Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

by tobelikeafeatherby

Dear Ellie,

I have just come back from seeing The Great Gatsby… hmmm it is enough to give you a headache but go see and report back. Before I left Umass last week I stole a sunny afternoon to visit Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst. Please go and read some of her poetry as she really is unnervingly brilliant. Emily’s family were very prominent in the little town of Amherst in the 17th century hence the beautiful house that they owned.

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Our lovely tour guide, full of anecdotes and quotes, informed us about Emily’s relationship with her only sister Lavinia, with whom she remarked: “if we had come up for the first time from two wells where we had hitherto been bred her astonishment would not be greater at some things I say.” This gives you a sense of Emily’s startling mind and outlook. Don’t you think it is a great way to describe the complex relationship between sisters?

In Emily’s bedroom she had revealing hung her two heroes: George Elliot and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. We were also shown Emily’s collection of Herbariums which were expectedly exceptional, another sign of her genius.

The Evergreens

The Evergreens

What is so remarkable and well documented about Emily’s life was that her skill as a poet was never known to the public during her life time as she refused to let her poems be published. It is unknown why; some suggest her editors were insisting her poems be edited of which she disapproved. Though it seems her nature as a recluse can help explain her unwillingness for attention. There is a play entitled The Belle of Amherst which I think would be worth watching for biography.  After we left Emily’s house we were taken to her sister-in-laws house next door The Evergreens where we were told how her poems dramatically came to the publics attention. Emily’s brother scandalously had an affair with a teacher at Amherst College named Mabel Loomis Todd who discovered the poems and ensured they were published, yet not in their original formal, and at much annoyance to Emily’s relatives. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the world were shown the poems as Emily had written them. The Evergreens was fascinating as a relative of Emily’s lived there until 1980 and had kept the house as it was in the late 1880s- very victorian.

I will leave you with some of her poems I like best.

Hope

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

I felt my life with both my hands

I felt my life with both my hands
To see if it was there—
I held my spirit to the Glass,
To prove it possibler—

I turned my Being round and round
And paused at every pound
To ask the Owner’s name—
For doubt, that I should know the Sound—

I judged my features—jarred my hair—
I pushed my dimples by, and waited—
If they—twinkled back—
Conviction might, of me—

I told myself, “Take Courage, Friend—
That—was a former time—
But we might learn to like the Heaven,
As well as our Old Home!”

I’m nobody! Who are you?

I’m nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?

Then there’s a pair of us- don’t tell!

They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!

How public, like a frog

To tell your name the livelong day

To an admiring bog!

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Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost in imagined conversation in Amherst.

Having such a nice time on Cape Cod. Miss you  xxx

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