Emily Dickinson has a remarkable poem that is rarely part of the short list that gets anthologized. Not many scholars have commented upon it. In Personae and Performance (1988), Elizabeth Phillips discusses the poem in the context of Dickinson's eye problems. In a footnote, she corrects David Porter for having no familiarity with "fine needlework, smocking, or embroidery": the dotted dot, she asserts, cannot be mere invention in words. The poem can be read as deeply autobiographical, painfully poignant, yet playful in the way it connects sowing and sewing. It also establishes, in metaphor, how Dickinson saw herself as poet. In fact, the sew and sewing of all the printed editions of the poem since it appeared in 1929 are assumptions by the first editors that she must have meant sew for sow and sewing for sowing are in the manuscript edition of the poem. This is the Wiki public domain rendering of Johnson 617 / Franklin 681 with bracketed insertions indicating where sow is indicated by the manuscript version, from the Manuscript Books' publication of Fascicle 32:
Don't put up my Thread and Needle
I'll begin to Sew [Sow]
When the Birds begin to whistle
Better Stitches so
These were bent my sight got crooked
When my mind is plain
I'll do seams a Queen's endeavor
Would not blush to own
Hems too fine for Lady's tracing
To the sightless Knot
Tucks of dainty interspersion
Like a dotted Dot
Leave my Needle in the furrow
Where I put it down
I can make the zigzag stitches
Straight when I am strong
Till then dreaming I am sewing [sowing]
Fetch the seam I missed
Closer so I at my sleeping
Still surmise I stitch
I think this is not one of Dickinson's famous lapses (yes, there are places where she confuses its and it's). Linked with the image of the furrow, the double entendre of sew/ sow is apparent. The poetic statement is such a poignant admission of eyes failing their tasks, yet she affirms her determination to make things more perfect. (My mother-in-law told stories of her mother's quilting parties: After all her fellow stitch partners had left, she undid the imperfect seams of others and re-did them to her satisfaction.) At the same time there is the powerful determination to dream the continued practice of stitching more perfectly, despite the failing eyes.
So, what is the imagined "dotted dot"? If we consider that it is the infinitesimal point of gathering the thread to the fabric, the prick of the needle with thread that makes the grasping just enough to hold but barely discernible to the eye, we have both the perfectionist and the diminutive self-image that Dickinson portrays. She promises to make, when her eyes are better or her craft perfected, those "tucks" that are so "dainty" that even though they are interspersed throughout, they are virtually imperceptible.
Five other times Dickinson uses the word dot in her recorded poetry, according to the Emily Dickinson Lexicon at Brigham Young University. The most famous is the ending of "Safe in their Alabaster Chambers, where the "meek members of the Resurrection" become "Soundless as Dots, / On a Disc of Snow."
Just at the time I was planning this post and researching Dickinson's vivid poem, I discovered the blog of Margaret Renkl. She, too, like Dickinson, like me, has the lazy eye astigmatism, uncorrected in childhood. See her post of October 2017. "Seeing" in her blog that takes its name from a different Dickinson poem:
Seeing by Mararet Renkl
I plan to detail more in a later post thoughts about teaching and researching Dickinson.