Emily Dickinson, poet of the interior life, imagined words/swords, hurling barbed syllables/piercing. Nothing about her adult appearance or habitation revealed such a militant soul. Only poems, written quietly in a room of her own, often hand-stitched in small volumes, then hidden in a desk drawer, revealed her true self. She did not live in time, as did that other great poet of the day, Walt Whitman, but in universals. As she knowingly put it: “There is one thing to be grateful for—that one is one’s self and not somebody else.”
Dickinson lived and died without fame: she saw only a few poems published. Her great legacy was later rescued from her desk drawer—an astonishing body of work revealing her acute, sensitive nature reaching out boldly from self-referral to a wider, imagined world. Her family sought publication of Dickinson’s poetry over the years, selecting verses, often altering her words or her punctuation, until, in 1955, the first important attempt was made to collect and publish Dickinson’s work, edited by Thomas H. Johnson for the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Now, after many years of preparation by Ralph W. Franklin, the foremost scholar of Dickinson’s manuscripts, a new comprehensive edition is available. This three-volume work contains 1,789 poems, the largest number ever assembled. The poems, arranged chronologically, based on new dating, are drawn from a range of archives, most frequently from holographs, but also from various secondary sources representing lost manuscripts. The text of each manuscript is rendered individually, including, within the capacity of standard type, Dickinson’s spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. Franklin gives Dickinson’s alternative readings for the poems, her revisions, and the line and page, or column, divisions in the source. Each entry identifies Franklin’s editorial emendations and records the publication history, including variants. Fourteen appendices of tables and lists give additional information, including poems attributed to Emily Dickinson. The poems are indexed by numbers from the Johnson edition, as well as by first lines.
Franklin has provided an introduction that serves as a guide to this edition and surveys the history of the editing of Dickinson’s poems. His account of how Dickinson conducted her workshop is a reconstruction of a remarkable poetic life.
I think there will be a wide agreement regarding most of Franklin’s editorial decisions. He states his principles clearly and does not conceal his uncertainties (about the dating of individual poems, for example). He is deeply respectful of Dickinson’s writing practices, following her often erratic spelling and, ‘within the capacity of standard type,’ her capitalization and punctuation. His textual apparatus is informative without being intrusive, and includes such useful information as where Dickinson broke her lines on her manuscript sheets, as well as any other information—pinned attachments, tears in the paper, and the like—that might have a bearing on interpretation. All scholars and readers of Dickinson are in his debt.
The poems of Emily Dickinson speak to an amazingly wide range of readers… Dickinson wrote more than 1,700 poems, but only a few were published in her lifetime. The first substantive scholarly collection of her work was Thomas H. Johnson’s edition in 1955. That edition is now superseded by this three-volume variorum edition by Ralph W. Franklin, director of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscripts Library at Yale. Not only does this new edition contain even more poems, but it also gives alternative versions of the poems, which Dickinson left in her manuscripts. Serious scholars, students, and teachers will welcome this landmark edition. But it might also be the perfect…gift for any reader who loves and wants to continue exploring the endless marvels of her poetic creations.
Nearly 1,800 poems—only 10 published in her lifetime—occupied Dickinson during her long, reclusive life; she sent them to friends and family, changing words as she did so. These changes are noted in this edition, which brings us into her workshop; indeed, I know of no better way to get to know this astounding poetry.
Among its valuable new features, Franklin’s variorum gives equal weight to each surviving version of a poem: Franklin clarifies Dickinson’s manuscript lineation in his introduction (asserting that it was ordinarily determined by available space) and provides a section below each poem to show her original breaks… Step by step, each of Franklin’s books and articles has defined and pointed the way to solving the ‘impossible’ task that confronts an editor attempting to transform into print manuscript poems and letters not prepared by the author for publication. Ralph W. Franklin has met that challenge. He is our indispensable guide to Dickinson’s legacy.
This new edition is a staggering feat of editorial scholarship and discipline, and a colossal, indispensable achievement in Dickinson studies.
- 1680 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/2 inches
- Belknap Press
From this author
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