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Emily Dickinson: Lexicon and Philology

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2 Emily Dickinson: Lexicon and Philology 1830-1886
Cynthia L. Hallen

3 What is a Lexicon? (photo credit:

4 Lexicon Definitions A dictionary (Samuel Johnson’s 1798 Dictionary of the English Language; Noah Webster’s 1828/1844 American Dictionary of the English Language) A bilingual dictionary (Frederick Percival Leverett’s 1839 A new and copious lexicon of the Latin language) A specialized dictionary for the works of a particular author or the words used by a particular audience (Schmidt’s 1902 Shakespeare Lexicon and Quotation Dictionary)

5 Tools for Dickinson Studies (EDIS)
Rosenbaum’s 1964 Concordance to the Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. Webster’s 1844 An American Dictionary of the English Language. 2 vols. Amherst, Massachusetts: J.S. & C. Adams Brothers. Hallen’s 2007 Emily Dickinson Lexicon (EDL), web ed. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University.

6 Why Emily Dickinson?

7 Background Dickinson wrote over 1,789 poems from , edited by Thomas H. Johnson in 1955 and revised by Ralph W. Franklin in 1997. She wrote over 1,046 letters from , edited by Johnson in 1958. The collected poems contain over 9,275 unique words and nearly 100,000 word occurrences in nineteenth-century American English. Emily Dickinson used the word “lexicon” in three of her poems and in two of her letters.

8 25 April 1862, Dickinson Letter 261, To mentor Thomas W
25 April 1862, Dickinson Letter 261, To mentor Thomas W. Higginson (about Benjamin F. Newton, ) ... When a little Girl, I had a friend, who taught me Immortality – but venturing too near, himself – he never returned – Soon after, my Tutor, died – and for several years, my Lexicon – was my only companion ...

9 Ambiguity: J246/Fr264 (1861) Forever at His side to walk –
The smaller of the two! Brain of His Brain – Blood of His Blood – Two lives – One Being – now – Forever of His fate to taste – If grief – the largest part – If joy – to put my piece away For that beloved Heart – All life – to know each other Whom we can never learn – And bye and bye – a Change – Called Heaven – Rapt Neighborhoods of men – Just finding out – what puzzled us – Without the lexicon!

10 Pun: J728/Fr754 (1863) Let Us play Yesterday –
I – the Girl at School – You – and Eternity – the untold Tale – Easing my famine At my Lexicon – Logarithm – had I – for Drink – ’Twas a dry Wine – Somewhat different – must be – Dreams tint the Sleep – Cunning Reds of Morning Make the Blind – leap –

11 [cont.] Still at the Egg-life – Chafing the Shell –
When you troubled the Ellipse – And the Bird fell – Manacles be dim – they say – To the new Free – Liberty – commoner – Never could – to me – ’Twas my last gratitude When I slept – at night – ’Twas the first Miracle Let in – with Light –

12 [cont.] Can the Lark resume the Shell – Easier – for the Sky –
Would’nt Bonds hurt more Than Yesterday? Would’nt Dungeons sorer grate On the Man – free – Just long enough to taste – Then – doomed new – God of the Manacle As of the Free – Take not my Liberty Away from Me –

13 Definition: J254/Fr314 (1862) “Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul – And sings the tune without the words – And never stops – at all – And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard – And sore must be the storm – That could abash the little Bird That kept so many warm – I've heard it in the chillest land – And on the strangest Sea – Yet, never, in Extremity, It asked a crumb – of Me.

14 Humor: J185/Fr202 (1861) I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too? Then there's a pair of us! Dont tell! they'd banish us – you know! How dreary – to be – Somebody! How public – like a Frog – To tell your name – the livelong June – To an admiring Bog!

15 Allusions: J1342/Fr1277 (1874) “Was not” was all the statement.
The Unpretension stuns – Perhaps – the Comprehension – They wore no Lexicons – But lest our Speculation In inanition die Because “God took him” mention – That was Philology –

16 Proper Nouns: J555/Fr561 (1863) Trust in the Unexpected –
By this – was William Kidd Persuaded of the Buried Gold – As One had testified – Through this – the old Philosopher – His Talismanic Stone Discerned – still withholden To effort undivine – ’Twas this – allured Columbus – When Genoa – withdrew Before an Apparition Baptized America – The Same – afflicted Thomas – When Deity assured ’Twas better – the perceiving not – Provided it believed –

17 Riddle: J1463/Fr1489 (1879) A Route of Evanescence
With a revolving Wheel – A Resonance of Emerald – A Rush of Cochineal – And every Blossom on the Bush Adjusts it’s tumbled Head – The mail from Tunis, probably, An easy Morning's Ride –

18 Circumlocution: J1129/Fr1263 (1872)
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant – Success in Circuit lies Too bright for our infirm Delight The Truth’s superb surprise As Lightning to the Children eased With explanation kind The Truth must dazzle gradually Or every man be blind –

19 CIRCUMLOCUTION, n. (NW 1844) A circuit or compass of words; a periphrase; the use of a number of words to express an idea, when a suitable term is not at hand, or when a speaker chooses to avoid the use of a single term, either from delicacy or respect, or with a view to soften the force of a direct expression, or for other reason.

20 Dickinson’s Lyric Poetry
She inherits the Indo-European bard tradition from the Classical Track at Amherst Academy (Watkins 1995). The genius of Emily Dickinson is that she condenses epic themes into lyric verses. She writes poetry instead of common prose: the tongue of the gods vs. the tongues of men (1 Cor. 13:1). Her language is aesthetically marked in all major language areas: phonology, prosody, morphology, syntax, semantics, lexis, pragmatics. Her lexical craft includes antithesis, idioms, kennings, metaphors, polyptoton, polysemy, symbols, and synonymy.

21 6-5-6-5 Syllabic Verse: J698/Fr727 (1863)
Life – is what we make it – Death – We do not know – Christ’s acquaintance with Him Justify Him – though He – would trust no stranger – Other – could betray – Just His own endorsement – That – sufficeth Me – All the other Distance He hath traversed first – No New Mile remaineth – Far as Paradise – His sure foot preceding – Tender Pioneer – Base must be the Coward Dare not venture – now –

22 Poetry vs. Prose: J657/Fr466 (1862)
I dwell in Possibility – A fairer House than Prose – More numerous of Windows – Superior – for Doors – Of Chambers as the Cedars – Impregnable of Eye – And for an Everlasting Roof The Gambrels of the Sky – Of Visitors – the fairest – For Occupation – This – The spreading wide my narrow Hands To gather Paradise –

23 Oak Tree at the Dickinson Homestead

24 Dickinson: the “Bard of Amherst”
Dickinson lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, from , during a religious revival, a gospel restoration, a philosophical revolution, and a philological renaissance. She used Noah Webster’s 1844 American Dictionary of the English Language as part of her poetic composition. Her life span was contemporary with the development of the Oxford English Dictionary. She wrote in nineteenth-century American English, a neglected area in the history of the English language. Her period of greatest poetic productivity ( ) coincided with the Civil War.

25 The Dickinson Homestead on Main Street in Amherst, Massachusetts

26 Dickinson’s Garden

27 Poems as Flowers

28 The Poet in the Dell

29 The Poet Takes a Dog: Carlo 1850-1865

30 Elegy to Carlo the Dog: J1068/Fr895 (1865)
Further in Summer than the Birds – Pathetic from the Grass – A minor Nation celebrates It's unobtrusive Mass. No Ordinance be seen – So gradual the Grace A pensive Custom it becomes – Enlarging Loneliness – Antiquest felt at Noon – When August burning low Arise this spectral Canticle Repose to typify – Remit as yet no Grace – No Furrow on the Glow Yet a Druidic Difference Enhances Nature now –

31 Webster Entry for MINOR, adj.
MI'NOR, a. [L. the comparative degree of a word not found in that language, but existing in the Celtic dialects, W. main, Arm. moan, Ir. min, mion, the root of L. minuo, to diminish. See Mince.] 1. Less; smaller; sometimes applied to the bulk or magnitude of a single object; more generally to amount, degree, or importance. We say, the minor divisions of a body, the minor part of a body; opposed to the major part. We say minor sums, minor faults, minor considerations, minor details or arguments. In the latter phrases, minor is equivalent to small, petty, inconsiderable, not principal, important or weighty. 2. In music, less or lower by a lesser semitone; as, a third minor. Encyc. Asia Minor, the Lesser Asia, that part of Asia which lies between the Euxine on the north, and the Mediterranean on the south.

32 Webster Entry for MINOR, n.
1. A person of either sex under age; one who is under the authority of his parents or guardians, or who is not permitted by law to make contracts and manage his own property. By the laws of Great Britain and of the United States, persons are minors till they are twenty one years of age 3. A Minorite, a Franciscan friar. 4. A beautiful bird of the East Indies. Dict. Nat. Hist.

33 OED Citation for Minor minor, adj. and n.
e. In fig. context, esp. with reference to the sombre, plaintive, or subdued effect associated with minor chords and keys. 1820 J. SEVERN in Keats Lett. (1958) II. 342 Here I must change to a Minor Key Miss C fainted...I was very ill...Keats assended his bed N. Amer. Rev. Jan. 23 The bard sets off in a most brilliant bravura style; and when he comes to the tricolored flag...sinks into a charming minor key of pathos and sentiment H. JAMES Watch & Ward viii. 168 ‘It would simplify matters vastly; it’s at least worth thinking of,’ he went on, pleading for very tenderness, in this pitiful minor key. minor-keyed, adj. 1869 T. W. HIGGINSON Army Life 222 This minor-keyed pathos used to seem to me almost too sad to dwell upon Harvard Jrnl. Asiatic Stud It would be inept to end a day’s program with a minor-keyed N[umber].

34 Noah Webster in Amherst
Before Emily Dickinson was born, Webster had worked on the 1828 edition of his “big dictionary” in Amherst, Massachusetts, from He worked with Emily’s grandfather, Samuel Fowler Dickinson, to establish educational institutions, including Amherst Academy and Amherst College.

35 [cont.] Webster’s granddaughter Emily Elizabeth Fowler Ford was a school chum of Emily Dickinson. The last edition of the ADEL that Webster worked on before his death in 1843 was published by the Adams Brothers of Amherst in 1844. In 1844 Edward Dickinson purchased Webster’s rare final edition of the ADEL.

36 [cont.] Emily's brother Austin recalled seeing “Webster’s big dictionary” on the kitchen table of the Dickinson home (Sewall 1965, p. 12). Martha Dickinson Bianchi reported that her aunt Emily read the dictionary “as a priest his breviary” (1932, p.80). Buckingham and Benvenuto identified Dickinson’s “lexicon” as Webster 1844 dictionary (1977, 1983).

37 The Kingman House on Main Street and Webster Avenue

38 Noah Webster statue behind the Frost Library at Amherst College

39 “I Know in Whom I Have Believed”


41 J48/Fr65 (1859) Once more, my now bewildered Dove
Bestirs her puzzled wings. Once more, her mistress, on the deep Her troubled question flings – Thrice to the floating casement The Patriarch’s bird returned – Courage! My brave Columba! There may yet be Land!

42 “Expect a Miracle!”

43 J1126/Fr1243 (1872) Shall I take thee, the Poet said
To the propounded word? Be stationed with the Candidates Till I have finer tried – The Poet searched Philology And was about to ring For the suspended Candidate There came unsummoned in – That portion of the Vision The Word applied to fill Not unto nomination The Cherubim reveal –

44 J1651/Fr1715 (Undated) A word made Flesh is seldom
And tremblingly partook Nor then perhaps reported But have I not mistook Each one of us has tasted With ecstasies of stealth The very food debated To our specific strength – A word that breathes distinctly Has not the power to die Cohesive as the Spirit It may expire if He – “Made Flesh and dwelt among us” Could condescension be Like this consent of Language This loved Philology

45 “my Lexicon - was my only companion”

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