580Dickinson's biography: There was Only One Plantagenet Master
- Apr 4, 2011http://groups.yahoo.com/group/EmilyDickinsonPoet/message/106
Once again, we return to matters Dickinson: and specifically, the state
of the biography and how it impacts our understanding of her writings,
letters and poems.
It has been 50 years since *The Master Letters* have seen the light of
day: hence, it has been 50 years since the *Master* poems have become
SIGNIFICANT and *front and central* in her canon of circa two thousand
poems. When Dickinson scholar professor Stephanie Tingley wrote:
"More recent editions of Dickinson's work have begun to consider letters
and poems together and as part of the same context" the HANDWRITING
was on the wall! From now on, BIOGRAPHY would decide analysis and
exegeses of Dickinson poems as part-and-parcel of *writings* of a common
thread. And the world awaits the treatment of *The Master* in the upcoming
BIOGRAPHY of Emily Dickinson by renowned Dickinson scholar Polly
Here is the *Crux* of the matter when it comes to matters of the Heart
of Emily Dickinson:
The Master Letters of Emily Dickinson: written by Emily Dickinson to her
*Master*--that Sir, Sire, King, Plantagenet, man who walked in the meadows
with her and her dog, Carlo, the *Secret Love* of her life, the core male
masculine lover of her passionate circa one thousand poems of courtly love:
yes, him, the raison d'etre for *every breath she took* from her teens till
her death: the *Cupid* of *Psyche's* dreams, the Swiveller of the Marchioness's
growth, that man who spawned a thousand poems: *THE MASTER* !
These letters did NOT fully come to light of day until about 1955. Why?
Interesting question. Is it because it raises that *crux* question: who was
this *masked* man who shot Emily Dickinson in the Heart, a dashing hero
on horse and not a mild-mannered Cupid of the ancient myth who made
Psyche swoon. The effect was the same, and as she wrote, she bled to death
because of the bullet through her heart he sent her way: See:
The Master Letters of Emily Dickinson
This precious book contains actual photographs of the actual pages in the
hand of Emily Dickinson with a printed version facing. An envelope comes
with the three letters inserted: and you can *pretend* you are the *Master*
receiving them or the *Queen* sending them. And do not forget, when you
go back and read the *Master* poems to remember *WHO* she wrote them
for: him: *THE MASTER* !
The KEY question boils down to this: if Emily Dickinson put all
these *autobiographical* referents in her writings, including so
many countless literary allusions to classical mythology, Shakespeare,
Dickens, and other writers too numerous to mention, then Dickinson
scholars ought to find them relevant to *understanding* her life
and her writings: including her poetry.
In her *Master* letter of late 1861, why did Emily Dickinson write,
"What would you do with me if I came 'in white?'" And why did she
put in quotes "in white"? [ see quoted letter, below ] DID SHE REALLY
THINK OF HERSELF AS A "WIFE--WITHOUT THE SIGN!"? WAS SHE
REALLY A "QUEEN" BRIDE OF HER *MASTER* IN "ERMINE" AND SHE
ALL DECKED OUT "IN WHITE"?
The question of who was Emily Dickinson's *Master* is easily
resolved by reading her letters, and none speaks louder than
Letters 233, 249, 250 and 251, as well as Poems 151 and Poem 1072.
Let us begin with a poem:
Poem 151 (Johnson) circa 1859 was in pencil on a scrap of paper and
not placed in her booklets. Decidedly, it is a *Master* poem. And,
of course, he was a King, her "Sir," her "Sire," her "Master," decked
out in his "Ermine"
Mute thy Coronation--
Meek my Vive le roi,
Fold a tiny courtier
In thine Ermine, Sir,
There to rest revering
Till the pageant by,
I can murmur broken,
Master, It was I--
Such a "tiny" poem by a "wren"-like "courtier" and taken into
consideration with all the other "Master" and "Sir" and "Sire" and
"Lord" and "King" poems written by a "courtier" or a "Queen" or a
"Daisy" or a "Rose"--ad infinitum--and you have a totally different
biography of Emily Dickinson.
If you have read my book EDSL, then you have some knowledge
how Emily Dickinson wove her biography into the first line "Mute thy
Coronation." Perhaps, as I suggested, Samuel Bowles was a Mason, and
this reflected on his "Coronation" as a "Master" in the Masonic
Order. Because such matters were secret except to insiders, it
would have been "Mute thy Coronation."
Thus, "Meek my Vive le roi" harkens the "Master" letter
reference to him in Letter 249, in which Queen Emily calls herself
"his Queen." It also invokes him, the recipient, as the "Plantagent"
of the other three "Master" letters and all that entails. That
particular reference bothered me for a decade and more--until I
unlocked it with the knowledge that the first of the Plantagenet
Kings was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine who was the first Queen of
the troubadours. And the rest, as they say, is history. That is,
history of the troubadour movement in France which spread to England
when the adulterous Queen married the English King and brought to
England the tradition of troubadour poetry which had reigned under
her grandfather, Duke William IX, "The Troubadour."
Obviously, for those with my book EDSL, the chapter entitled
"The Code of Courtly Love" will prove invaluable to unlocking this
poem, if my approach to it is considered significant and valid. More
than 1,000 years in Europe, at all the courts of royalty, courtiers
were making poems for their "Masters."
By 1857, Queen Emily had produced few poems. Suddenly, in
1858, she produced hundreds--and the bulk of them
inspired/written for a Secret Love. Then by 1859 when "Coronation"
was evoked, Queen Emily was suggesting that he was "crowned" her
"King" and "Master"--and she was the "tiny courtier."
We should remind ourselves that in the 1850s, Amherst was still
a rural town in which horseback was the means of travel as well as
horse-drawn "chariots"--buckboards and coaches. Thus, Queen Emily, in
a town which was named for an English "Earl," Lord Jeffry Amherst,
should not surprise us with a whole reference work of allusions
to European royalty--rarely talked about in our American poet's
canon. Her early poems were filled with French.
Thus, we have the "tiny courtier" who wishes to be folded, like
a poem, inside the "Ermine" of the "Master." We should not be
surprised by her other nearly dozen "Ermine" poems.
In 1528 Castiglione wrote *The Book of the Courtier* for his
Italian Prince. The later masters, Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare and
Milton all were affected by the English translation. The Victorian
Age of Courtly Love was eqally affected, and gave us the concept of
Queen Emily's "rose colored" glasses. Ah, little "Rose"!
Castiglione"s book was/is a masterpiece on "the ideal courtier"
who lived according to the humanist ideals: intellectual, cultured,
moral, and spiritual. Queen Emily's poems embraced these virtues
and their allusions fill her poems: especially Poem 151.
Poem 151, more than any other, demonstrates that she
wrote the bulk of her poems for a Secret Love with her
biography essential to its understanding, a man she called "Master"
and "Sir" and "Sire" and "King" and "Lord" from her perspective as
his "tiny courtier." Of course, she was "Queen," and Daisy" and
"Rose" within the vignettes. And she did all this in the grand
tradition of the troubadour poets of Europe going back to the twelfth
Letter 250, circa early 1862, is in ink and the original resides in
Special Collections at Amherst College Library. I have a copy. In
fact, I have copies of all the Samuel Bowles and Miss Emily documents
at ACL. As a Dickinson scholar, I have been there, done that. The
masculine Master of all these referents clearly wears the hat of
Samuel Bowles, whose biography fit hers to a *T* on these poems.
A copy of the poem-part of the letter, was drafted and sent to her
sister-in-law who was her confidante in the secret love relationship
with her male Master, her King, circa 1866 [see the footnote to
Poem 1072 (Johnson) which makes it clear that this letter with poem
enclosed as part making it a letter-poem was meant for the eyes of
her Master, her King, Sam Bowles]:
The Truth, for the biography of Emily Dickinson in her crucial year of
separation from Samuel Bowles, 1862, is that she drafted and sent an
letter to him, in Springfield, Massachusetts, miles from her Amherst
Homestead. Years later, provenance clearly shows that the letter
came from the Bowles family back to Amherst, and now resides in ACL.
There is no doubt about these facts.
All the letters sent to Samuel Bowles, and kept by his family,
were catalogued by Jay Leyda and now reside in Amherst College
Library for any scholar to view, leaving no doubt of her Master.
As to interpretation of the poem, obviously, I would argue, as
is my wont, as a biographer, that it is not a poem per se but a
letter of powerful import and expression of feeling and love and
raw emotion between Miss Emily and her "Master," between his "Queen"
and he, the King. Thus, of Letter 250, I would argue for an
historical interpretation. The copy sent to her sister-in-law, four
years later, is just that, a copy (and of only the poem), and can
hardly be expected to carry the same weight as the *ink letter* sent to
the man known as "Master" at the time of its conception and written
under the passion of love. Obviously, the subject matter of
the poem places it among the "King" and "Queen," and "Master" and
courtier cycle of communications. There is no way that all these
"Sir" and "Sire" and "he/his/him" letters, letter-poems, and poems
can be seen to have been addressed directly to her brother's wife--
a woman, and her confidante, who had but an abiding interest
in Emily Dickinson as a poet. No, the reality was back then that the
secret love affair between Emily Dickinson and her Master was but
gossip to her sister-in-law Susan next door, stuff of idle chatter at
the kitchen table. Except Emily Dickinson became with time the
eminent American poet she is, Susan Dickinson would be only remembered
by her gravestone in Amherst, much less of a footnote to history
than she is now, the woman who married Emily Dickinson's brother.
The poems sent the sister-in-law were not "letters" nor "letter-poems"
"copies" of poems, folded, with just the word "Sue" in pencil on the
backside. They need not be enveloped and sent in the mail, but were
traversed down the path between their houses, which were nextdoor to
each other, as everyone knows. Girl stuff, gossipy stuff, small town
In my book EDSL, I pointed out that letters and letter-poems
sent to Samuel Bowles are often ignored as letters and parts of
them are published as poems. In the May / June 2000 issue of the
*Emily Dickinson International Bulletin* Professor Stephanie Tingley
wrote: "More recent editions of Dickinson's work have begun to
consider letters and poems together and as part of the same context."
Why not? Miss Emily, Dickinson, the American bard--was--a
writer! Professor Tingley reviewed the *Concordance to
the Letters of Emily Dickinson* by Cynthia MacKenzie and added: "The
letters concordance, too, helps heal the inaccurate and often
aribtrary division of the poet's texts into poetry and prose,
literature and document. Instead, this reference tool highlights the
fluidity and breakdown of rigid genre boundaries, strategies central
to Dickinson's aims and interests as a writer."
I would emphasize clearly her point: such a division into
letters, letter-poems, and poems, and not chronological writings,
denies biographical Truth and is "inaccurate and...arbitrary."
Letters 249 and 250 and 251 are companion pieces of writing.
Students of Dickinson would find their interpretations greatly
enhanced if they referred to all three together, and all three
contain in part poems, which, in isolation lend to
interpretations far afield of their meanings when taken, as
written, as three letters to Samuel Bowles. There is *NO* dispute
about this latter point, so please take note of it.
Letter 250, circa early 1862, was sent to Samuel Bowles, and
begins with Poem 1072 (Johnson) and ends with a prose coda:
Title divine - is mine!
The Wife - without the Sign!
Acute Degree - conferred on me -
Empress of Calvary!
Royal - all but the Crown!
Betrothed - without the swoon
God sends us Women -
When you - hold - Garnet to Garnet -
Gold - to Gold -
Born - Bridalled - Shrouded -
In a Day -
"My Husband" - women say -
Stroking the Melody -
Is _this_ - the way?
Here's--what I had to "tell you"--
You will tell no other? Honor--is it's[sic]
Lastly, Letter 250, which contains Poem 1072, coupled also with
Letter 233 of the same time frame, a "Master" letter in which Queen
Emily tells him, her "Plantagenet" King that she, his "Queen" will
"wait" for him her "husband" and seeks out no other companion, is
"clearly" explicated by what she wrote in Letter 249 to Samuel
Bowles: "If I amazed your kindness--My Love is my only apology...I
have met--no others. Would you--ask less for your *Queen*--Mr
Bowles?" Note: Emily Dickinson drew emphasis to her relationship
with Samuel Bowles as his *Queen* by italicizing or underling the
word: *Queen*! Scholars tend to ignore this FACT!
Students of Dickinson who deny the interpretative value of her
biography--the chronological writings of our poet as Dickinson
scholars revise their presentation to readers as "writings" and not
disparate elements--are creating exegeses difficulties where they
should not exist. Samuel Bowles was clearly linked as the *spiritual
husband* of Letter 250 and Poem 1072 to her, proved by her own
writings in her own hand, alleging herself Queen to the Master, King.
Surely she understood the groom stands at the altar and behind him
HIS BRIDE approaches "in white"! Surely, this explains why she sent
the *wife* in *white* poem embedded in a letter to SAMUEL BOWLES!
SURELY, the *Master* of the Master letter and the *white wife* letter
to Samuel Bowles in the SAME YEAR and about the SAME BIOGRAPHICAL
quandry for her EXPLAINS the poem which has been SEPARATED from
the SAMUEL BOWLES LETTER!
Some who claim to be Dickinson scholars are NOT, and are students
of Dickinson without knowing the canon of works by and about
Do not let some who pretend to be Dickinson scholars fool you, as
surely they will try! You see, they do not read Emily Dickinson's writing.
Because they cannot make their bizarre interpretations make sense
to you--with her biography. So, they must pretend the letters to
Samuel Bowles do not exist. Do you notice in their rave of stories
about Dickinson, they ignore the *Master* poems? They ignore
the *Master* letters? They ignore the letters WRITTEN BY DICKINSON
which clearly IDENTIFY Samuel Bowles as the *Master*!
They pretend that such biographical knowledge will not illuminate
her writings, both her letters and her poems, when you as casual
readers WANT TO KNOW. Inquiring minds want to know!
They must fabricate a new reality, a cloud-interpretation paradigm.
You all know what that is, don't you? In graduate school, if you do
not have anything meaningful to say for your Ph.D. in English, you
throw a dart at a famous authors dartboard and do cloud-interpretation
of some poet's poetry or some novelist's fiction. But now you all know
such nonsense is meaningless, and it has no basis in an author's life
and flies in the face of the biography.
Note in Poem 226 (Johnson) she feared Samuel Bowles would die at
"Sea." The poem is absolutely biography inasmuch as it is encased
within Letter 240 to Samuel Bowles, her "Master." The poem only
exists as part of a letter to Samuel Bowles, written in 1862 as he
was ready to travel across the "Sea Blue." Therein, she wrote to her
"Master:" "If I amazed your kindness--My Love is my only
apology...Would you--ask less for your *Queen*--Mr Bowles?"
Now, clearly she identifies herself as Sam's "Queen" and
therefore he is the "King" and "Master." And no doubt you can
understand all her "wife" and "Queen" poems fit the scenario she
lived in with Samuel Bowles--in her letters--and her biography.
And, by the way, Dickinson scholars also have not forgetten
Samuel Bowles called her "his Queen Recluse"!
Remember this: Emily Dickinson called herself *in writing*
"your Queen" to her "Master" Samuel Bowles! Do not doubt
Emily Dickinson wrote "your Queen" to "Master" Samuel Bowles!
Now, look at Letter 252, also written to persuade Samuel
Bowles to visit her in Amherst before travelling abroad for six
long months. She wrote therein: "When you come to Amherst, please
God it *were Today* [sic! her own *italics*]. History records Samuel
Bowles did, in fact, visit her "BEFORE" he went across the
"Sea Blue." "PLEASE GOD IT *WERE TODAY*!!!!!!! Doesn't that sound
like a woman in need to see her own *Master* and not tomorrow
but "TODAY"??????? Why else call him Plantagenet, the King to
Eleanor of Aquitaine the Queen of France who became the Queen
of the King of England? Why would Emily Dickinson, an expert
in historical literary allusions, refer to English history if she did
not want you to LOOK IT UP and understand her REFERENTS in
classical western literature and biographical history?
Is all this so confusing that even her niece Madame Bianchi wrote
of this secret love affair that Emily Dickinson had with a married
man who broke her heart and inspired more than half of her total
poetry output as *Secret Love* poems in the European troubadour
tradition? And why else would Emily Dickinson refer to the *wife*
and *Queen* of England famous for encouraging Courtly Love Poetry?
And, mind you all, that Queen was granddaughter of Duke William IX
also known as *The Troubadour* in European literary history of poets
[ see page 91 of my book ].
Now, you KNOW why she wrote HIM as Sir and Sire and Master and
King and Plantagenet: because He was a He and NOT a she!
So, now we jump back a few months, while Samuel Bowles was away
in NEW YORK state, outside of New England, and Emily Dickinson was
literally begging him to visit her in Amherst, and we discover in her
writings that state of her mind and thoughts, her love and pain, her
need and desire, in her poetic letter to her "Master," Letter 233 (Johnson):
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.
One drop more from the gash that stains your Daisy's
bosom--then would you *believe*? Thomas' faith in Anatomy, was
stronger than his faith in faith. God made me--Sir--Master--I
didn't be--myself...He built the heart in me...I heard of a thing
called 'Redemption'...You remember I asked you for it--you gave me
something else...I knew you had altered me...I am older--tonight,
Master--but the love is the same--so are the moon and the crescent.
If it had been God's will that I might breathe where you
breathed--and find the place--myself--at night...if I wish with a
might I cannot repress--that mine were the Queen's place--the love of
the Plantagenet is my only apology...Have you the Heart in your
breast--Sir--is it set like mine--a little to the left--has it
misgiving--if it wake in the night....
These things are reverent--holy, Sir...You say I do not tell
you all--Daisy confessed--and denied not.
Vesuvius dont talk--Etna--dont--Thy--one of them...and
Pompeii heard it, and hid forever--She couldn't look the world in the
face, afterward--I suppose--Bashful Pompeii! "Tell you of the
want"--you know what a leech is, dont you--and remember that Daisy's
arm is small--and you have felt the horizon hav'nt you--and did the
sea--never come so close as to make you dance?
I dont know what you can do for it--thank you--Master--but
if I had the Beard on my cheek--like you--and you--had Daisy's
petals--and you cared so for me--what would become of you? Could you
forget me...Could'nt Carlo, and you and I walk in the meadows an
hour--and nobody care but the Bobolink...I used to think when I
died--I could see you--so I died as fast as I could--but the
"Corporation" are going Heaven too so Eternity wont be
sequestered--now Say I may wait for you--say I need go with no
stranger to the to me--untried country...I waited a long
time--Master--but I can wait more--wait till my hazel hair is
dappled--and you carry the cane...What would you do with me if I came
'in white?' Have you the little chest to put the Alive--in?
I want to see you more--Sir--than all I wish for in this
world--and the wish--altered a little--will be my only one--for the
Could you come to New England--this summer--could--would you
come to Amherst--Would you like to come--Master?
Would it do harm--yet we both fear God--Would Daisy
disappoint you--no--she would'nt--Sir--it were comfort forever--just
to look in your face, while you looked in mine--then I could play in
the woods till Dark--till you take me where Sundown cannot find
us--and the true keep coming--till the town is full, Will you tell me
if you will?....
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)