Envelope Poems

Image of Envelope Poems
Release Date: 
October 3, 2016
New Directions
Reviewed by: 

Here is a book almost as rare as its author, Emily Dickinson (1830–1886). Drawn from the “envelope poems” of her final period of writing, the book reproduces full-color photo images of those envelopes (both sides) and, for the reader’s sake, offers a light type transcription of her uniquely handwritten poems.

Emily Dickinson: Envelope Poems makes available in a less expensive format select poems from Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems (2013) by the same editors Jen Bervin and Marta Werner and produced by Christine Burgin Publications. This year also brings us another facsimile work in Emily Dickinson’s Poems: As She Preserved Them Annotated Edition edited by Cristanne Miller (Belknap Press, April 2016). And if one needs a new bold literary biography, we have Jerome Charyn’s The Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century released in March by Bellevue Literary Press.

All of these charming attributes of facsimile publishing make the book a keepsake, but they also offer a new even intimate vision of the life and work of one of America’s finest poets. As noted critic Helen Vendler says of these last Dickinson fragments “. . . what might seem only negligible scraps of waste paper brings us closer to the restlessness of the constantly thinking poet who, in her later years, repeatedly seized her pencil and a fragment of an envelope to write about the lowliest and the most exalted states of being.”

One can actually sense Miss Emily sitting by the upstairs window of her Amherst home and dashing off the poem she has been carrying in her mind on the closest thing possible…a nearly discarded envelope. And her positioning of the words and the forced conciseness of the paper itself play in our vision of her as person and poet still in her powers.


Look    back

on   Time

with   kindly


He   doubtless

did   his  best—

How   softly

sinks    his/ that

trembling   Sun

in    Human

Nature’s   West—


There are many of these terse and witty observation poems , and as always Dickinson poems of intricacy of seeing things different and anew (spacing the author’s).


Had   we   our


But /tho’/ perhaps  ‘tis

well   they’re   not

at    Home

So    intimate    with


He’s /That’s’  ‘tis/  liable   with   them

Had   we   the   eyes

within   our   Head –s—

How   well   that

we    are    Blind –

We   could    not

look    opon   the

Earth  --   World

&  So   Utterly



Dickinson had stopped writing poems for publication at this point or even for her own delicate poem packets of finished poems. She declares her late earned stance in metaphor:


One   note   from

One   Bird

Is   better   than

a   million   words

A    scabbard

has – holds  /needs/

but   one



Of course no Dickinson book of poems would be complete without her haunting thoughts on death made particularly relevant by her nearness to it.


Though    what

transports     of


I    reached    the

stolid     Bliss

to  breathe  my

Blank   without


Attest  me  this

and   this –

By   that   bleak


I   won   as

near   as   this

Thy   privilege

of   dying

Abbreviate   me


Remit    me   this

       and      this


This beautifully executed book of poems truly needs to be seen and held in the hands as a piece of visual art. It contains the essence of a poet who for over a century has informed and delighted us with her fierce charm and her oh, so memorable lines. It truly is a gift from Miss Emily.