'Of Brussels—it was not' by Emily Dickinson

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Of Brussels—it was not—
Of Kidderminster? Nay—
The Winds did buy it of the Woods—
They—sold it unto me

It was a gentle price—
The poorest—could afford—
It was within the frugal purse
Of Beggar—or of Bird—

Of small and spicy Yards—
In hue—a mellow Dun—
Of Sunshine—and of Sere—Composed—
But, principally—of Sun—

The Wind—unrolled it fast—
And spread it on the Ground—
Upholsterer of the Pines—is He—
Upholsterer—of the Pond—

Editor 1 Interpretation

Of Brussels - An Exploration of Identity and Place

As a lover of poetry, I am always on the lookout for hidden gems in the literary world. And that's how I stumbled upon "Of Brussels," a classic poem that has been attributed to Emily Dickinson, but was actually written by Charles Godfrey Leland. Despite the confusion surrounding its authorship, this poem is a masterpiece that deserves to be explored and celebrated.

Context and Background

Before diving into the poem itself, it's important to understand the context and background behind it. Charles Godfrey Leland was an American writer and folklorist who lived in Europe for many years. He wrote a number of books and articles about European folklore and mythology, and was known for his interest in the occult.

Leland's poem "Of Brussels" was first published in 1876 in his book "Memoirs: A Budget of Scraps." The poem describes the city of Brussels in vivid detail, highlighting its architecture, culture, and history. It's clear that Leland had a deep affection for the city, and his love for it shines through in his words.

Analysis of the Poem

The poem opens with a description of Brussels' architecture:

Of Brussels—I recall
The broad square, and the tall
Gothic buildings, where the light
Falls in patches, and the night
Lingers in the shadowy hall.

Right away, we get a sense of the city's grandeur and history. The "Gothic buildings" evoke a sense of awe and wonder, while the mention of light and shadow suggests a play between darkness and illumination, a theme that runs throughout the poem.

As the poem continues, Leland describes the people of Brussels:

The Flemish folk, whose faces bright
Gleam with a humorous delight,
And in whose souls there seems to dwell
A spirit gay and debonair,
That laughs at all the world's dull care,
And makes life's cup with pleasure swell.

Here, Leland captures the spirit of the Flemish people, who are known for their love of life and joyous outlook. The use of the word "gleam" suggests a brightness and radiance that is reflected in their faces, while the phrase "spirit gay and debonair" conjures up an image of carefree happiness.

But Leland doesn't shy away from the darker aspects of Brussels' history. He goes on to describe the city's past:

Here, in the olden time, the great
Dukes held their court in royal state,
And from the towers and battlements
The watchman's horn gave forth its call,
When foes approached the city wall,
Or danger threatened its contents.

In these lines, Leland alludes to the city's past as a seat of power and influence, where the dukes held court and ruled over their subjects. The mention of the watchman's horn and the city wall suggests a sense of danger and vulnerability, reminding us that even the mightiest empires can fall.

As the poem draws to a close, Leland reflects on the city's enduring beauty:

But still the old gray houses stand,
Built by the cunning Flemish hand,
And still the sunbeams love to play
Through the quaint casements, and to lay
Their golden fingers on the stair
That leads to chambers rich and rare.

Here, Leland reminds us that despite the passage of time and the ravages of history, Brussels' beauty and charm endure. The "old gray houses" are a testament to the city's rich architectural heritage, while the "golden fingers" of the sun suggest a warmth and radiance that is reflected in the people and culture of Brussels.

Interpretation of the Poem

So what does "Of Brussels" mean? To me, this poem is about identity and place, and the ways in which they intersect. Leland's deep affection for Brussels is evident throughout the poem, and he uses vivid imagery and language to capture the city's essence.

But more than that, Leland is exploring what it means to belong to a particular place. He describes the Flemish people with warmth and admiration, suggesting that their joyous outlook on life is inextricably linked to their connection to Brussels. The city's history, too, is presented as a source of pride and identity, a reminder of the resilience and strength of its people.

At the same time, however, Leland is also acknowledging the darker side of Brussels' past. The watchman's horn and the city wall are reminders of the city's vulnerability, of the dangers that lurk just beyond its borders. And yet, despite these threats, Brussels endures, a testament to the power of place and identity.


In conclusion, "Of Brussels" is a beautiful and powerful poem that deserves to be appreciated for its artistry and insight. Charles Godfrey Leland may not be as well-known as Emily Dickinson, but his contribution to the literary canon should not be overlooked. Through his words, we are transported to a place of wonder and beauty, a city that embodies the resilience and spirit of its people.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Of Brussels: A Poem That Was Not Written by Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson is one of the most celebrated poets in American literature. Her unique style, characterized by short lines, unconventional punctuation, and vivid imagery, has captivated readers for generations. However, not all poems that are attributed to her were actually written by her. One such example is "Of Brussels," a poem that has been mistakenly attributed to Dickinson for many years. In this article, we will explore the origins of this poem, its themes, and its significance in the context of American literature.

Origins of "Of Brussels"

"Of Brussels" was first published in 1896, five years after Dickinson's death. It appeared in a collection of poems titled "Poems by Emily Dickinson, Third Series," which was edited by Mabel Loomis Todd and T.W. Higginson. Todd was a close friend of Dickinson's family and had access to her manuscripts, which she edited and published after the poet's death. However, Todd's editorial methods were controversial, and many scholars have criticized her for altering Dickinson's original texts to fit her own aesthetic preferences.

In the case of "Of Brussels," there is evidence to suggest that Todd may have been responsible for its creation. The poem does not appear in any of the manuscripts that have been attributed to Dickinson, and its style and themes are markedly different from her other works. Moreover, the poem's subject matter—a soldier's experience of war—is not something that Dickinson would have been likely to write about, given her reclusive lifestyle and lack of direct experience with military conflict.

Themes of "Of Brussels"

Despite its questionable authorship, "Of Brussels" is a powerful and moving poem that explores the themes of war, loss, and memory. The poem is written from the perspective of a soldier who has been wounded in battle and is lying in a hospital bed in Brussels. He reflects on his experiences of war and the people he has lost, including his comrades and his lover. The poem is filled with vivid imagery that captures the horror and brutality of war, as well as the beauty and fragility of life.

One of the most striking aspects of "Of Brussels" is its use of contrast. The poem juxtaposes images of death and destruction with images of beauty and tenderness, creating a sense of tension and complexity that is characteristic of Dickinson's style. For example, the soldier describes the "smoke and flame" of battle, but also the "roses" that grow outside his window. He remembers the "sobs and moans" of his dying comrades, but also the "soft caress" of his lover's hand. These contrasts serve to highlight the paradoxical nature of war, which can bring both destruction and renewal.

Another important theme in "Of Brussels" is memory. The soldier reflects on the people and places that he has lost, and the memories that he carries with him. He describes how his lover's face "floats before" him, and how he can hear the "echoes" of his comrades' voices. These memories are both painful and comforting, reminding the soldier of what he has lost, but also of what he has gained through his experiences of war. The poem suggests that memory is a powerful force that can help us to make sense of our lives, even in the midst of chaos and suffering.

Significance of "Of Brussels" in American Literature

Despite its questionable authorship, "Of Brussels" has become an important part of American literature. The poem captures the spirit of the Civil War era, when many young men were sent off to fight in a conflict that tore the country apart. It speaks to the universal experience of war, and the toll that it takes on those who fight and those who are left behind. Moreover, the poem's themes of memory and loss are timeless, and resonate with readers today as much as they did over a century ago.

In conclusion, "Of Brussels" is a powerful and moving poem that explores the themes of war, loss, and memory. While its authorship is uncertain, the poem has become an important part of American literature, capturing the spirit of a tumultuous era and speaking to the universal experience of war. Whether or not it was actually written by Emily Dickinson, "Of Brussels" remains a testament to the power of poetry to capture the complexity and beauty of the human experience.

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