55 of 58 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
When it comes to choosing an edition of Emily Dickinson's poems, we need to be very careful. Selections of her poems have appeared in many editions, and the earlier ones - which are still being reprinted - often contain extensively edited and revised versions of her poems which do not give us what she actually wrote.
Her poems are so unusual, in terms of their diction, meters, grammar, and punctuation, that earlier editors felt obliged to replace her characteristic dashes with more conventional punctuation, and to regularize and smooth out her texts to make them more acceptable to readers of the time.
In fact, it was only when Thomas H. Johnson's editions appeared that readers were finally given an accurate version of the original texts, with Emily Dickinson's diction and punctuation restored.
Johnson has produced three different editions of the poems. The first, a 3-volume Variorum Edition (1955), includes all of her many variants, since Emily Dickinson often added alternate words to her drafts and in many cases seems never to have decided on a final reading. These variants, though extremely interesting to scholars, enthusiasts, and advanced students of ED, are not really necessary in an edition for the general reader.
What the general reader needs is an edition in which the editor, after closely examining the manuscripts and taking into account all relevant factors, gives what he feels is a sensible and acceptable reading, and this is what Johnson has given us in the two other editions he prepared, a Reader's edition of the Complete Poems (details of which are given below), and an abridgement of this which included only what he felt were her best poems.
In other words, readers can feel confident that in the present edition they have been given (insofar as it's possible to get her idiosyncratic manuscript drafts over into typography) at least one accurate reading of ED's original draft.
Those who would like to look at the variants can always consult Johnson's Variorum (1955), or the more recent Variorum of R. W. Franklin (1998). Better still, if they can, they might take a look at R. W. Franklin's sumptuous 2-volume 'The Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson' (1981), which gives photographic facsimiles of many of her manuscripts.
Emily Dickinson is a very great poet. Personally I think that in some ways she is the greatest poet of all. In the present edition we have been given accurate texts of a selection of her poems, arranged so far as was possible in chronological order of composition. Johnson's is an edition which should serve the general reader well enough for most ordinary purposes.
Another excellent Reader's edition that can be recommended has been prepared by ED's most recent editor, R. W. Franklin (1999). Either of the Johnsons or the Franklin (which contains 14 additional poems) will give you access to a body of poems that are so far above the ordinary run of poems that we really ought to have another word for them.
Just as a prism breaks up light into a band of colors - red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet - and their infinite gradations, so do Emily Dickinson's poems become, as it were, a prism which conducts the white light of reality, a reality which as it passes through the prism of her poem explodes into a multiplicity of meanings.
It is the rich suggestiveness of her poems, a suggestiveness which generates an incredible range of meanings, that prevents us from ever being able to say (to continue the metaphor) that a given poem is 'about red' or 'about blue,' because her poems, as US critic Robert Weisbuch has pointed out, are in fact about _everything_. This is what makes her so unique, and this is why she appeals to every kind of reader.
Emily Dickinson's poetry is one of the wonders of the world. Whether you select one of the Johnsons or the Franklin edition, it will become a book that you will cherish, a golden book and endless source of pleasure and inspiration that you will find yourself returning to again and again.
For those who may be interested, details of Johnson's reader's edition of the Complete Poems are as follows :
THE COMPLETE POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON. Edited by Thomas H. Johnson. 784 pp. Boston : Little, Brown, 1960 and Reissued. ISBN: 0316184136 (pbk.)