September 10, 2011

Dickinson: those who ne'er succeed

The anthology A Masque of Poets was published on September 10, 1878 by Roberts Brothers in Boston. Labeled as part of the "No Name Series," the collection put forth anonymous poems by "eminent authors." The publishers promised, "No name will help the novel, or the story, to success. Its success will depend solely on the writer's ability to catch and retain the reader's interest."

Though promising the identities of the writers would remain "an inviolable secret," some were soon revealed, including Celia Thaxter, George Henry Boker, Edmund Clarence Stedman, and others. Among the most interesting, perhaps, remained unidentified: the book included a poem by Emily Dickinson, one of only a few she saw published in her lifetime. Titled "Success," it was the last poem in the collection before the book concluded with a "novelette in verse"; it was also the last poem Dickinson published before her death. Her few previously published works had appeared at least a decade earlier.

Here is "Success" as it was published in 1878:

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a Nectar
Requires the sorest need.
Not one of all the Purple Host
Who took the flag to-day
Can tell the definition,
So plain, of Victory,
As he, defeated, dying,
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Break, agonized and clear.

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