Emily Dickinson, “Fame’s Boys and Girls, who never die” (1066)

Fame’s Boys and Girls, who never die (1066)
Emily Dickinson

Fame’s Boys and Girls, who never die
And are too seldom born —


No idea what this means or where it is from. It could be from a letter, it could be referencing a specific event. Going to pretend that it has larger implications on its own that Dickinson wants us to consider. That seems a helpful strategy for most of her poems.

So who are “Fame’s Boys and Girls?” I get the sense that the rarest combination is innocence and renown. But I have trouble conceiving why that matters.

We can start with an obvious case that can’t be what the poem is talking about. We know dumb celebrities that are lost and vulnerable and therefore haunting and tragic. It’s amazing how a combination of pity and terror can overwhelm us regarding them. Those celebrities are far from immortal, though. And why would we want them to be born?

No, the narrator wants more of “Fame’s Boys and Girls,” whatever they are. Perhaps we should look at another idea involving children, immortality and rarity – one needs to accept as a child does to enter the kingdom of heaven, no? But those children aren’t born of fame. They are what they aren’t, lacking Pharisaical sophistication.

What puzzles me is the idea that fame is involved with something truly immortal. Fame’s Boys and Girls can’t age. We can’t be talking about actual people here. This poem might be a call for a particular kind of story. Sometimes Mom and Dad tell us about the kids who did such-and-such and paid a price. What if there were stories that was encouraging, that made being a child in its naturalness apparent and appealing to all? We only have a few such stories, Christ’s “Let the children come to me” being one. On this line of thought, it becomes much easier to think of one who has relearned innocence through some sort of engagement with fame.

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