Dickinson on textual variation, thought undressed

Letter to T. W. Higginson, 25 April 1862

“While my thought is undressed–I can make the distinction, but when I put them in the Gown,–they look alike, and numb.”

Cited and discussed by Tim Morris in Philip G. Cohen’s Texts and Textuality, pg. 172. Emily Dickinson was very observant on the variability of language, the multitude of possibilities, which she often chose not to resolve or, in Franklin’s somewhat misleading formulation, complete.

I tend to agree with scholars who believe that many of Dickinson’s poems are imagined into multiple versions and not in any real sense resolved, or are resolved only when used for a particular correspondent or reader, and which does not necessarily resolve the “text” of the poem into a finished state. The presence of a variant within the line does not necessarily privilege it over the option in the foot note.

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