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Picture of Emily Dickinson, poet; nineteenth century American Literature and poetry


 
March 1, 1862
Emily Dickinson   (1830 - 1886)
 
Emily Dickinson, "Alabaster Chambers"
 
by Steve King

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On this day in 1862, Emily Dickinson's poem "Safe in their Alabaster Chambers" was published in the Springfield Daily Republican. This was the second of only a handful of poems published in Dickinson's lifetime, all of them anonymously and, most think, without her knowledge:
    Safe in their alabaster chambers,
    Untouched by morning and untouched by noon,
    Sleep the meek members of the resurrection,
    Rafter of satin, and roof of stone.

    Light laughs the breeze in her castle of sunshine;
    Babbles the bee in a stolid ear;
    Pipe the sweet birds in ignorant cadence, --
    Ah, what sagacity perished here!

    Grand go the years in the crescent above them;
    Worlds scoop their arcs, and firmaments row,
    Diadems drop and Doges surrender,
    Soundless as dots on a disk of snow.
The poem's newspaper publication was six weeks before her famous letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, in which the thirty-one-year-old amateur sent four of the 400 poems she'd already written -- there were eventually over 1700 -- to the professional critic with the query, "Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?" Dickinson was already so far beyond Higginson that she could turn even his discouragement to poetry:
    I smile when you suggest that I delay "to publish" -- that being foreign to my thought, as Firmament to Fin.
    If fame belonged to me, I could not escape her -- if she did not, the longest day would pass me on the chase -- and the approbation of my Dog, would forsake me -- then. My Barefoot-Rank is better.
    You think my gait "spasmodic," I am in danger, Sir.
    You think me "uncontrolled," I have no Tribunal. . . .
    The Sailor cannot see the North, but knows the Needle can.
Dickinson took care over the details of her own funeral. There was to be no hint of alabaster chambers, apart from the white flannel burial robe and white coffin, against which stood, one neighbor noted, Emily's "wealth of auburn hair. . . and perfect peace on the beautiful brow." It was mid-May, and so her other wishes could be respected: the coffin was taken out through the back door and placed on a wooden bier decked with flowers, then carried on the shoulders of six local workmen, by field, street and footpath, to the Amherst graveyard. Higginson had troubled to come from Cambridge, and even read a poem at the service, though it was Emily Bronte's "No Coward Soul Is Mine."

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