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Emily Dickinson’s "By such and such an offering"

Emily Dickinson's poems inform my own worldview as a poet and scholar. They dramatize the human spirit via deep attention to life's details.

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

Introduction and Text of "By such and such an offering"

The speaker in Emily Dickinson’s four-line verse begins mysteriously but then suggests a remarkable indictment of those who feign martyrdom. Those who exaggerate their suffering in life but have little to show for it are often those who put on display their complaints.

The phony religious who amble about with colorless, sad expressions, those who suffer from physical ailments but exaggerate for attention, those who remain boastful of their contributions to society that anyone paying attention will realize are meagre—these supposed "martyrs" remain so only to their own confused thinking.

The speaker is calling attention to such bombastic displays. As the "web of life" is woven, it does remain salient that it "takes all kinds." This speaker offers no remedy—just an insightful observation that such exists, and perhaps a warning to watch out for them and not be fooled by insincerity and lack of clarity.

By such and such an offering

By such and such an offering
To Mr. So and So,
The web of life woven –
So martyrs albums show!


The speaker is offering an observation of a certain segment of the social order whose exaggerated rhetoric hoists their pettiness to the exalted status of martyrdom.

First Movement: The Undeclared

By such and such an offering
To Mr. So and So,

The speaker begins with two prepositional phrases that point to some activity being directed to an unknown entity: specifically something is being given to someone. The phrases "such and such" and "So and So" indicate that the speaker is not identifying the gift nor is she naming to whom the gift is given.

The speaker does, however, qualify the receiver of the gift as a masculine human being, signaled by "Mr."; thus, the terms of the phrase "So and So" stand for a name and are capitalized.

The speaker has thus set up a puzzling dynamic by essentially reporting somewhat mysteriously that something was given, or perhaps will be given, to someone (some man). She allows her audience to remain puzzled by not only what the gift may be, or will be, but also by who will be, or has been, the receiver of that gift.

At this point, the speaker has simply claimed that what was given was an "offering."

She does not say that what was given was a "present" or a "gift"; instead she uses the more weighty term "offering," which differs from other items given through its special status: an offering connotes something given for religious or worship purposes, or some other universally relevant purpose.

An ordinary gift is usually something presented to an individual or small group of individuals.

Thus, this gift retains a different status from an ordinary gift, in that it must have some purpose other than the mere giving of a gift for Christmas or birthday or other culturally personalized holiday. Thus, instead of a personal gift, this offering will retain a wider, more inclusive purpose.

Second Movement: Completed Mystery

The web of life woven –
So martyrs albums show!

The speaker then completes the thought begun in the first movement, but she still remains quite mysterious because she does not actually offer a complete sentence or statement. Her musing thus remains fragmented, as if she were merely jotting down a note for later employment in a larger context.

The speaker then makes the lofty claim about life: life’s "web" has been woven.

While only life’s Creator can be credited with weaving the "web of life," the speaker again indicates that she will remain mysterious in her remarks by not elaborating her claim.

But by diverting the direction of her report to individuals who have experienced extreme suffering perhaps even death ("martyrs"), who then display their suffering through a series of blank pages ("albums") filled with images from their history.

The speaker has thus suggested her own puzzlement that life can be filled with so many perplexing events.

But she seizes upon the one turn of events that has impressed her mightily in likely a negative or perhaps even a humorous way: that the suffers who offer their oblations at the feet materiality and yet portend to suffer as martyrs nevertheless gather their badges and demonstrate them to an unsuspecting world.

The true martyr to the spiritual cause may be celebrated by others down through the centuries. Their adherence to truth is to be emulated, but it will be hoped that their being martyred unto death may be avoided.

But those who put on display their suffering through flagitiousness or deleterious behavior will be adjudicated duplicitous as they "show" their "albums" instead allowing them to work through the mystery of silent, masterful ascendance.

Thus, the vaunted "offering" is revealed as a profligate collection garnered by the supposed "martyrs" and bestowed on "Mr. So and So," who has remained merely a nebulous, unsuspecting target of the feigning, exaggerating sufferers.

That unknown citizen—representing the conglomerate of the world’s citizens—remains an amorphous being to whom the would-be martyrs may put on display their imperfections and bleared commodities.

Emily Dickinson circa age 17. This daguerreotype is likely the only extant authentic image of the poet.

Emily Dickinson circa age 17. This daguerreotype is likely the only extant authentic image of the poet.

© 2021 Linda Sue Grimes


Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on August 20, 2021:

Thank you for your comment, Sankhajit.

Emily Dickinson is one my favorites also; she is my very favorite American poet. Her profound insight into the way the cosmos works on three levels renders her one of the finest thinkers in Western culture.

Nice to hear from you, Sankhajit. Hope you are staying safe and healthy. Blessings to you and yours!

Sankhajit Bhattacharjee from MILWAUKEE on August 20, 2021:

Emily Dickinson is one of my favorite poets. I enjoyed your explanations.

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on August 20, 2021:

Hi, Louise—

Yes, I do love her poetry! She never fails to amaze me with her insight & her strategies for expressing her little dramas.

Nice to hear from you, Louise. Hope you are staying safe and healthy. Blessings to you and yours!

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on August 20, 2021:

Hi Linda, I know you like Emily Dickinsons poetry. And I always enjoy reading your explanations of her poems.