Great Salutations

Introducing a new Speechless feature

By Suzanne Lummis 


“Could you believe me – without? I had no portrait, now,

but am small, like the Wren; and my Hair is bold, like the

Chestnut Bur; and my eyes, like the Sherry in the Glass,

that the guest leaves – Would this do just as well?”


- Emily Dickinson to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, in reply to his request for a portrait

Reader, Writer, where would we be without the letters of Keats, Emily Dickinson, T. E. Lawrence, Raymond Chandler, Elizabeth Bishop?  The answer is, I suppose, about where we are now but a tad bit poorer in heart and spirit.  And if there were an instrument sensitive enough to measure such a thing, the needle gauging the overall frustration level of humanity would rest a shade higher on the scale.    Well, consider how frustrating it is to know so little of Shakespeare? What if to the great Body of Unknowing were added a lack of knowledge of the lives and perceptions of many other great writers and fascinating historical figures, people whom at present we’re able to appreciate more fully through their private correspondence? 


The good letter like good literary criticism deepens our understanding of the author’s work and achievements.   Moreover, for years, especially before the advent of the telephone offered a seductive alternative to writing, letters provided following generations with a sense of the day-to-day world of those who’d come before -- history lessons of quite a different sort from the accounts in school books. 


And so, with this issue of Speechless I introduce an occasional feature honoring the art of the letter.


Letter from David Lehman to A. R. Ammons, April 21,1997


Speechless Spring 2007
Copyright © 2007 Published by
Tebot Bach