Emily Dickinson is one of the most famous names in English poetry and she is one of the few poets who represents American poetry. Almost all of her poems were published after her death.
Dickinson had very clear and strong opinions about her poetry. She wrote for herself and not for some publisher. She wanted to express herself, for herself.
Maybe this is one of the reasons why her poetry has remained relevant even after hundreds of years. While we cannot know the exact reason why she wanted her poems to be destroyed and not published, we do get some idea from her poem “Publication – is the Auction.”
Let’s take a look at the poem and then at the summary.
Publication is the Auction by Emily Dickinson
Publication – is the Auction Of the Mind of Man – Poverty – be justifying For so foul a thing Possibly – but We – would rather From Our Garret go White – unto the White Creator – Than invest – Our Snow – Thought belong to Him who gave it – Then – to Him Who bear It’s Corporeal illustration – sell The Royal Air – In the Parcel – Be the Merchant Of the Heavenly Grace – But reduce no Human Spirit To Disgrace of Price –
Summary of the Poem
The poem is about how publishing one’s work is like the auctioning of the mind; an act very base and low that can only be justified if the person is extremely poor.
But even then, the poet says that some people (including her) would rather accept death and meet their creator rather than sell their mind’s work.
The reason why she thinks publication of one’s work is not right is because the ability to think and create, to write poems and stories is a gift of God and it should be respected.
Being able to write is the direct gift of God and to sell it is like selling the breath that has been bestowed upon us by God. Think of selling your own breath? So why do people think of selling their intellectual work?
But even if some people decide to sell their own breath, it would still be less demeaning than selling the human spirit and disgracing it by putting a price on it.
Dickinson says that to put a price on something created by the divine gift of God and selling it is utterly disrespectful and should be avoided at all costs.
Also, read the detailed analysis and meaning of this poem here.