Emily Dickinson & Her Envelope Poems

Two years ago I bought a book for the local library called Envelope Poems (2016, Christine Burgin/New Directions, $14.95). Last week I saw it on the poetry shelf, half-hidden between two larger volumes.

Though most of her powers were spent by 1870, around this time Dickinson began writing notes and scraps of poetry on mail lying about her house. It seems she was working on a project connecting poetry with sending and receiving a letter. On one late piece she scribbled, “What a Hazard a Letter is…” (If you have written poetry, you might feel the same way about a poem).

This little book has photos of the envelopes and the original text is transcribed, with Dickinson’s revision marks, on the adjacent page. None of them are complete poems, but there are bits of gold in the fragments. Here are two examples of why the work is worth a look:

 

252)

In this short life

that merely lasts an hour

How much – how little –

is within our power

539)

“There are those who are shallow intentionally and only profound by accident.”

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