E Emily Dickinson

Publication is the Auction by Emily Dickinson

‘Publication is the auction’ by Emily Dickinson is about the poet’s feelings toward her own works. It gives insight into her character and values.

Dickinson seldom allowed anyone into her presence, and even when she was in need of a doctor, only allowed him to observe her from a distance (Cite). She was considered strange by many who knew her most closely, and her poems suggest likewise. She wrote about matters most did not venture to talk about, and she seemed to live in fear of being noticed. This is the reason that most of her words remained unpublished until after her death.

It would seem that she regretted those works which were published while she was alive. Somehow, she felt that they had less value to her once the world took notice of them. ‘Publication is the Auction’ is about Dickinson’s feelings toward her own works. It gives insight into her character and values.

It can allow the reader to begin to understand Dickinson’s views on privacy, and why she held it in such high esteem. She was an introvert, to say the least, and her expressions were made through her private writings rather than to another living human being.

Publication is the Auction by Emily Dickinson


Publication is the Auction Analysis

Stanza One

Publication- is the Auction

Of the Mind of Man

Poverty- be justifying

For so foul a thing

‘Publication is the Auction’ immediately introduces the speaker’s thoughts on publication. She clearly abhors it. She feels that to have one’s works published, it is the same as auctioning off one’s mind. In other words, she finds it repulsive to put a price tag on someone’s thoughts. In the last two lines of this stanza, she reveals that not even poverty can justify that auctioning off of one’s mind. This reveals that the speaker thinks that it is wrong for someone to make money from their thoughts. She believes that thoughts are meant to be kept private, and that not even poverty could induce her to auction off her mind in the form of publishing her works.


Stanza Two

Possibly- but We – would rather

From Our Garret go

White- Unto the White Creator-

Than invest- Our Snow-

With this stanza, the speaker reveals that she would rather die without having published a single one of her works, than to make money off of her writing. She says that if she were to die without having published any of her thoughts, that she would “go White- Unto the White Creator” which means that she would be unblemished as she came face to face with her Creator.

She suggests that she would have a clean, white slate if she avoided making money from the thoughts that were given to her by her Creator. In the final line, she reveals her belief that she has no right to make money off of her “Snow”. In this line, the snow represents her personal, unpublished thoughts. They are white and pure while they remain personal and kept to herself. They would be blemished, however, if she were to sell those thoughts for profit.


Stanza Three

Thought belong to Him who gave it-

Then- to Him Who bear

It’s Corporeal illustration- Sell

The Royal Air

In this stanza of ‘Publication is the Auction’ the speaker confirms what she had suggested in the previous stanza, that thought is given by God, and therefore should not be sold for profit. In the second line, the speaker suggests that publishing one’s thoughts is the prostitution of the soul. The word “Corporeal” in this line, means something of the body, rather than of the spirit.

And so she effectively compares publication to prostitution, by claiming that to sell one’s thoughts is fornication of the soul. She also suggests that one person’s thoughts are not worth more than another’s. For this reason, she compares making money off of her own thoughts to the idea of people of royalty selling the air that they breathe.

She believes that all thoughts are equal, because all thoughts are given by God above. Therefore, she also believes that thoughts cannot be given a price tag, which is exactly what happens when someone publishes his or her own thoughts.


Stanza Four

In the Parcel- Be the Merchant

Of the Heavenly Grace

But reduce no Human Spirit

To Disgrace of Price-

With the first two lines of this stanza, the speaker suggests that within the parcel, or the small package of her writings, can be found only the “merchant”. This suggests that she is only the one who delivers the thoughts from mind to paper. Therefore, if she were to sell her works, she would be only the “merchant”, not the creator of the thoughts. She implies, once more, than the thoughts came “of the Heavenly Grace”. Therefore, the only reason she has these thoughts to write down on paper, is because of grace from heaven that has placed these thoughts in her mind. In the last two lines, the speaker asserts that no “Human Spirit” should ever be “reduce[d]” and “disgrace[d]” by allowing others to place a price or a value on his own personal thoughts.

To Emily Dickinson, to allow an editor or an audience of any kind to critique her work, meant allowing them to critique her very soul. She did not believe that anyone else had the right to say whether her poems were good or bad. They were simply her thoughts. She did not even take credit for her own thoughts as having conceived of them herself, but rather gave credit to God, claiming that He was the one who put the thoughts there in the first place. She even goes so far as to suggest that to make money off of these thoughts that God had given her, would be an act of defiance against Him. She even compares it to prostitution, claiming that it would be no less immoral to sell her body than it is to sell her thoughts.

‘Publication is the Auction’ gives significant insight into Dickinson, and why she refused to let others read her poetry. She felt as though the thoughts she wrote down on paper were given to her by God, and meant to be kept to herself.

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Allisa graduated with a degree in Secondary Education and English and taught World Literature and Composition at the high school level. She has always enjoyed writing, reading, and analysing literature.
  • Thanks so much! I’m emulating this poem for class and it’s been really hard to find good resources to analyse it! This has been really helpful!!

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      That’s really cool. You’ll have to post what you come up with in the comments!

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