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An Excerpt from Open Me Carefully




from Susan


Emily –

All’s well –

Has girl read Republican?

It takes as long to start our

Fleet as the Burnside.


March 1862

On March 1, 1862, the Springfield Republican printed an early version of “Safe in their Alabaster Chambers” entitled “The Sleeping.” It is likely that the poem printed in the Republican beneath “The Sleeping,” entitled “The Shadow of Thy Wing,” was written by Susan. Both poems were published anonymously. In one of the few surviving letters from Susan to Emily, Susan excitedly inscribes the greeting, “All’s well” in one quarter of the fold, and then compares their mutual enterprise — making their poetry known to the public — to the Civil War general Burnside’s siege and the capture of Roanoke Island in February 1862.




The Sleeping.

Safe in their alabaster chambers,

Untouched by morning,

   And untouched by noon,

Sleep the meek members of the Resurrection,

   Rafter of satin, and roof of stone.


Light laughs the breeze

In her castle above them,

   Babbles the bee in a stolid ear,

Pipe the sweet birds in ignorant cadences:

   Ah! What sagacity perished here!

Pelham Hill, June, 1861.


March 1, 1862

This is Emily’s poem that Susan refers to reading in the Springfield Republican.




Safe in their Alabaster Chambers,

Untouched by Morning –

And untouched by Noon –

Lie the meek members of

the Resurrection –

Rafter of Satin – and Roof of

Stone –

Grand go the Years – in the

Crescent – above them –

Worlds scoop their Arcs –

And Firmaments – row –

Diadems – drop – and Doges –

Surrender –

Soundless as dots – on a

Disc of Snow –


Perhaps this verse would

please you better – Sue –

Emily ’


about 1861

Emily sends Susan another version of the poem, and appends a note showing that Susan is familiar with the poem and does not like the second verse.




from Susan

      I am not suited

dear Emily with the second

verse – It is remarkable as the

chain lightening that blinds us

hot nights in the Southern sky

but it does not go with the

ghostly shimmer of the first verse

as well as the other one – It just

occurs to me that the first verse

is complete in itself it needs

no other, and can’t be coupled –

Strange things always go alone – as

there is only one Gabriel and one

Sun –      You never made a peer

for that verse, and I guess you[r]

kingdom doesn't hold one – I

always go to the fire and get warm

after thinking of it, but I never

can again – The flowers are sweet

and bright and look as if they

would kiss one – ah, they expect

a humming-bird – Thanks for

them of course – and not thanks

only recognition either – Did it

ever occur to you that is all there

is here after all – “Lord that I

may receive my sight” __

            Susan is tired making bibs for

Her bird – her ring-dove – he will

paint my cheeks when I am old

To pay me –

                  Sue –


about 1861

This rare sample of a correspondence, marked “Pony Express,” from Susan to Emily may have been preserved because it was sent back to Susan with another draft of the poem, and then kept by Susan’s daughter Martha. Susan refers to a second stanza of “Safe in their Alabaster Chambers,” which may be the one printed in the Republican, or another version that Emily bound into an early fascicle. A decade later, Thomas Higginson’s paraphrase of Emily’s definition of poetry echoes Susan’s note: “If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me I know that is poetry.” [pp.96–99]