Economics and Emily Dickinson


Paul Solman: As longtime viewers of the NewsHour may recall, our economics team has very occasionally ventured off the beaten beat to cover other issues. When headed to New York last week for an upcoming story, we found ourselves within shooting distance of an intriguing and especially telegenic exhibition: a recreation of the American poet Emily Dickinson’s 19th century garden. The resulting piece closes the Wednesday NewsHour.

But this is the Business Desk, so let me add one of Dickinson’s few poems about economics. She was not, you’ll note, a fan of the marketplace. Or at least, not with regard to her art.

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
Its 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 –

Here’s a clearer version, for those unused to reading Dickinson, or poetry — with the dashes of emphasis and breath removed or replaced by conventional punctuation, the capital letters of emphasis lower-cased.

Publication is the auction[ing off]
Of the mind of man;
Poverty [may] be justifying
For so foul a thing
Possibly, but we [the poet] would rather
From our garret [writing nook] go
White [pure] unto the white Creator [God]
Than invest our snow [pure and fragile handiwork].
Thought belong[s] to him who gave it [the poet]
Then to him who bear
Its corporeal illustration [the reader of the printed page/s]. Sell
The royal air
In the parcel; be the merchant
Of the heavenly grace [sell even the air or the grace of God, if you must]
But reduce no human spirit
To disgrace of price.