Higginson also says that a writer need not defend himself or herself. "If your work does not vindicate itself, you cannot vindicate it," he says. Perhaps it was that notion that inspired Emily Dickinson to respond. Her letter is dated April 15, 1862:
Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?
The Mind is so near itself — it cannot see, distinctly — and I have none to ask —
Should you think it breathed — and had you the leisure to tell me, I should feel quick gratitude... I enclose my name — asking you, if you please — Sir — to tell me what is true?
That you will not betray me — it is needless to ask — since Honor is it's own pawn —
With her letter, she included a card with her name and four poems. Higginson did respond; he encouraged her and later assisted in the editing of a posthumous collection of her works, become Dickinson's most important advocate. Among the poems Dickinson sent him in that initial correspondence was "Safe in their Alabaster Chambers":
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 of sunshine;
Babbles the bee in a stolid ear;
Pipe the sweet birds in ignorant cadence,—
Ah, what sagacity perished here!
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 disk of snow.
*I am indebted to Michael Ryan's A Difficult Grace: On Poets, Poetry, and Writing (2000) for the text of this letter, transcribed faithfully using Dickinson's unusual punctuation style.