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567Emily Dickinson's Biography: Key to Her Poetry and Life

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  • dickinson1890
    Dec 25 5:09 AM
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      Hi, Dickinsonians.

      We know that when Emily Dickinson wrote Poem 35 (Johnson) in 1858
      and Samuel Bowles published it in his Springfield Daily Republican
      that in her telling line, "Nobody knows this little Rose," there
      was a modicum of TRUTH in the statement.

      Dickinsonians know all about the "Rose" and the "Bee"--all about
      Emily Dickinson and Samuel Bowles! That is, Dickinsonians who can
      read and comprehend her biography know.

      Beginning some time in 1857, Emily Dickinson spent her daily life
      embedding into her autobiographical writings, ipso facto--all her
      letters, poems and letter-poems--her *biography.*

      Clearly, the outpouring of autobiographical details about her
      Secret Love affair in circa one thousand love poems is self-evident
      to all Dickinsonians with the collected works at hand and the eyes to
      read with comprehension. Her circa one thousand letters offer an
      eyeful, or two. Often, poems, letter-poems and letters
      written at the SAMe time offer the best clues to the only exegeses
      which make complete sense: an autobiographical interpretation of her
      canon of writings. And none in the world of Dickinson has suggested
      that one thousand love letters were written in a vacuum of fantasy love
      Not when there is ample evidence in the biography that they were
      addressed to her Master!

      The myriad Sir, Sire, Master, He, Him, His referents clearly identify
      all her writings as one and the same: an autobiographical immortal
      Soulmate love story written for posterity, masquerading as poetry.

      OK: the two-dozen most famously critiqued and well-crafted little
      masterpieces, anthologized and beloved worldwide, are poems which
      are first-rate and can stand on their own, as individual pieces,
      and yet they are for the most part part-and-parcel of the grand
      scheme of her passion drama like the famous Le Roman De La Rose.
      Her dream allegory spread out in circa one thousand Secret Love
      poems is not unlike the narrative poetic French masterpiece of the
      thirteenth century. Dickinson scholars understand all of this,
      but students of Dickinson deficient in a knowledge of comparative
      literature need to take a walk on the wild side of love which
      inspired Emily Dickinson to her own modern masterpiece, her Opus
      work of of writings, as her legacy appears in her many writings.
      They need to read Le Roman De La Rose, just as Emily Dickinson
      steeped herself in the French classics.

      As a case in point:

      In Master Letter 233 (Johnson) Emily Dickinson wrote "Master."

      That is the way she started that communication to her Master,
      and she wrote, to wit,
      the following: "If you saw a bullet hit a Bird--and he told you
      he was'nt shot--you might weep at his courtesy, but you would
      certainly doubt his word."

      Well, there is no doubt that circa one thousand Secret Love poems,
      and myriad letters and letter-poems were written to this SAMe
      Master who she soon wrote "God made me--Sir--Master" and left
      no doubt that her *male* recipient was her one and only Master,
      the one who held the loaded gun and shot her through her vulnerable
      heart with the modern love bullet rather than the mythic Cupid
      arrow! She literally died in his arms, and yet lived to tell all
      posterity the TRUTH of their Secret Love affair. And her metaphors
      were uniquely her own, in this, her tale of immortal SOULMATE LOVE!

      Someone, somewhere, of no great consequence, once said that "the
      'master' question is there, but of no great consequence."
      Of course, the lie within that questionable statement is patently
      false, inasmuch as these same "of no great consequence" writers
      would have you believe they can offer up any valid exegesis of the
      circa one thousand Secret Love poems and myriad letters written by
      Emily Dickinson to and about that same *masculine* Master of great
      and significant consequence not only in TRUTHFUL interpretations
      of her poems, but elucidation of her letters via her biographical
      events during her lifetime.

      One wonders did Emily Dickinson write about her Secret Master in
      symbols? Did she write it so scholars and students of Dickinson
      would comment on her style of creating autobiographical writing?
      Or did she write her poems, letters, and letter-poems so readers
      would become engaged with the persona of herself and her Secret
      Love, her Master, and their immortal Soulmate story?

      Surely, Dickinsonians, of all readers in the world, know by
      now that Emily Dickinson had her secret love belief about her own
      writings, and expected all and sundry to read her writings with a
      troubadour poet's outpouring in mind.

      Her sister Lavinia was quoted as
      having written of Emily Dickinson:

      "Emily was herself a most charming reader. It was done with
      great simplicity and naturalness, with an earnest desire to
      express the exact conception of the author, without any thought
      of herself, or the impression her reading was sure to make."

      Now, the key buzz words appear to me to be "exact" and "conception"
      and "author."

      about that, folks, but the TRUTH hurts!

      The TRUTH is that Emily Dickinson believed in the "exact conception
      of the author."

      Well, welcome to Emily Dickinson's world of perspecuity: Poem 1455,
      "Opinion is a flitting thing, / But Truth, outlasts the Sun--"

      Emily Dickinson and Samuel Bowles are UP THERE, looking down and
      smiling at us Dickinsonians. Soulmates among the Blessed!

      So: WHO was that masked man, the Master, anyway?

      The TRUTH of her biography IS: the masculine Master was
      Samuel Bowles of Springfield.

      Read: B-I-O-G-R-A-P-H-Y !

      The TRUTH of the matter at hand, her biography, IS: the
      female "Queen" of her King Master Samuel Bowles was,
      as far as Emily Dickinson saw fit, herself!

      When Emily Dickinson wrote Letter 268 (Johnson) in those 1862 days
      after Master Sam Bowles went to Europe and left her in the lurch, she
      was seeking her third "Master"! Not the LOVE of her life, as she had
      already had that in SAM B. She gave us the woven tapestry, and it was
      ours to see as she, Emily Dickinson, spun her web of intrigue in her
      exact conception: a story of immortal secret love.

      In literary criticism, some writers and scholars who were of
      the school of the New Critics were *purists*and called reading
      into poems anything of the poet's life, "the biographical fallacy."
      Then those same critics expanded their thinking into newer ventures
      called Structuralism, and eventually, the school of Deconstruction.

      But, Dickinsonians, Emily Dickinson herself would have none of
      these schools of thought inasmuch as she was of the old, old school:
      that poems have meaning, as the words of the poems have meaning, and
      she sought "the exact conception of the author." Otherwise, why
      would she refer SO OFTEN to the "Master" and "Sir" and "Sire"--the
      masculine referent so OBVIOUS in her circa one thousand Secret Love

      Truth of the biography and how it applies to exegeses of
      her autobiographical poems is the only thing which is going to solve
      the mystery of what was Emily Dickinson's "exact conception of the

      When asked about my beliefs that the biography of Emily
      Dickinson should be formed as the basis for poem interpretation,
      the noted UMass-Amherst professor and Dickinson scholar David Porter
      was quoted in an interview in the *Springfield Union News* as
      saying: "readers need to read what Arnold has to say and judge
      for themselves." He was referring to my book about Emily Dickinson
      and Samuel Bowles, cited inh my sig file!

      Master Letter 233 (Johnson) was written by Emily Dickinson and
      unlike poems manufactured into booklets, it is a letter-poem meant
      for Samuel Bowles, signed, internally "Daisy," in ink, circa winter
      1861, while Samuel Bowles, her Master, was in New York state and his
      wife was delivering their child, Charles, which Emily Dickinson wanted
      named Robert. Emily Dickinson, however, left it in her personal
      effects after her death, thus placing it into the series of her love
      letters to the world, and made it explicit by its content that the
      "Master" was *not* Jesus, and yet the letter-poem clearly is about her
      Secret "Sir/Master;" you see, the love letter to her Master Samuel
      Bowles, is in the Amherst College Special Collections, and of which now
      I will share some very special aspects of this Master and his *Queen*
      primary document of TRUTH:

      Dickinsonians, we begin this thread with a careful and judicious reading
      of Master Letter 233 clearly identifies the recipient as Samuel Bowles. No
      doubt, all the evidence of the biography of Emily Dickinson puts the
      "Sir/Master" as a REAL person, named: Samuel Bowles. No one needed
      to doctor a document to suggest the Master had a "beard" as the letter
      Emily Dickinson wrote makes that tacitly CLEAR. What else the meaning:
      paraphrased, if you had my petals, as in, I, Emily Dickinson, the
      flower, Daisy, and I were you, the bearded Master, who should make the
      moves, and fly up here and come to Amherst from New York, and pollenate
      my blossom, and what would happen to you if the roles were reversed?
      It is clear from the letter, that the Master was showing reluctance to
      make the trip and visit his Secret Love.

      Not only that, we have the internal evidence of the word "Sir"
      at least four times, and that IS enough to warrant this Letter 233
      as a document in INK in which none can doubt that her "Sir/Master"
      was the same "Sir/Master" of circa one thousand Secret Love poems.
      When one tells the truth as a scholar, the same rules of a court of law
      apply. Truth by commission/omission is a fundamental tenet of the law.
      Violate either side of the equation, and the truth test has not been met.

      So, what WAS her "exact conception of the author" in "Sir/Master"
      Letter 233?

      So, WHO was this "Sir/Master" who was a "cipher/cypher" in
      "Sir/Master" Letter 233?

      Well, the "EXACT" same "*your Queen*" referents in "Sir/Master"
      Letter 233 and in "Sir/Master" Letter 249, also in ink, and signed
      "Emily," and sent to Samuel Bowles, clearly identifies the recipient
      as Samuel Bowles, her editor/Secret Love.

      Dickinsonians know that Emily Dickinson's Master was
      Samuel Bowles, inasmuch as all the corollary evidence supports
      the fact: the biographical record clearly proves that all the
      "Bee" and "Rose" and Daisy" and "Lily" referents embedded
      in letters to her Master, and letter-poems to Samuel Bowles,
      and circa one thousand secret love poems to her Master, with
      SAM B letters in capitalized form was created by her to leave
      a legacy and poetic record of this greatest of love affairs
      of the nineteenth century in American literature, by the
      American bard, Emily Dickinson, writer!

      We are still on square one: love :)

      Bill Arnold

      Bill Arnold
      MFA, U-Mass, Amherst
      Dickinson Scholar
      Independent Scholar
      Independent Scholar, Modern Language Association
      Professor of world literature classics
      Author, EMILY DICKINSON'S SECRET LOVE: Mystery "Master" Behind Poems,
      230 pages, 1998.
      ISBN 1-892582-00-7

      "There is magic in the web" Shakespeare (Othello, Act 3, Scene 4)