illustrated portrait of English poet Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

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What was the title of the last poem by Emily Dickinson?

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Finding the last poem written by Emily Dickinson provided some interesting information. Dickinson published only a few poems during her lifetime; and other than in Amherst, Massachusetts, Dickinson was not famous. Dickinson requested that after her death her papers and correspondence be burned or destroyed. Her sister Lavinia followed her wishes about the correspondence only. 

In addition, forty handmade volumes, made by folding and sewing five or six sheets of stationery paper and copying what seem to be final versions of her approximately 1800 poems, were found in her bedroom. During the latter part of the nineteenth century, two acquaintances of Dickinson published a volume of her poems after profoundly editing them according to the style of the day.

There was other sporadic interest in Dickinson’s poetry throughout the first part of the twentieth century. Finally, Thomas Johnson, in 1955, gathered the poems, numbered them--since there were only five that were named--and published a book entitled Dickinson’s Complete Poems.

Dickinson neither titled nor dated her poems; therefore, Johnson had to resolve this problem when preparing his book. The result is that he assigned the poems numbers, arranging them in what appeared a likely, chronological order (eNotes).

The poems were returned to the original manuscript form by Ralph W. Franklin. Using her handmade books, which Dickinson had neatly copied after constructing and stitching the books, Franklin studied the actual pages of the books to decipher the order of the poems. By looking at ink marks, puncture holes, and using other technological advances, Franklin was able to establish the most definitive order of Dickinson’s poems.

In 1981, he published a three volume set which detailed original poems, their changes, his personal research, and other references to Dickinson’s work.  In 1999, Dr. Franklin published a one volume list of Dickinson’s poetry entitled The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Reading Edition listing the 1789 poems in their final order.

The last [1789th] poem according to Franklin is the poem entitled:

“The Saddest Noise, the Sweetest Noise.”

The saddest noise, the sweetest noise,
the maddest noise that grows,—
the birds, they make it in the spring,
at night's delicious close.

Between the March and April line—
That magical frontier
Beyond which summer hesitates,
Almost too heavenly near.

It makes us think of all the dead
That sauntered with us here,
By separation's sorcery
Made cruelly more dear.

It makes us think of what we had,
And what we now deplore.
We almost wish those siren throats
Would go and sing no more.

An ear can break a human heart
As quickly as a spear,
We wish the ear had not a heart
So dangerously near.

This is a poem of comparisons, with the bird's song noted as the both sad and sweet noise in the title. The birdsong reminds the poet of the seasons of the year: the forthcoming spring and the wintry past. This natural beauty is beautiful and sad because of the memory of the friends and loved ones who have passed away.

In particular, the time between the end of winter and the beginning of spring can be a magical time; unfortunately, it is also brings the memories of those that can never be seen again. The poet almost wishes that the birds would sing no more because the ear brings the sad, yet sweet notes to the heart.

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