A Man may make a Remark –
In itself – a quiet thing
That may furnish the Fuse unto a Spark
In dormant nature – lain –

Let us divide – with skill –
Let us discourse – with care –
Powder exists in Charcoal –
Before it exists in Fire –

– Emily Dickinson
913 (1865)

Via the Eudæmonist.


  1. I know, it’s a pain, isn’t it? I do this all the time. I try to tell myself that my foot just won’t fit into my mouth, but somehow it always ends up there.
    sigh It’s my lot to go through life misunderstood. I never mean any harm by anything I say but somehow the words just come out wrong. I must remember to keep my feet on the ground in future.
    Ho hum.

  2. But Eliza, everybody loves you! Just keep dancing and let the feet fall where they will.

  3. Jack Kelly says

    Having spend a long time researching the history of gunpowder I was struck by the poet’s imagery involving what was at the time the only known explosive. Gunpowder indeed contains charcoal (in a mixture with sulfur and saltpeter). The ingedients were individually harmless; mixed they became explosive.
    My book is called Gunpowder: Alchemy, Bombards & Pyrotechnics.

  4. Fascinating. I think Dickinson was interested in delayed effects, and in finding images for them; #913 reminds me of #1261, in that both have to do with dormancy (and “discoursing with care”):
    A Word dropped careless on a Page
    May stimulate an eye
    When folded in perpetual seam
    The Wrinkled Maker lie
    Infection in the sentence breeds
    We may inhale Despair
    At distances of Centuries
    From the Malaria –

  5. That’s quite a poem. And the rhyme of despair and malaria is daring even for Dickinson.

  6. Am I also to infer that Page rhymes with seam?

  7. No, we’re dealing with rhymes on the 2 and 4 here.

  8. Why is that poets strive to make lines 2 and 4 rhyme while leaving lines 1 and 3 un-rhymed? It must be a quest for closure. Does anyone know of an English poem where, in each stanza, lines 1 and 3 rhyme but lines 2 and 4 don’t?

  9. My bad hats. Is my face red.

  10. I’m scouring through my poetry book;
    A happy girl I’d be
    To find after a careful look
    Rhymes for lines three and one.
    Alas none do I find so I
    Am posting this small ditty,
    So that at least you’ll all see why
    Lines two and four sound better.

  11. That’s how one of the most original and, perhaps, indecent 20th century Russian poems is structured.

  12. I don’t know what happened to the link: http://noskoff.lib.ru/akuzm010.html#l220

  13. Excellent example! (It’s a poem by the notoriously indecent Kuzmin.)

Speak Your Mind