This is my letter to the World (441)
This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me –
The simple News that Nature told –
With tender Majesty
Her Message is committed
To Hands I cannot see –
For love of Her – Sweet – countrymen –
Judge tenderly – of Me
Increasingly I’ve been using this to introduce people to Dickinson. I have it memorized and a few brief comments are enough to point out grounds for further reflection.
The question I begin with: Are the “countrymen” truly “Sweet?” Not only is “Sweet” separated from “countrymen” by punctuation, but the “World” (distinguished from “Nature”) never wrote to “Me.” The World/Nature distinction now comes into sight; it might be something like the convention/nature distinction. Convention (the things we posit: law, religion, etc.) and nature (an acorn is to become an oak tree) conflict with regards to purposes, especially those purposes which concern man. Should man pursue some sort of rational perfection (natural; “letter” and “told” by “Nature” imply logos), or should he do as the World says?
It isn’t surprising that Dickinson leaves the sweetness and tenderness of the World/countrymen an open question. But does “tender Majesty” really describe Nature? This is news, and the claim is extraordinarily bold. Aristotle would probably tell us that you can’t claim improvements in political science (cf. Federalist 9) because human nature doesn’t change so easily. Dickinson implies a few things about the message besides a concern with tenderness. Shifts from the first to the second stanza call attention. “My letter” becomes “Her message;” “Nature” is personified and becomes “Her,” “World”seems to reduce to “countrymen.” “Me” might be staying static. The very fact Nature had news causes a shift in nearly all things. The “World” becomes the speaker’s audience, the recipients of the message. It is less reduction than specificity. Similarly, the shift from “Nature” to “Her” brings “Nature” into sharper relief. She is no longer some ambiguous concept we inherited, but present and working among us.
Does “Me” change, then? It would seem the speaker is judging at first, then is accepting of being judged. The authority that comes from insight is a peculiar one: like the daimonion, there is an element of thy will be done. The World didn’t write, the speaker knew, because it was busy judging. The letter, writing and message belong to the speaker; “hands” are the World’s, the countrymen. The hope is that body can be reconciled to soul/mind, thus the repeated mentions of “tender.” “Tender” is only to characterize the activities toward each other, at this point.