“Love Letters to Susan” by Emily Dickinson: when a feeling prevails over time


Two memorable books I recently read: “Doris, my life”, letters from Gabriela Mistral to Doris Dana, and “Love Letters to Susan” by American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886). They may have many differences, but they have in common love, a great love…

I knew some of Emily Dickinson’s poems, but not her poem-letters, her love letters to Susan Huntington Gilbert. They reached my hands late, but they arrived … A student of the poetry course at the school where I work (she never stops learning), told us about these letters, about the poet’s relationship with Susan. In her presentation she underlined that they met when they were young, that they were sisters-in-law (Susan married Austin Dickinson, Emily’s brother), of “Icest Poems”, which speak volumes about Emily’s painful childhood experience; that she and Susan admired the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the Brontë sisters, George Eliot, great 19th century novelists, and shared those readings. And other situations of a biography in direct relationship with letters and letter-poems, that genre between the poetic and the epistolary.

The “Love Letters to Susan” tell us of that love which, transcending the genre – heroic, especially in the time in which they lived – is cultivated, maintained, lasts and prevails over time. The story of these two women who had to hide their feelings out of fear of the social conventions of their time, however, has been captured a lot in the poems, letters and letter-poems that have been preserved. There the poems remained, bound in files in a trunk, with the living seed of posterity. There all the passion, all the love and beauty of a great poet.

Theirs was a loving correspondence that lasted more than thirty years. Here are some fragments of the letters:

“Sunday afternoon. So delightful and peaceful, and you, oh Susie, what more do I need to make my paradise complete? Sweet hour, Blessed hour, leading me to you, and bringing me back, long enough to steal a kiss, and whisper goodbye again” (letter 8, p. 44).

“Now I must go out into the garden and lash out at an Imperial Crown for daring to hold my head up, before you get home, so see you soon, Susie, – I’ll think of you at dusk, and at dawn, again; and at noon, and in the morning, and in the evening, and always, and forever, until this little heart stops beating and stops. Emilia” (letter 9, p. 49).

“This union, my dear Susie, where two lives are one, this strange sweet adoption which we can only glimpse and are not yet admitted to, how can it fill the heart and make it beat wildly in unison, how can we someday come from us, and it will make us its own, and we will not run away from it, but we will stand still and be happy!(letter 10, p. 50).

Other texts of the letter-poems are of great beauty:

“To own one/ Susan/ mine/ is itself/ a Bliss -/ Whatever/ Kingdom I/ lose to damnation, Lord,/ Perpetuate me/ in this! Emilia” (letter 178, p. 218). “Susan – I would have /left/ Eden to open/ the Door for you/ if I had known/ that you were there” […] (letter 197, p. 230).

This is Emily’s last letter to Susan, when already quite ill she was about to say goodbye to this world:

“Thank you, / dear Sue – / for any consolation” (letter 245, p. 270). What a simple and beautiful tribute, of gratitude, of love, of eternity! Six words and a world expressed there.

A book of those that you keep, that you are grateful to have read. It is life transformed into poetry, or lived poetically. The great love that is sometimes an evergreen forest, and is Beauty, Bliss, the promise of “We will meet again and again”…

Data sheet
“Love Letters to Susan”, Sabina Editorial, Madrid. Edition and prologue by Ana Mañeru Méndez, translation by Arantxa Azurmendi Muñoa, Ana Mañeru Méndez and Carmen Oliart Delgado de Torres, second edition December 2001.

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