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 © COPYRIGHT 2013 International Education Institute, ATTN: Ken Harvey, 2027 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick WA 99336, USA


by Emily Dickinson


Not In Vain

If I can stop one heart from breaking,

I shall not live in vain:

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.




Book I


I. Real Riches

'T is little I could care for pearls

  Who own the ample sea;

Or brooches, when the Emperor

  With rubies pelteth me;

Or gold, who am the Prince of Mines;

  Or diamonds, when I see

A diadem to fit a dome

  Continual crowning me.

II. Superiority to Fate

Superiority to fate

  Is difficult to learn.

'T is not conferred by any,

  But possible to earn

A pittance at a time,

  Until, to her surprise,

The soul with strict economy

  Subsists till Paradise.

III. Hope

Hope is a subtle glutton;

  He feeds upon the fair;

And yet, inspected closely,

  What abstinence is there!

His is the halcyon table

  That never seats but one,

And whatsoever is consumed

  The same amounts remain.

IV. Forbidden Fruit


Forbidden fruit a flavor has

  That lawful orchards mocks;

How luscious lies the pea within

  The pod that Duty locks!

V. Forbidden Fruit


Heaven is what I cannot reach!

  The apple on the tree,

Provided it do hopeless hang,

  That 'heaven' is, to me.

The color on the cruising cloud,

  The interdicted ground

Behind the hill, the house behind,--

  There Paradise is found!

VI. A Word.

A word is dead

When it is said,

  Some say.

I say it just

Begins to live

  That day.


To venerate the simple days

  Which lead the seasons by,

Needs but to remember

  That from you or me

They may take the trifle

  Termed mortality!

To invest existence with a stately air,

Needs but to remember

  That the acorn there

Is the egg of forests

  For the upper air!

VIII. Life's Trades.

It 's such a little thing to weep,

  So short a thing to sigh;

And yet by trades the size of these

  We men and women die!


Drowning is not so pitiful

  As the attempt to rise.

Three times, 't is said, a sinking man

  Comes up to face the skies,

And then declines forever

  To that abhorred abode

Where hope and he part company,--

  For he is grasped of God.

The Maker's cordial visage,

  However good to see,

Is shunned, we must admit it,

  Like an adversity.


How still the bells in steeples stand,

  Till, swollen with the sky,

They leap upon their silver feet

  In frantic melody!


If the foolish call them 'flowers,'

  Need the wiser tell?

If the savans 'classify' them,

  It is just as well!

Those who read the Revelations

  Must not criticise

Those who read the same edition

  With beclouded eyes!

Could we stand with that old Moses

  Canaan denied,--

Scan, like him, the stately landscape

  On the other side,--

Doubtless we should deem superfluous

  Many sciences

Not pursued by learnèd angels

  In scholastic skies!

Low amid that glad Belles lettres

  Grant that we may stand,

Stars, amid profound Galaxies,

  At that grand 'Right hand'!

XII. A Syllable.

Could mortal lip divine

  The undeveloped freight

Of a delivered syllable,

  'T would crumble with the weight.

XIII. Parting.

My life closed twice before its close;

  It yet remains to see

If Immortality unveil

  A third event to me,

So huge, so hopeless to conceive,

  As these that twice befell.

Parting is all we know of heaven,

  And all we need of hell.

XIV. Aspiration.

We never know how high we are

  Till we are called to rise;

And then, if we are true to plan,

  Our statures touch the skies.

The heroism we recite

  Would be a daily thing,

Did not ourselves the cubits warp

  For fear to be a king.

XV. The Inevitable.

While I was fearing it, it came,

  But came with less of fear,

Because that fearing it so long

  Had almost made it dear.

There is a fitting a dismay,

  A fitting a despair.

'T is harder knowing it is due,

  Than knowing it is here.

The trying on the utmost,

  The morning it is new,

Is terribler than wearing it

  A whole existence through.

XVI. A Book.

There is no frigate like a book

  To take us lands away,

Nor any coursers like a page

  Of prancing poetry.

This traverse may the poorest take

  Without oppress of toll;

How frugal is the chariot

  That bears a human soul!


Who has not found the heaven below

  Will fail of it above.

God's residence is next to mine,

  His furniture is love.

XVIII. A Portrait.

A face devoid of love or grace,

A hateful, hard, successful face,

  A face with which a stone

Would feel as thoroughly at ease

As were they old acquaintances,--

  First time together thrown.

XIX. I Had a Guinea Golden.

I had a guinea golden;

  I lost it in the sand,

And though the sum was simple,

  And pounds were in the land,

Still had it such a value

  Unto my frugal eye,

That when I could not find it

  I sat me down to sigh.

I had a crimson robin

  Who sang full many a day,

But when the woods were painted

  He, too, did fly away.

Time brought me other robins,--

  Their ballads were the same,--

Still for my missing troubadour

  I kept the 'house at hame.'

I had a star in heaven;

  One Pleiad was its name,

And when I was not heeding

  It wandered from the same.

And though the skies are crowded,

  And all the night ashine,

I do not care about it,

  Since none of them are mine.

My story has a moral:

  I have a missing friend,--

Pleiad its name, and robin,

  And guinea in the sand,--

And when this mournful ditty,

  Accompanied with tear,

Shall meet the eye of traitor

  In country far from here,

Grant that repentance solemn

  May seize upon his mind,

And he no consolation

  Beneath the sun may find.

Note.--This poem may have had, like many others, a personal origin. It is more than probable that it was sent to some friend travelling in Europe, a dainty reminder of letter-writing delinquencies.

XX. Saturday Afternoon.

From all the jails the boys and girls

  Ecstatically leap,--

Beloved, only afternoon

  That prison does n't keep.

They storm the earth and stun the air,

  A mob of solid bliss.

Alas! that frowns could lie in wait

  For such a foe as this!


Few get enough,--enough is one;

  To that ethereal throng

Have not each one of us the right

  To stealthily belong?


Upon the gallows hung a wretch,

  Too sullied for the hell

To which the law entitled him.

  As nature's curtain fell

The one who bore him tottered in,

  For this was woman's son.

''T was all I had,' she stricken gasped;

  Oh, what a livid boon!

XXIII. The Lost Thought.

I felt a clearing in my mind

  As if my brain had split;

I tried to match it, seam by seam,

  But could not make them fit.

The thought behind I strove to join

  Unto the thought before,

But sequence ravelled out of reach

  Like balls upon a floor.

XXIV. Reticence.

The reticent volcano keeps

  His never slumbering plan;

Confided are his projects pink

  To no precarious man.

If nature will not tell the tale

  Jehovah told to her,

Can human nature not survive

  Without a listener?

Admonished by her buckled lips

  Let every babbler be.

The only secret people keep

  Is Immortality.

XXV. With Flowers.

If recollecting were forgetting,

  Then I remember not;

And if forgetting, recollecting,

  How near I had forgot!

And if to miss were merry,

  And if to mourn were gay,

How very blithe the fingers

  That gathered these to-day!


The farthest thunder that I heard

  Was nearer than the sky,

And rumbles still, though torrid noons

  Have lain their missiles by.

The lightning that preceded it

  Struck no one but myself,

But I would not exchange the bolt

  For all the rest of life.

Indebtedness to oxygen

  The chemist may repay,

But not the obligation

  To electricity.

It founds the homes and decks the days,

  And every clamor bright

Is but the gleam concomitant

  Of that waylaying light.

The thought is quiet as a flake,--

  A crash without a sound;

How life's reverberation

  Its explanation found!


On the bleakness of my lot

  Bloom I strove to raise.

Late, my acre of a rock

  Yielded grape and maize.

Soil of flint if steadfast tilled

  Will reward the hand;

Seed of palm by Lybian sun

  Fructified in sand.

XXVIII. Contrast.

A door just opened on a street--

  I, lost, was passing by--

And instant's width of warmth disclosed,

  And wealth, and company.

The door as sudden shut, and I,

  I, lost, was passing by,--

Lost doubly, but by contrast most,

  Enlightening misery.

XXIX. Friends.

Are friends delight or pain?

Could bounty but remain

  Riches were good.

But if they only stay

Bolder to fly away,

  Riches are sad.

XXX. Fire.

Ashes denote that fire was;

  Respect the grayest pile

For the departed creature's sake

  That hovered there awhile.

Fire exists the first in light,

  And then consolidates,--

Only the chemist can disclose

  Into what carbonates.

XXXI. A Man.

Fate slew him, but he did not drop;

  She felled--he did not fall--

Impaled him on her fiercest stakes--

  He neutralized them all.

She stung him, sapped his firm advance,

  But, when her worst was done,

And he, unmoved, regarded her,

  Acknowledged him a man.

XXXII. Ventures.

Finite to fail, but infinite to venture.

  For the one ship that struts the shore

Many 's the gallant, overwhelmed creature

  Nodding in navies nevermore.

XXXIII. Griefs.

I measure every grief I meet

  With analytic eyes;

I wonder if it weighs like mine,

  Or has an easier size.

I wonder if they bore it long,

  Or did it just begin?

I could not tell the date of mine,

  It feels so old a pain.

I wonder if it hurts to live,

  And if they have to try,

And whether, could they choose between,

  They would not rather die.

I wonder if when years have piled--

  Some thousands--on the cause

Of early hurt, if such a lapse

  Could give them any pause;

Or would they go on aching still

  Through centuries above,

Enlightened to a larger pain

  By contrast with the love.

The grieved are many, I am told;

  The reason deeper lies,--

Death is but one and comes but once,

  And only nails the eyes.

There 's grief of want, and grief of cold,--

  A sort they call 'despair;'

There 's banishment from native eyes,

  In sight of native air.

And though I may not guess the kind

  Correctly, yet to me

A piercing comfort it affords

  In passing Calvary,

To note the fashions of the cross,

  Of those that stand alone,

Still fascinated to presume

  That some are like my own.


I have a king who does not speak;

So, wondering, thro' the hours meek

  I trudge the day away,--

Half glad when it is night and sleep,

If, haply, thro' a dream to peep

  In parlors shut by day.

And if I do, when morning comes,

It is as if a hundred drums

  Did round my pillow roll,

And shouts fill all my childish sky,

And bells keep saying 'victory'

  From steeples in my soul!

And if I don't, the little Bird

Within the Orchard is not heard,

  And I omit to pray,

'Father, thy will be done' to-day,

For my will goes the other way,

  And it were perjury!

XXXV. Disenchantment.

It dropped so low in my regard

  I heard it hit the ground,

And go to pieces on the stones

  At bottom of my mind;

Yet blamed the fate that fractured, less

  Than I reviled myself

For entertaining plated wares

  Upon my silver shelf.

XXXVI. Lost Faith.

To lose one's faith surpasses

  The loss of an estate,

Because estates can be

  Replenished,--faith cannot.

Inherited with life,

  Belief but once can be;

Annihilate a single clause,

  And Being's beggary.

XXXVII. Lost Joy.

I had a daily bliss

  I half indifferent viewed,

Till sudden I perceived it stir,--

  It grew as I pursued,

Till when, around a crag,

  It wasted from my sight,

Enlarged beyond my utmost scope,

  I learned its sweetness right.


I worked for chaff, and earning wheat

  Was haughty and betrayed.

What right had fields to arbitrate

  In matters ratified?

I tasted wheat,--and hated chaff,

  And thanked the ample friend;

Wisdom is more becoming viewed

  At distance than at hand.


Life, and Death, and Giants

  Such as these, are still.

Minor apparatus, hopper of the mill,

Beetle at the candle,

  Or a fife's small fame,

Maintain by accident

  That they proclaim.

XL. Alpine Glow.

Our lives are Swiss,--

  So still, so cool,

  Till, some odd afternoon,

The Alps neglect their curtains,

  And we look farther on.

Italy stands the other side,

  While, like a guard between,

The solemn Alps,

The siren Alps,

  Forever intervene!

XLI. Remembrance.

Remembrance has a rear and front,--

  'T is something like a house;

It has a garret also

  For refuse and the mouse,

Besides, the deepest cellar

  That ever mason hewed;

Look to it, by its fathoms

  Ourselves be not pursued.


To hang our head ostensibly,

  And subsequent to find

That such was not the posture

  Of our immortal mind,

Affords the sly presumption

  That, in so dense a fuzz,

You, too, take cobweb attitudes

  Upon a plane of gauze!

XLIII. The Brain.

The brain is wider than the sky,

  For, put them side by side,

The one the other will include

  With ease, and you beside.

The brain is deeper than the sea,

  For, hold them, blue to blue,

The one the other will absorb,

  As sponges, buckets do.

The brain is just the weight of God,

  For, lift them, pound for pound,

And they will differ, if they do,

  As syllable from sound.


The bone that has no marrow;

  What ultimate for that?

It is not fit for table,

  For beggar, or for cat.

A bone has obligations,

  A being has the same;

A marrowless assembly

  Is culpabler than shame.

But how shall finished creatures

  A function fresh obtain?--

Old Nicodemus' phantom

  Confronting us again!

XLV. The Past.

The past is such a curious creature,

  To look her in the face

A transport may reward us,

  Or a disgrace.

Unarmed if any meet her,

  I charge him, fly!

Her rusty ammunition

  Might yet reply!


To help our bleaker parts

  Salubrious hours are given,

Which if they do not fit for earth

  Drill silently for heaven.


What soft, cherubic creatures

  These gentlewomen are!

One would as soon assault a plush

  Or violate a star.

Such dimity convictions,

  A horror so refined

Of freckled human nature,

  Of Deity ashamed,--

It 's such a common glory,

  A fisherman's degree!

Redemption, brittle lady,

  Be so, ashamed of thee.

XLVIII. Desire.

Who never wanted,--maddest joy

  Remains to him unknown;

The banquet of abstemiousness

  Surpasses that of wine.

Within its hope, though yet ungrasped

  Desire's perfect goal,

No nearer, lest reality

  Should disenthrall thy soul.

XLIX. Philosophy.

It might be easier

  To fail with land in sight,

Than gain my blue peninsula

  To perish of delight.

L. Power.

You cannot put a fire out;

  A thing that can ignite

Can go, itself, without a fan

  Upon the slowest night.

You cannot fold a flood

  And put it in a drawer,--

Because the winds would find it out,

  And tell your cedar floor.


A modest lot, a fame petite,

  A brief campaign of sting and sweet

  Is plenty! Is enough!

A sailor's business is the shore,

  A soldier's--balls. Who asketh more

Must seek the neighboring life!


Is bliss, then, such abyss

I must not put my foot amiss

For fear I spoil my shoe?

I 'd rather suit my foot

Than save my boot,

For yet to buy another pair

Is possible

At any fair.

But bliss is sold just once;

The patent lost

None buy it any more.

LIII. Experience.

I stepped from plank to plank

  So slow and cautiously;

The stars about my head I felt,

  About my feet the sea.

I knew not but the next

  Would be my final inch,--

This gave me that precarious gait

  Some call experience.

LIV. Thanksgiving Day.

One day is there of the series

  Termed Thanksgiving day,

Celebrated part at table,

  Part in memory.

Neither patriarch nor pussy,

  I dissect the play;

Seems it, to my hooded thinking,

  Reflex holiday.

Had there been no sharp subtraction

  From the early sum,

Not an acre or a caption

  Where was once a room,

Not a mention, whose small pebble

  Wrinkled any bay,--

Unto such, were such assembly,

  'T were Thanksgiving day.

LV. Childish Griefs.

Softened by Time's consummate plush,

  How sleek the woe appears

That threatened childhood's citadel

  And undermined the years!

Bisected now by bleaker griefs,

  We envy the despair

That devastated childhood's realm,

  So easy to repair.