To T.W. Higginson June 7, 1862Emily Dickinson’s religion was Poetry. As she went on through veils of connection to the secret alchemy of Deity, she was less and less interested in temporal blessing. The decision not to publish her poems in her lifetime, to close up an extraordinary amount of work, is astonishing. Far from being the misguided modesty of an oppressed female ego, it is a consummate Calvinist gesture of self-assertion by a poet with faith to fling election loose across the incandescent shadows of futurity.
I smile when you suggest that I delay “to publish” – that being foreign to my thought, as Firmament to Fin –
If fame belonged to me, I could not escape her – if she did not, the longest day would pass me on the chase – and the approbation of my Dog, would forsake me – then – My Barefoot-Rank is better –
Perry Miller said that Jonathan Edwards’ understanding of behavioral psychology, as evidenced by his careful documentation of the process of Conversion, anticipates American empiricism and William James. I say that Emily Dickinson took both his legend and his learning, tore them free from his own humorlessness and the dead weight of doctrinaire Calvinism, then applied the freshness of his perception to the dead weight of American poetry as she knew it. – Susan Howe