In my New York Journal of Books review I describe The Gorgeous Nothings as “. . . one gorgeous book . . . like attending a museum exhibition in the comfort of one’s own home.” For a comparison between Ms. Dickinson’s draft of a poem and the posthumously published version see an article that appeared in a different and now defunct publication, which begins with the next paragraph.
Books: The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems
In The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems, published today by New Directions, we learn that the poem her posthumous editor published as
“I have no Life but this —
To lead it here —
Nor any Death — but lest
Dispelled from there —
“Nor tie to Earths to come —
Nor Action new —
Except through this extent —
The Realm of you —“
is based on the following first draft Ms. Dickinson wrote in pencil on the back of an envelope:
“I have no
life [to] [but] [live] [this]
[But] [To] lead
for World s
+ Nor tie to
The original had wider spaces between the words than examiner’s publishing tool allows. The plus signs (+) indicate alternate words and phrases Ms. Dickinson considered as she revised her poems.
From the published versions of her poems readers would hardly guess how open her original drafts were. The published versions seem formal and of their time, while the drafts seem experimental and ahead of her time. Ms. Dickinson did not want her work published during her lifetime for fear of just such editing by other hands.
In my New York Journal of Books review I describe The Gorgeous Nothings as “. . . one gorgeous book . . . like attending a museum exhibition in the comfort of one’s own home.” It’s a book every Emily Dickinson fan and armchair literary sleuth will want to own.