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"
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"
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 :)
MFA, U-Mass, Amherst
Independent Scholar, Modern Language Association
Professor of world literature classics
Author, EMILY DICKINSON'S SECRET LOVE: Mystery "Master" Behind Poems,
230 pages, 1998.
"There is magic in the web" Shakespeare (Othello, Act 3, Scene 4)