There can be no doubt that the appearance of this volume of hitherto unpublished poems by Emily Dickinson is a literary event of first importance. To say less would be understatment.
The history of this remarbable book goes back to 1896 when, following the publication of "Poems", Third Series, Mabel Loomis Todd's painstaking work on the poems came to an abrupt end. The story surrounding it - an unfortunate episode lost in the obscurity of nearly fifty years - has bee told in "Ancestor's Brocade" by Mrs. Todd's daughter. In 1929, At the request of her mother, Millicent Todd Bingham unlocked the camphor wood box containing the poems of Emily Dickinson. There were hundreds of them: over half had never been published. Many had been neatly copied in ink and tied into small fascicles by the author, others, also in clear copy, were in numbered envelopes. The mass that remained were scribbled in pencil on scraps of paper, on the backs of old envelopes and advertisements. They were almost illegible. Punctuation in many cases was non-existant and often a choice of words or the division into lines and stanzas was left to the discretion of the future. The challange to the editor was tremendous. Mrs. Bingham has answered that challenge, giving years of exhausting devotion, patience and judgment to the task of copying, sorting, and correcting errors in transcription in order to present to the public this volume of over six hundred and fifty unpublished poems, many of which represent the poet's finest work, written in her fullest maturity.
The arrangement of the poems is of unusual interest, revealing the variety of subjects and the scope of the poet's insight. The book falls naturally into two parts. The first leads from the world without, the aspects of nature, into the revelation of human nature, of the ages of man from childhood to the mystery of death. It culminates in three groups of philosophical poems on the significance of life, many of which were written in Emily Dickinson's last years. The second part is devoted to occasional and persnal poems, bits of verse sent with gifts, and fragments that are brilliant in themselves. Mrs.Bingham has presented a chronology of expression both thoughtful and climactic.
The resulting volume is a gift of inestimable value to the large audience which has long recognized the genius of Emily Dickinson. Although her personal life was shrouded in mystery, the greatness of her work, acclaimed all over the world, is as fresh and exciting today as it was sixty years ago.
Mark Van Doren has written a foreword to the book.