443 (“I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl”)

443 (“I tie my Hat–I crease my Shawl”)

By Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

(posted Wednesday, Jan. 28)

To hear Robert Pinsky read “443,” click here.

Emily Dickinson is a stern, maybe even a harsh poet. The richness of language, image, and imagination all contrast with her austerities and stringencies: Nothing could be further from the beloved middlebrow notion of Dickinson as a charmingly dotty, fey spinster or wistful girl, all eccentricity and repression.

The homely domestic details of this poem, the shawl and the vase, convey a dire, steely perception: that life’s sweetness may run out long before the duties. Here is no benign affirmation of redemption. On the other hand, there is something in her clarity on this point, her ferocity of truth, and her firm sense that it is her duty to carry on, that I find exhilarating. Even the dashes, with their suspended, rising quality, suggest the vitality of endurance.


Robert Pinsky

I tie my Hat–I crease my Shawl–
Life’s little duties do–precisely–
As the very least
Were infinite–to me–

I put new Blossoms in the Glass–
And throw the old–away–
I push a petal from my Gown
That anchored there–I weigh
The time ‘twill be till six o’clock
I have so much to do–
And yet–Existence–some way back–
Stopped–struck–my ticking–through–
We cannot put Ourself away
As a completed Man
Or Woman–When the Errand’s done
We came to Flesh–upon–
There may be–Miles on Miles of Nought–
Of Action–sicker far–
To simulate–is stinging work–
To cover what we are
From Science–and from Surgery–
Too Telescopic Eyes
To beat on us unshaded–
For their–sake–not for Ours–
‘Twould start them–
We–could tremble–
But since we got a Bomb–
And held it in our Bosom–
Nay–Hold it–it is calm–

Therefore–we do life’s labor–
Though life’s Reward–be done–
With scrupulous exactness–
To hold our Senses–on–