Sunday Poem

This Sunday’s poem is from Emily Dickinson (1830-1886). I first came across her work on a course on American poetry at university. I was struck by how her contemporary, Walt Whitman, declared himself America’s first great poet in his overblown stanzas when Dickinson’s tight, spare lines, where not a word was wasted or out of place, declared her to the true first great poet of America (in my mind at least). Of course she wasn’t given that accolade for she was a woman. And a reclusive spinster to boot. And yet her poems betray a rich inner life. She wrote her first poem in “Valentine’s week, 1850”, (her date), perhaps feeling scalded by a lack of attention and ruminating on love. But that’s not the poem I’ve chosen as I’m not feeling romantic and it’s also pretty long and I don’t fancy copying it out. If you wish, seek it out on your own. Her poetry is well worth your attention. 116 comes from the oranged, 30-year-old pages of my Grandmother’s anthology of her work (poems from 1 to 1775), markers left in some pages – including the one that held this poem – by who and for what, long forgotten.


I had some things that were mine –

And God, that he called his,

Till recently a rival Claim

Disturbed these amities.

The property, my garden,

Which having sown with care,

He claims the pretty acre,

And sends a Bailiff there.

The station of the parties

Forbids publicity,

But Justice is sublimer

Than arms, or pedigree.

l’ll institute an “Action” –

I’ll vindicate the law –

Jove! Choose your counsel –

I retain “Shaw”!


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