Bolts of Melody

HARPER, $3.00
Mabel Loomis Todd and Millicent Todd Bingham
A NEW volume of Emily Dickinson’s poetry is clearly a notable event in American literature. To the nine hundred poems already published, the volume edited by Mrs. Todd and her daughter, Mrs. Bingham, adds over six hundred more, giving presumably our last major installment of the poet’s verses.
In a sense the volume rather confirms Emily’s greatness than increases her stature or alters her character. Criticism recognizes her as America’s chief lyric poet, author of a large number of profoundly inspired lyrics which have altered the course of British and American poetry. Like its predecessor, the new book contains also numerous pieces of much less interest, merely the random notations of an explorative mind. Such pieces slightly encumber the pages of all her books and will doubtless be omitted in future selected editions.
Yet if this is essentially the same poet that we have known for a generation, on any reconsideration she grows more marvelous, for her star has not yet reached its height. Her intensity of thought and feeling, her nuances of word, rhythm, and rhyme, yield increasing pleasure. In her tiny poems she achieves Shakespearean breadth, for she pleases both the naïve and the sophisticated. She ranges from tragedy to comedy, and at times she combines many moods, as in the typical tragi-comic lines: —
Maybe Eden ain’t so lonesome
As New England used to be!
The verses in the new book were not the first to receive favorable attention from Mrs. Todd, and, as might be expected, they are as a rule the less brilliant and less romantic ones. But they are in some respects more modern. In this book we find some of Emily’s most pensive and elusive masterpieces.
Of the five persons who have undertaken with considerable success the task of editing Emily’s verse, Mrs. Bingham, herself a scientist of repute, generally employs the most modern and professional methods. She inspires confidence. Her arrangement of the brief poems — a matter of importance — is almost beyond praise.
Together with the new volume of verse appears her book of timely commentary explaining by what a curious train of events Emily’s prose and verse have achieved publication slowly and not always without heartburning. Ancestors’ Brocades is both entertaining and scholarly, but of minor importance beside the poems themselves.