“The Wind begun to rock the Grass,” by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) is one of the most textually interesting in her corpus.She revised it over a period of nearly twenty years, and five versions survive: four in autograph, and one transcript of a lost autograph original.That “lost” original has now been recovered, and has found a home at Houghton.
This new four-page manuscript, most likely written ca. 1873, was probably sent to her friend and future editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson, whose wife, Mary Thacher Higginson, transcribed it (the transcription is now at the Boston Public Library in the Higginson Papers).Ralph Franklin believed that the original had been sent to Higginson along with a note and three other poems (see Fr 796); but the new autograph is on different paper (watermarked “A. Pirie and Sons 1871”) than the three still in the Higginson Papers (BPL MS Am 1093 (48), (40), and (50)).Higginson also refers to this poem in a letter to his co-editor Mabel Loomis Todd (1891 May 13); this, in combination with the transcript, makes it seem probable that the present manuscript was at one time in his possession.
But how did it leave his possession? The details of the manuscript’s provenance are not yet fully established, but it seems likely that Higginson gave it to Gretchen Osgood (Mrs. Fiske) Warren (1868-1961), whom he would have known through the Museum of Fine Arts.The present manuscript, reputedly from Mrs. Fiske Warren’s estate, appeared for sale at Skinner’s in Boston on 10 November 2001.
Houghton Library holds a variant of this poem, sent by Dickinson to her sister-in-law Susan (Houghton MS Am 1118.3 (356)), which begins “The Wind begun to knead the Grass.”Now possible to view the two side by side, the manuscripts bring home to students and experienced textual scholars alike the physicality of Dickinson’s continual reworking of her poems, and her distribution of them to her friends.
The poem was written on one piece of paper folded in half. The first image below shows pages 4 and 1, and the second image shows pages 2 and 3. (Click on the images to see more detail.)
This version of the poem reads:
The Wind begun to rock the Grass
With threatening Tunes and low –
He flung a Menace at the Earth –
A Menace at the Sky –
The Leaves unhooked themselves from Trees
And started all abroad –
The Dust did scoop itself like Hands
And throw away the Road –
The Wagons quickened on the streets –
The Thunder hurried slow –
The Lightning showed a yellow Beak –
And then a livid Claw –
The Birds put up the Bars to Nests –
The Cattle fled to Barns –
There came one drop of Giant Rain
And then as if the Hands
That held the Dams – had parted hold
The Waters Wrecked the Sky –
But overlooked My Father’s House –
Just quartering a Tree –
MS Am 1118.7 (2007M-74). © The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Purchased with the Dickinson Collection Fund. Images may not be reproduced without permission.