisfied! Your own Emily

Upside down on first page

Vinnie's love -- Mother's --

In margin on third page

Love to Hattie from us all. Dear Mattie is almost well.

about February 1852

The quote "into each life some rain must fall" is from Longfellow's "The Rainy Day," a poem that Emily and Susan shared with their friends.


Sunday morning --

Thank the dear little snow flakes, because they fall today rather than some vain weekday, when the world and the cares of the world would try so hard to keep me from my departed friend -- and thank you, too, dear Susie, that you never weary of me, or never tell me so, and that when the world is cold, and the storm sighs e'er so piteously, I am sure of one sweet shelter, one covert from the storm! The bells are ringing, Susie, north, and east, and south, and your own village bell, and the people who love God, are expecting to go to meeting; dont you go Susie, not to their meeting, but come with me this morning to the church within our hearts, where the bells are always ringing, and the preacher whose name is Love -- shall intercede there for us!

They will all go but me, to the usual meetinghouse, to hear the usual sermon; the inclemency of the storm so kindly detaining me; and as I sit here Susie, alone with the winds and you -- I have the old king feeling even more than before, for I know not even the cracker man will invade this solitude, this sweet Sabbath of our's. And thank you for my dear letter, which came on Saturday night, when all the world was still; thank you for the love it bore me, and for it's golden thoughts, and feelings so like gems, that I was sure I gathered them in whole baskets of pearls! I mourn this morning, Susie, that I have no sweet sunset to gild a page for you, nor any bay so blue -- not even a little chamber way up in the sky, as your's is, to give me thoughts of heaven, which I would give to you. You know how I must write you, down, down, in the terrestrial -- no sunset here, no stars; not even a bit of twilight which I may poetize -- and send you! Yet Susie, there will be romance in the letter's ride to you -- think of the hills and the dales, and the rivers it will pass over, and the drivers and conductors who will hurry it on to you; and wont that make a poem such as can ne'er be written? I think of you dear Susie, now, I dont know how or why, but more dearly as every day goes by, and that sweet month of promise draws nearer and nearer; and I view July so differently from what I used to -- once it seemed parched, and dry -- and I hardly loved it any on account of it's heat and dust; but now Susie, month of all the year the best; I skip the violets -- and the dew, and the early Rose and the Robins; I will exchange them all for that angry and hot noonday, when I can count the hours and the minutes before you come -- Oh Susie, I often think that I will try to tell you how very dear you are, and how I'm watching for you, but the words wont come, tho' the tears will, and I sit down disappointed -- yet darling, you know it all -- then why do I seek to tell you? I do not know; in thinking of those I love, my reason is all gone from me, and I do fear sometimes that I must make a hospital for the hopelessly insane, and chain me up there such times, so I wont injure you.

Always when the sun shines, and always when it storms, and always always, Susie, we are remembering you, and what else besides remembering; I shall not tell you, because you know!

Were it not for dear Mattie, I dont know what we would do, but she loves you so dearly, and is never tired of talking about you, and we all get together and talk it oer and oer -- and it makes us more resigned, than to mourn for you alone.

It was only yesterday, that I went to see dear Mattie, intending in my heart to stay a little while, only a very little one, because of a good many errands which I was going to do, and will you believe it, Susie, I was there an hour -- and an hour, and half an hour besides, and would'nt have supposed it had been minutes so many -- and what do you guess we talked about, all those hours long -- what would you give to know -- give me one little glimpse of your sweet rice, dear Susie, and I will tell you all -- we didn't talk of statesmen, and we didn't talk of kings -- but the time was filled full, and when the latch was lifted and the oaken door was closed, why, Susie, I realized as never I did before, how much a single cottage held that was dear to me. It is sweet -- and like home, at Mattie's, but it's sad too -- and up comes little memory, and paints -- and paints -- and paints -- and the strangest thing of all, her canvass is never full, and I find her where I left her, every time that I come -- and who is she painting -- Ah, Susie, "dinna choose to tell" -- but it is'nt Mr Cutler, and it is'nt Daniel Boon, and I shant tell you any more -- Susie, what will you say if I tell you that Henry Root is coming to see me, some evening of this week, and I have promised to read him some parts of all your letters; now you wont care, dear Susie, for he wants so much to hear, and I shant read him anything which I know you would not be willing--just some little places, which will please him so -- I have seen him several times lately, and I admire him, Susie, because he talks of you so frequently and beautifully; and I know he is so true to you, when you are far away -- We talk more of you, dear Susie, than of any other thing -- he tells me how wonderful you are, and I tell him how true you are, and his big eyes beam, and he seems so delighted -- I know you would'nt care, Susie, if you knew how much joy it made -- As I told him the other evening of all your letters to me, he looked up very longingly, and I knew what he would say, were he enough acquainted -- so I answered the question his heart wanted to ask, and when some pleasant evening, before this week is gone, you remember home and Amherst, then know, Loved One -- that they are remembering you, and that "two or three" are gathered in your name, loving, and speaking of you -- and will you be there in the midst of them? Then I've found a beautiful, new, friend, and I've told him about dear Susie, and promised to let him know you so soon as you shall come. Dear Susie, in all your letters there are things sweet and many about which I would speak, but the time says no -- yet dont think I forget them -- Oh no -- they are safe in the little chest which tells no secrets -- nor the moth, nor the rust can reach them -- but when the time we dream of -- comes, then Susie, I shall bring them, and we will spend hours chatting and chatting of them -- those precious thoughts of friends -- how I loved them, and how I love them now nothing but Susie herself is half so dear. Susie, I have not asked you if you were cheerful and well -- and I cant think why, except that there's something perrennial in those we dearly love, immortal life and vigor; why it seems as if any sickness, or harm, would flee away, would not dare do them wrong, and Susie, while you are taken from me, I class you with the angels, and you know the Bible tells us -- "there is no sickness there." But, dear Susie, are you well, and peaceful, for I wont make you cry by saying are you happy? Dont see the blot, Susie. It's because I broke the Sabbath!

Upside down on first page

Susie, what shall I do -- there is'nt room enough; not half enough, to hold what I was going to say. Wont you tell the man who makes sheets of paper, that I hav'nt the slightest respect for him!

In margin on first page

And when shall I have a letter -- when it's convenient, Susie, not when tired and faint -- ever!

In margin on second page

Emeline gets well so slowly; poor Henry; I guess he thinks true love's course does'nt run very smooth --

In margin on third page

Much love from Mother and Vinnie, and then there are some others who do not dare to send --

In margin on fourth page

Who loves you most, and loves you best, and thinks of you when others rest? T'is Emilie --

about February 1852

Precious stones and gold, love's riches, and Susan herself as a jewel become a pattern of imagery that continues throughout Emily's poetry. Her lamentation that she has no "sweet sunset to gild a page for you" may refer to Emily's inability to use gilt-edged stationery to make a gift of her writing. Mr. Cutler is the Amherst merchant, William Cutler, who married Susan's sister Harriet in 1842. In the margin on the second page, Emily refers to Emeline Kellogg and her future husband, Henry Nash. A letter to Austin written at the same time is mutilated when referring to "Susie."


Monday morning -

Will you be kind to me, Susie? I am naughty and cross, this morning, and nobody loves me here; nor would you love me, if you shoould see me frown, and hear how loud the door bangs whenever I go through; and yet it is'nt anger -- I dont believe it is, for when nobody sees, I brush away big tears with the corner of my apron, and then go working on -- bitter tears, Susie -- so hot that they burn my cheeks, and almost schorch my eyeballs, but you have wept such, and you know they are less of anger then sorrow.

And I do love to run fast -- and hide away from them all; here in dear Susie's bosom, I know is love and rest, and I never would go away, did not the big world call me, and beat me for not working.

Little Emerald Mack is washing, I can hear the warm suds, splash. I just gave her my pocket handkerchief -- so I cannot cry any more. And Vinnie sweeps -- sweeps, upon the chamber stairs; and Mother is hurrying around with her hair in a silk pocket handkerchief, on account of dust. Oh Susie, it is dismal, sad and drear eno' -- and the sun dont shine, and the clouds look cold and gray, and the wind dont blow, but it pipes the shrillest roundelay, and the birds dont sing, but twitter -- and there's nobody to smile! Do I paint it natural -- Susie, so you think how it looks? Yet dont you care -- for it wont last so always, and we love you just as well -- and think of you, as dearly, as if it were not so. Your precious letter, Susie, it sits here now, and smiles so kindly at me, and gives me such sweet thoughts of the dear writer. When you come home, darling, I shant have your letters, shall I, but I shall have yourself, which is more -- Oh more, and better, than I can even think! I sit here with my little whip, cracking the time away, till not an hour is left of it -- then you are here! And Joy is here -- joy now and forevermore!

Tis only a few days, Susie, it will soon go away, yet I say, go now, this very moment, for I need her -- I must have her, Oh give her to me!

Mattie is dear and true, I love her very dearly -- and Emily Fowler, too, is very dear to me -- and Tempe -- and Abby, and Eme', I am sure -- I love them all -- and I hope they love me, but, Susie, there's a great corner still; I fill it with that is gone, I hover round and round it, and call it darling names, and bid it speak to me, and ask it if it's Susie, and it answers, Nay, Ladie, Susie is stolen away!

Do I repine, is it all murmuring, or am I sad and lone, and cannot, cannot help it? Sometimes when I do feel so, I think it may be wrong, and that God will punish me by taking you away; for he is very kind to let me write to you, and to give me your sweet letters, but my heart wants more.

Have you ever thought of it Susie, and yet I know you have, how much these hearts claim; why I dont believe in the whole, wide world, are such hard little creditors -- such real little misers, as you and I carry with us, in our bosoms everyday. I cant help thinking sometimes, when I hear about the ungenerous, Heart, keep very still -- or someone will find you out!

I am going out on the doorstep, to get you some new -- green grass -- I shall pick it down in the corner, where you and I used to sit, and have long fancies. And perhaps the dear little grasses were growing all the while -- and perhaps they heard what we said, but they cant tell! I have come in now, dear Susie, and here is what I found -- not quite so glad and green as when we used to sit there, but a sad and pensive grassie -- mourning o'er hopes. No doubt some spruce, young Plantain leaf won its young heart away, and then proved false -- and dont you wish none proved so, but little Plantains?

I do think it's wonderful, Susie, that our hearts dont break, every day, when I think of all the whiskers, and all the gallant men, but I guess I'm made with nothing but a hard heart of stone, for it dont break any, and dear Susie, if mine is stony, your's is stone, upon stone, for you never yield any, where I seem quite beflown. Are we going to ossify always, say, Susie -- how will it be? When I see the Popes and the Polloks, and the John-Milton Browns, I think we are liable, but I dont know! I am glad there's a big future waiting for me and you. You would love to know what I read -- I hardly know what to tell you, my catalogue is so small.

I have just read three little books, not great, not thrilling -- but sweet and true. "The Light in the Valley," "Only," and a "House upon a Rock" -- I know you would love them all -- yet they dont bewitch me any. There are no walks in the wood -- no low and earnest voices, no moonlight, nor stolen love, but pure little lives, loving God, and their parents, and obeying the laws of the land; yet read, if you meet them, Susie, for they will do one good.

I have the promise of "Alton Lock" -- a certain book, called "Olive," and the "Head of a Family," which was what Mattie named to you. Vinnie and I had "Bleak House" sent to us the other day -- it is like him who wrote it -- that is all I can say. Dear Susie, you were so happy when you wrote to me last -- I am so glad, and you will be happy now for all my sadness, wont you? I cant forgive me ever, if I have made you sad, or dimmed your eye for me. I write from the Land of Violets, and from the Land of Spring, and it would ill become me to carry you nought but sorrows. I remember you, Susie, always -- I keep you ever here, and when you are gone, then I'm gone -- and we're 'neath one willow tree. I can only thank "the Father" for giving me such as you, I can only pray unceasingly, that he will bless my Loved One, and bring her back to me, to "go no more out forever. "Herein is Love." But that was Heaven -- this is but Earth, yet Earth so like to heaven, that I would hesitate, should the true one call away. Dear Susie -- adieu! Emilie --

Upside down on first page

Father's sister is dead, and Mother wears black on her bonnet, and has a collar of crape.

In margin on first page

A great deal of love from Vinnie, and she wants that little note.

In margin on second page

Austin comes home on Wednesday, but he'll only stay two days, so I fancy we shant

In margin on third page

go sugaring, as "we did last year." Last year is gone, Susie -- did you ever think of that?

In margin on fourth page

Joseph is out south somewhere, a very great way off, yet we hear from him.

April 5, 1852

The reference to "Emerald" distinguishes Mrs. Mack, an Irish woman who works in the Dickinson household, from members of the family of Deacon David Mack. Emily mentions her friend Emily Fowler, and in the margin, she refers to Joseph Lyman, a friend of Emily's and Lavinia's. In Emily's caricatures of friends as literary celebrities, she seems to pun on the names of Alexander Pope and a near-contemporary Scottish divine. The books that are mentioned refer to The Light in the Valley, a memorial of Mary Elizabeth Stirling, Only and A House Upon a Rock by Matilda Anne Mackarness, Alton Locke by Charles Kingsley, Head of a Family and Olive by Dinah Maria Craik, and Bleak House by Charles Dickens. In the margins of this letter, Emily also refers to the March 30, 1852, death of her aunt Mary Newman, Edward Dickinson's sister.


Sunday afternoon

So sweet and still, and Thee, Oh Susie, what need I more, to make my heaven whole?

Sweet Hour, blessed Hour, to carry me to you, and to bring you back to me, long enough to snatch one kiss, and whisper Good bye, again.

I have thought of it all day, Susie, and I fear of but little else, and when I was gone to meeting it filled my mind so full, I could not find a chink to put the worthy pastor; when he said "Our Heavenly Father," I said "Oh Darling Sue"; when he read the 100th Psalm, I kept saying your precious letter all over to myself, and Susie, when they sang -- it would have made you laugh to hear one little voice, piping to the departed. I made up words and kept singing how I loved you, and you had gone, while all the rest of the choir were singing Hallelujahs. I presume nobody heard me, because I sang so small, but it was a kind of a comfort to think I might put them out, singing of you. I a'nt there this afternoon, tho', because I am here, writing a little letter to my dear Sue, and I am very happy. I think of ten weeks -- Dear One, and I think of love, and you, and my heart grows full and warm, and my breath stands still. The sun does'nt shine at all, but I can feel a sunshine stealing into my soul and making it all summer, and every thorn, a rose. And I pray that such summer's sun shine on my Absent One, and cause her bird to sing!

You have been happy, Susie, and now are sad -- and the whole world seems lone; but it wont be so always, "some days must be dark and dreary"! You wont cry any more, will you, Susie, for my father will be your father, and my home will be your home, and where you go, I will go, and we will lie side by side in the kirkyard.

I have parents on earth, dear Susie, but your's are in the skies, and I have an earthly fireside, but you have one above, and you have a "Father in Heaven," where I have none -- and a sister in heaven, and I know they love you dearly, and think of you every day.

Oh I wish I had half so many dear friends as you in heaven -- I could'nt spare them now -- but to know they had got there safely, and should suffer nevermore -- Dear Susie!

I know I was very naughty to write such fretful things, and I know I could have helped it, if I had tried hard enough, but I thought my heart would break, and I knew of nobody here that cared anything about it -- so I said to myself, "We will tell Susie about it." You dont know what a comfort it was, and you wont know, till the big cup of bitterness is filled brimfull, and they say, "Susie, drink it!" Then Darling, let me be there, and let me drink the half, and you will feel it all!

I am glad you have rested, Susie. I wish the week had been more, a whole score of days and joys for you, yet again, had it lasted longer, then had you not come so soon and I had been lonelier, it is right as it is! Ten weeks, they will seem short to you -- for care will fill them, but to Mattie and me, long. We shall grow tired, waiting, and our eyes will ache with looking for you, and with now and then a tear. And yet we have hope left, and we shall keep her busy, cheering away the time. Only think Susie, it is vacation now -- there shall be no more vacation until ten weeks have gone, and no more snow; and how very little while it will be now, before you and I are sitting out on the broad stone step, mingling our lives together! I cant talk of it now tho', for it makes me long and yearn so, that I cannot sleep tonight, for thinking of it, and you.

Yes, we did go sugaring, and remembered who was gone -- and who was there last year, and love and recollection brought with them Little Regret, and set her in the midst of us.

Dear Susie, Dear Joseph; why take the best and dearest, and leave our hearts behind? While the Lovers sighed; and twined oak leaves, and the anti enamored ate sugar, and crackers, in the house, I went to see what I could find. Only think of it, Susie; I had'nt any appetite, nor any Lover, either, so I made the best of fate, and gathered antique stones, and your little flowers of moss opened their lips and spoke to me, so I was not alone, and bye and bye Mattie and me might have been seen sitting together upon a high -- gray rock, and we might have been heard talking, were anyone very near! And did thoughts of that dear Susie go with us on the rock, and sit there 'tween us twain? Loved One, thou knowest!

I gathered something for you, because you were not there, an acorn, and some moss blossoms, and a little shell of a snail, so whitened by the snow you would think 'twas a cunning artist had carved it from alabaster -- then I tied them all up in a leaf with some last summer's grass I found by a brookside, and I'm keeping them all for you.

I saw Mattie at church today, tho' could not speak to her. Friday evening I saw her, and talked with her besides. Oh I do love her -- and when you come if we all live till then, it will be precious, Susie. You speak to me of sorrow, of what you have "lost and loved," say rather, of what you have loved and won, for it is much, dear Susie; I can count the big, true hearts by clusters, full of bloom, and bloom amaranthine, because eternal! Emilie--

In margin on first page

I have heard all about the journal, Oh Susie, that you should come to this! I want you to get it bound -- at my expense -- Susie -- so when he takes you from me, to live in his new home, I may have some of you. I am sincere.

In margin on second page

Mother sends her best love to you. It makes her look so happy when I give your's to her. Send it always, Susie, and send your respects to father!

In margin on third page

And much from Vinnie. She was so happy at her note. After she finished reading it, she said, "I dont know but it's wrong, but I love Sue better --

In margin on fourth page

than Jane, and I love her and Mattie better than all the friends I ever had in my life." Vinnie hopes to be like you, and to do as you do.

Upside down, near "Loved One, thou knowest!" on fourth page



Wednesday --

Precious Sue -- Precious Mattie!

All I desire in this life -- all I pray for, or hope for in that long life to come!

Dear Mattie just left me, and I stand just where we stood smiling and chatting together a moment ago. Our last words were of you, and as we said Dear Susie, the sunshine grew so warm, and out peeped prisoned leaves, and the Robins answered Susie, and the big hills left their work, and echoed Susie, and from the smiling fields, and from the fragrant meadows came troops of fairy Susies, and asked "Is it me"? No, Little One, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor can the heart conceive" my Susie, whom I love.

These days of heaven bring you nearer and nearer, and every bird that sings, and every bud that blooms, does but remind me more of that garden unseen, awaiting the hand that tills it. Dear Susie, when you come, how many boundless blossoms among those silent beds! How I do count the days -- how I do long for the time when I may count the hours without incurring the charge of Femina insania! I made up the Latin -- Susie, for I could'nt think how it went, according to Stoddard and Andrew!

I want to send you joy, I have half a mind to put up one of these dear little Robin's, and send him singing to you. I know I would, Susie, did I think he would live to get there and sing his little songs.

I shall keep everything singing tho', until Dear Child gets home -- and I shant let anything blossom till then -- either.

I have got to go out in the garden now, and whip a Crown-Imperial for presuming to hold it's head up, until you have come home, so farewell, Susie -- I shall think of you at sunset, and at sunrise, again; and at noon, and forenoon, and afternoon, and always, and evermore, till this little heart stops beating and is still. Emilie

about May 1852

Emily refers to the New Testament: "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." (I Corinthians 2.9) "Stoddard and Andrew" are Solomon Stoddard and Ethan Allen Andrews, the authors of A Grammar of the Latin Language for Schools and Colleges.


Friday morning --

They are cleaning house today, Susie, and I've made a flying retreat to my own little chamber, where with affection, and you, I will spend this my precious hour, most precious of all the hours which dot my flying days, and the one so dear, that for it I barter everything, and as soon as it is gone, I am sighing for it again.

I cannot believe, dear Susie, that I have stayed without you almost a whole year long; sometimes the time seems short, and the thought of you as warm as if you had gone but yesterday, and again if years and years had trod their silent pathway, the time would seem less long.

And now how soon I shall have you, shall hold you in my arms; you will forgive the tears, Susie, they are so glad to come that it is not in my heart to reprove them and send them home. I dont know why it is -- but there's something in your name, now you are taken from me, which fills my heart so full, and my eye, too. It is not that the mention grieves me, no, Susie, but I think of each "sunnyside" where we have sat together, and lest there be no more, I guess is what makes the tears come. Mattie was here last evening, and we sat on the front door stone, and talked about life and love, and whispered our childish fancies about such blissful things -- the evening was gone so soon, and I walked home with Mattie beneath the silent moon, and wished for you, and Heaven. You did not come, Darling, but a bit of Heaven did, or so it seemed to us, as we walked side by side and wondered of that great blessedness which may be our's sometime, is granted now, to some. This union, my dear Susie, by which two lives are one, this sweet and strange adoption wherein we can but look, and are not yet admitted, how it can fill the heart, and make it gang wildly beating, how it will take us one day, and make us all it's own, and we shall not run away from it, but lie still and be happy!

You and I have been strangely silent upon this subject, Susie, we have often touched upon it, and as quickly fled away, as children shut their eyes when the sun is too bright for them. l have always hoped to know if you had no dear fancy, illumining all your life, no one of whom you murmured in the faithful ear of night -- and at whose side in fancy, you walked the livelong day; and when you come home, Susie, we must speak of these things.

How dull our lives must seem to the bride, and the plighted maiden, whose days are fed with gold, and who gather pearls every evening; but to the wife, Susie, sometimes the wife forgotten, our lives perhaps seem dearer than all others in the world; you have seen flowers at morning, satisfied with the dew, and those same sweet flowers at noon with their heads bowed in anguish before the mighty sun; think you these thirsty blossoms will now need naught but -- dew? No, they will cry for sunlight, and pine for the burning noon, tho' it scorches them, scathes them; they have got through with peace -- they know that the man of noon, is mightier than the morning and their life is henceforth to him. Oh, Susie, it is dangerous, and it is all too dear, these simple trusting spirits, and the spirits mightier, which we cannot resist! It does so rend me, Susie, the thought of it when it comes, that I tremble lest at sometime I, too, am yielded up.

Susie, you will forgive me my amatory strain -- it has been a very long one, and if this saucy page did not here bind and fetter me, I might have had no end.

I have got the letter, Susie, dear little bud -- and all -- and the tears came again, that alone in this big world, I am not quite alone. Such tears are showers friend, thro' which when smiles appear, the angels call them rainbows, and mimic them in Heaven.

And now in four weeks more -- you are mine, all mine, except I lend you a little occasionally to Hattie and Mattie, if they promise me not to lose you, and to bring you back very soon. I shall not count the days. I shall not fill my cups with this expected happiness, for perhaps if I do, the angels being thirsty, will drink them up -- I shall only hope, my Susie, and that tremblingly, for havnt barques the fullest, stranded upon the shore?

God is good, Susie, I trust he will save you, I pray that in his good time we once more meet each other, but if this life holds not another meeting for us, remember also, Susie, that it has no parting more, wherever that hour finds us, for which we have hoped so long, we shall not be separated, neither death, nor the grave can part us, so that we only love! Your Emilie -

In margin on first page

Austin has come and gone; life is so still again; why must the storm have calms?

In margin on second page

I hav'nt seen Root this term, I guess Mattie and I, are not sufficient for him!

In margin on third page

When will you come again, in a week? Let it be a swift week!

In margin on fourth page

Vinnie sends much love, and Mother; and might I be so bold as to enclose a remembrance?

early June 1852 Emily's tone in this letter suggests that she was not aware of the intimacy Susan already shared with Austin. Just four months earlier, Susan had sent Austin a Valentine that included a private joke referring to another young man's gift of chestnuts to Susan, a gift that Susan and Austin ate together. Soon the word in Amherst was that "Austin D. and Susan Gilbert are constant, and the gossips say constantly together."

(Continues ...)

Copyright 1998 Ellen Louise Hart and Martha Nell Smith.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0-9638183-7-6
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