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“They liked me still”

They shut me up in Prose -
As when a little Girl
They put me in the Closet -
Because they liked me "still" -

Still! Could themself have peeped
And seen my Brain - go round -
They might as wise have lodged a Bird
For Treason - in the Pound -

Himself has but to wil
And easy as a Star
Look down upon Captivity
And laugh - No more have I -

Emily Dickinson, Fr 445, The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Reading Edition, ed. R.W. Franklin (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999), 206.

Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University

Poetry manuscript written in script in ink on unlined paper.There are two perforations in the right margin.

This poem of Dickinson’s showcases what parenting was like when the poet was growing up in the 1830s and ’40s—children ought to be “still,” seen and not heard, no matter what whirled about in their imaginations. However, new generations of parents like Susan and Austin Dickinson had different ideas about how to raise their children. While still expecting them to be strictly well-behaved, Sue and Austin—and Aunts Emily and Vinnie—made a lot more room for play and imagination with Ned, Mattie, and Gib. As the poem suggests, to try to stifle it would have been a futile effort!

A worn wooden toy train displayed on a shelf. The engine is labeled "Hercules" and is pulling three colorful cars.