Hans on the challenges he faced with Dickinson’s secret language

Oct. 21, 1969 (while analyzing “SEA” )

I want to admit at once that I borrowed it from the book: Human Sexual Response by William H. Masters M.D. and Virginia E. Johnson. Inasmuch as this book is likely to have a great influence on the direction of my future analysis of the symbolic meanings in ED’s secret language, I will note that I gave this book a cursory reading a few years ago, without being able to get much benefit from it. I was at that time not yet fully aware just how great a contribution Emily was making to sexology and how almost all the poems have the inner vagina for the stage of her communications, and for their actions any one or all aspects of intercourse. Therefore I was neither prepared for nor sufficiently interested in the contents of the book. Furthermore, it confronted me with another “secret language”: the highly involved latinized jargon of medical science. This was enough of an obstacle to prevent me from getting a truly thorough grasp on the tenets presented by the book. Since then I have penetrated deeply into the secrets of the Dickinson poems and was able, by my own slow efforts, to gradually come to an understanding of the nature of the activities she describes.

Realizing more and more that her presentations were of necessity subjective and not necessarily corresponding fully with the objective facts of the actual happenings of which she was sensorially aware, I felt a need to resort once more to the Master-Johnson book, as the most advanced of the few that deal with the mystery of, what they call, “the human sexual response.” I got it from the library yesterday. I may have to buy me a volume so as to have it for reference always, but probably will postpone the acquisition in order not to be distracted by it too much. I intend to borrow from their terminology, but not in the sense of plagiarizing from them. No one can appreciate better the work they did in working out that terminology for themselves. If I should use their terms publicly ever, I would acknowledge my debt publicly also. And that, of course, shall go for any insights also to which they may help me. However, Emily and they go apart in fundamental outlook. Emily deals with sexual intercourse as with the highest pain and pleasure giving experience in human life, and in that her outlook may be called hedonistic. Secondly, her sexual experience confronted her with several of the most commonly encountered maladjustments of men and women from their sexual intercourse. In overcoming these difficulties and describing the methods she evolved for overcoming them, her work has great therapeutic value (psychotherapeutic, I should say) for all women who must overcome frigidity and frustration in their sexual life. Masters-Johnson wisely took refuge behind the sexual intercourse’s reproductional function to make their work acceptable and publishable. Emily is totally silent on that score. Moral and psychological considerations must, therefore, influence the presentation of my analyses far more, than the understanding of the underlying physiological basis of sexual intercourse, and it is in that direction mostly where I must develop a competent terminology.

March 22, 1970 (while analyzing “WORD”)

Before starting on this analysis I want to make a remark: I have been considering dropping this work entirely in the last few days. For several reasons: no new situations have appeared now for some time, that would help to further structure the internal happenings in intercourse. The repetitions become ever more tiring. I look aghast at the more than 20,000 analyses of entries which are still to be made. What is the use to keep on with that, if little new should be revealed, while at the same time the memory is to be burdened with such an enormous additional load? As to the revelations about the inner happenings in the sexual act: by and large, Emily can give only her own individual case. A summation of her case might be all that is needed to establish her contribution to sexology. There are other women that now come out with such revelations, and before long there may exist a “literature” on the subject ad nauseam. I can envisage a situation when it would be impossible to publish my findings, not because they are too advanced for our time, but indeed, because they come behind them, that is: too late to stir up much of interest anymore. Much of the reasons that speak for publication would then be destroyed—after all I must not forget that the secret half of her poetry, if it is revealed, could possibly ruin the values of the other half, that, for which the poetry is known and esteemed. At present there is one aspect that would urge me on in the task for at least a while longer: there must be a point in her creative work when the concerns of the secret inner half exhausted their raison d’être for her, just as they are doing it for me now. Therefore I should expect that a great number of symbols and alignments have been created, not to give still greater variation of expression on a subject that has been overkilled already, but for the purpose of being able to treat general themes and human concerns, as a poet, within the consistence of her secret vocabulary. I have not expressed myself well. But I know what I mean, and will therefore, proceed with my work for another stretch.

Sept. 17, 1970

From here onwards I intend to use the written-out and alphabetically ordered lists of entries of the symbols, which until now I used for analysis. I am getting fatigued of the work and wish to bring this phase to as early an end as possible. I feel that no great new discoveries are still to be made, or if so, that I should become aware of them even by this hurried method of analysis. Also I feel that it is not essential anymore that I really solve the secret language in its last details, nor even that I absolutely have to put together the vocabulary and give the definite solutions to all the terms. An immense job awaits me in the structuring the material in its functional groupings and in the explanatory essays to be written for each of these groups. And all this will be of little value if it does not bring me to the philosophical evaluation of her whole achievement. My time is not infinite.