a missing friend

I had a guinea golden;
I lost it in the sand,
And though the sum was simple,
And pounds were in the land,
Still had it such a value
Unto my frugal eye,
That when I could not find it
I sat me down to sigh.

I had a crimson robin
Who sang full many a day,
But when the woods were painted
He, too, did fly away.
Time brought me other robins,—
Their ballads were the same,—
Still for my missing troubadour
I kept the “house at hame.”

I had a star in heaven;
One Pleiad was its name,
And when I was not heeding
It wandered from the same.
And though the skies are crowded,
And all the night ashine,
I do not care about it,
Since none of them are mine.

My story has a moral:
I have a missing friend,—
Pleiad its name, and robin,
And guinea in the sand,—
And when this mournful ditty,
Accompanied with tear,
Shall meet the eye of traitor
In country far from here,
Grant that repentance solemn
May seize upon his mind,
And he no consolation
Beneath the sun may find.

~Emily Dickinson
A guinea. Image via Wikipedia.

My edition of Dickinson’s poems includes a note after this one that suggests it may have been sent to a friend who was delinquent in responding to letters. It has a teasing tone, referring to the absent friend as a “traitor” after comparing the friend at length to a lost guinea, a flown robin, and a wandering star.

What really strikes me about this poem is how long it is. By Dickinsonian terms, this is practically an epic. There’s something touching in this gesture, in the idea that Emily would write a longer poem to tease a friend than to examine the depths of her own soul. She reportedly would bake for friends, including poems along with the food, and fully expecting the food to be more appreciated.

If this poem was included in a letter to a friend, imagine being that friend. I wonder if Dickinson’s correspondents appreciated the words they were receiving as anything more than mere letters–if they had any inkling that the person writing to them was squirreling away packets of poetry that would one day change the literary world.

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