Marcia Strykowski

A Visit with Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886).
A few months back I was able to visit Amherst, Mass., where Emily lived and wrote most of her amazing poetry. Only a handful of her poems were published during her lifetime, but she left behind hundreds for future generations to enjoy. Her first collection was published in 1890 after being heavily edited by friends (hmmm….). BUT, many years later, in 1955, a complete and mostly unedited collection was published by scholar Thomas H. Johnson.

Here’s a view of her home from just beyond her side yard. Her brother’s house was right next door and is also usually open to the public (when it’s not being renovated). Many of the Dickinson heirlooms are displayed within this other property. Let’s walk up closer to Emily’s house.

We can stroll around back and then go inside.

We had a lovely tour. I should write about these visits right after I experience them, when my mind is fresh. I’m pretty sure indoor pictures were not allowed (or else I’d have a bunch). I remember it feeling quite special to stand alone in her bedroom where she wrote the majority of her work. And to look out the window through which she sent baskets of gingerbread down to visiting children was a treat, as well.
Another feature that stands out in my memory was that our tour guide was wonderful. Although soft-spoken and humble, you could tell he was a poet. One of the final rooms was set up like a little classroom and he walked us through a lesson on Emily’s poems. There were big interactive charts showing how many versions she went through to find the perfect words for each line. Often it was the last word that had several variations.

Our tour guide also showed us a picture they believe might be of Emily since the other woman in the c.1859 daguerreotype is thought to be one of her close acquaintances (recently widowed Kate Scott Turner). After always only seeing the one picture I have at the top of this post from when she was sixteen in 1847, I was excited to learn of it. And then I found a public domain copy online, too. Emily would be on the left. It was discovered in Amherst five years ago and much measuring of facial features and hunting for dress scraps has been done to attempt authentication. Emily is 12 years older here than in the earlier picture and I suppose I can see some resemblance. Upon further hunting, I came across yet another picture online (also unconfirmed). I feel this one also looks like her, although more at some times than at others (this can get baffling!). I can’t find too much information on this picture (which has her name written on the back) so I’m pretty sure ‘they’ have already decided against it being of Emily.Because so many of Emily’s poems were printed after her death and/or edited long after that, it was tricky to find public domain poems to include in this post. But the following one is available and rather nice.

Hope is the Thing with Feathers

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.

Here are a few more photographs of her beautiful estate where she lived for 41 years.

There’s something about a light showing through a curtained window. It always seems to draw me in, lets me imagine the poet hunched over her latest creation. Perhaps she is working on this one.There were beautiful gardens (and a scarecrow!) around the back of her home.

So, what do YOU think. Do you feel the second (or maybe even the third) picture is a good likeness of Emily? I would have included two more portraits: a drawing and a painting, but they are from childhood and I’m not sure how accurate either artist was in portraying her. 🙂

53 Comments

  1. Michele

    What a treat this is, Marcia! Thank you!

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  2. Thank you for sharing your visit. Emily Dickinson is a favorite of mine (and we share a birthday). My husband and I recently visited the Mark Twain house in Connecticut and loved it. It is special to see how our favorite authors lived, where they wrote, etc.
    Phyllis

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    • So cool that you share a birthday with Emily! Also, Mark Twain’s house is one of my favorite author homes. If you click on my ‘spotlights’ tab, you’ll find out about my visit. Thanks for adding much to this post, Phyllis!

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  3. Michelle

    Marcia, just wonderful, as usual! Your photos of her estate are stunning. As far as which photo is the real Emily Dickinson, I am undecided.

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    • Thanks for chiming in, Michelle. I almost titled this post “Will the real Emily Dickinson please stand up!” 🙂

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  4. What a fantastic post! Dickinson is one of my favorite poets and she is so mysterious, both in her life and in her poetry. It makes her all the more fascinating. I did not realize she was so young in the first photo, she has such an otherworldly look about her. I think the second photo is her. There’s certain features that match. But the third does not seem to match, however, who knows?

    Thanks for treating us to her house. I love the cheerful yellow. If I ever travel up that far north, I will try to see it in person.

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    • Yes, Emily was very mysterious. On the museum page’s FAQ, there are several in a row that have a similar answer to nobody knows the truth for sure. I suppose she was fortunate to live in a time before selfies and paparazzi. I hope you’ll get to visit her home someday, Sharon!

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  5. Joyce Teal

    Emily’s poems are wonderful. The language is simple and the meaning is heartfelt. I’ve been to her home and it is a very special place. Thank you for sharing!

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    • I like the simple, heartfelt quality of her poems, too (me and the rest of the world 🙂 ). Sometimes it’s difficult to realize how much effort goes into poems, but I guess the trick is to make them appear effortless. Hers really stand out above the rest. Thanks, Joyce!

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  6. It’s fascinating to learn more about Emily Dickinson. Her home and the surrounding gardens are beautiful.

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    • It must have been SO thrilling when that daguerreotype of her and her friend was first discovered in 2012! 🙂

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  7. I’m sure the second photograph is of Emily. She looks exactly the same as in the first photograph other than a little older. The third photograph is completely wrong (in my opinion!) Don’t ask me to explain it, but it has something to do with the eyes which are bright and intelligent looking in the first two pictures and rather vacant in the third. (It will be funny to be proved wrong!!)
    I loved all your photographs, and I agree with you about the lighted window I always get that same feeling.
    Thank you for another really interesting post.

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    • You’re right about the pictures. And I think that third one probably has nothing to do with Emily, or maybe someone tried to pull it off as her. It’s not even that uncommon a name to have been written on the back. Lighted windows at night give me a feeling comparable to the closing scene of the Waltons TV episodes where the lights slowly go off as everyone says goodnight to each other–“Goodnight, John Boy.” Were those shows ever aired in England?

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  8. Wonderful photos, Marcia. I was most intrigued by the fact that her first book was heavily edited by friends (that sure does raise questions!) And I’m so glad that unedited versions are available. She’s an amazing poet even if I can’t read her handwriting! 🙂

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    • I know, can you imagine?! Apparently, a couple of times during her life, a friend submitted a poem or two (without permission) and then when Emily saw them in the newspaper/journal or wherever, she discovered the editor had also changed a word or two. Perhaps this was why she was so hesitant to seek publication. Her handwriting is tricky. I’ll make that picture clickable in case that helps. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Much enlarging of photos and skipping back and forward going on here. I can readily believe the second picture is her – check the top lips, for example, which have similar notches in the middle. The third picture looks too round-faced to me.

    The first time I heard of Emily Dickinson was in a Simon & Garfunkel song “And you read your Emily Dickinson, and I my Robert Frost”. Hadn’t heard of Robert Frost then either – I guess they didn’t feature in the English school curriculum (I’d be about 15 at the time). I just had to google to find out what song that was – The Dangling Conversation from Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Then I had to listen to it!

    See how much activity your post has prompted!

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    • I remember that song, ❤ Simon & Garfunkel! I agree about the pictures. Her face changes just enough when you figure she's aging from 16 to almost 30. And the last picture is probably of a totally different Emily who never wrote a single poem. Glad you're keeping busy, Anabel! 🙂

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  10. Colleen

    What a lovely place Emily Dickinson spent her life in! Thank you for sharing a beautiful post. I love her line “much madness makes divinest sense…” Thank you, Marcia!

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    • She did have a very nice home in a beautiful location. That is a great line. Best to you, Colleen!

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  11. I think they both look like her. Nice post!

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    • Good to know; I’d begun wondering if I should have even included the last picture of whomever…. I think she would get a kick out of this discussion as it reminds me of one of her most famous poems: “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” 🙂

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  12. I love this! Thank you!

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  13. mirkabreen

    I LOVE historical preserved homes, and there are many more on the east coast than we have here, in California.

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    • There do seem to be a lot of author homes on the east coast. Interesting that many of them are from the same time period, as well. I wonder how author population between coasts compares today. It may have evened out a bit; literary types seem to navigate to certain areas. For example, all the children’s lit people now living in western Massachusetts–quite the community.

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  14. Wonderful post, Marcia. In my humble opinion, the third photo is not of Emily. In fact that person looks like one of my relatives! lol I photos of her home look so poetic. I love the back screened porch.

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    • Yes, I think most of us have voted the third ‘Emily’ off the island. 🙂 Her house is very well preserved. Although they don’t have all of the original décor, they are trying hard to imitate it. A small patch of old wallpaper was recently discovered in her bedroom and they then covered the walls with an identical floral pattern.

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  15. What a beautiful house she lived in. And that lush greenery. The house was familiar and then I realized I’d seen it on a picture book by Michael Bedard and Barbara Cooney titled EMILY. (Of course!) There is something interesting about a light (usually a dim light) behind a curtained window. Makes you want to peep in. I’m not sure about the portraits. The last one didn’t feel like her though.

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    • Oh, I’ll have to revisit that picture book. I love Barbara Cooney’s work. Thanks for telling me her house is pictured on the cover. I hope all is going well, Claudine, always a pleasure to hear from you!

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  16. Another beautiful post Marcia– I have to confess I’ve not sat down and read through a batch of her poetry– but you’re sending me off to do just that! You live in such a beautifully historic part of the country– thanks for sharing it with us. And– I just finished reading the Childbury Ladies’ Choir (think that was your recommendation!) thanks. Hope all’s well with you Marcia– hugs from here friend!

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    • Hi Rhonda, I’m glad to hear you’ll be checking out Emily’s poetry. I hope you enjoyed your recent read and that all is going well with you. 🙂 Thanks, Rhonda! xo

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      • Hey Marcia– great post on Emily Dickinson– you keep us reading things that are worthwhile. Hope you have a lovely long Labor Day Weekend ahead. hugs hugs!

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  17. Ashley

    I enjoyed this visit with Emily. I think all the pictures look a little like her. Her yellow house is so pretty!!

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    • I think her house is pretty, too, and I’m glad you enjoyed your virtual visit! 🙂

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  18. Beautiful! And such a coincidence–I read the same Emily Dickenson poem on 2 different blogs within about 10 minutes. Must have been especially meant to read it! Thanks for the lovely photos Marcia!

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    • Oh, how strange. I’ll have to search it out. It took me a while to find and decide on the poem I shared, so it’s interesting to hear someone else is thinking along the same lines. Happy weekend!

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  19. Well now you have me wanting to visit her home, as I live in CT and Amherst isn’t more than an hour and a half- two hours away. 🙂 Beautiful pictures! Her home and grounds are so pretty. Looking at the pictures it is interesting to realize how few pictures people had taken back then (especially in comparison to today). I think the 2nd one does look like it has some facial similarities to the picture of her at sixteen. Hard to tell for sure. I hope the experts are able to figure it out. 🙂

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    • Hi Stephanie, sounds like Amherst might be a nice day trip for you. There’s also a new Dr. Seuss museum somewhat nearby, in the Springfield museum area. Thanks for adding to the discussion!

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  20. This is a wonderful post, Marcia. I loved learning about Emily Dickenson and seeing her beautiful home. I always ask if I can take pictures when I go to a historical home. During our recent trip to England, only two places didn’t allow photographs inside.

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    • I usually take pictures, too, but on this particular tour, we were told they weren’t allowed inside. Oh, well. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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  21. Deborah Nolan

    Dear Marcia – this was such a lovely post. Emily’s poems are so lovely. What talent. Loved seeing her home…great pics. Makes me want to go visit. So glad you shared. Hope you have a great day.

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    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and I hope you are having a wonderful day, as well! 🙂

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  22. This was a treat, Marcia. Thank you! Reading more about Emily Dickinson and seeing your fantastic photos made me feel like I was there. I’m not totally sure about that last photo…

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    • Yes, I’m thinking that last ‘Emily’ probably could have been left out of the post. 🙂 Have a good weekend, Jennie!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I thought the photo added some intrigue, comparing all the different faces. Best to you, Marcia!

        Liked by 1 person

  23. I am sure you felt standing in Emily Dickenson´s bedroom the same way I felt standing in Jane Austen´s cottage. Their spirit is still there. I am not sure about the pictures. It is always hard to tell. An amazing visit, thanks for sharing.

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    • Lucky you, I would love to visit Jane Austen’s cottage. It’s on my bucket list for my next trip to England!

      Liked by 1 person

  24. Bette Norton

    What a beautiful post on a much loved poet! I feel the second picture is definitely her. The same facial features and bone structure. What a treat to see an older picture of her. In my opinion the third is way off with a round face and smaller eyes. A fun discussion on all of the “Emily pictures!” I would love to go visit her estate. Was she a woman of means in her own right as she was not married? I am so pleased that so many of the rest of her poems were eventually published after she passed. I love her poem on “Hope!”. Very fitting for these troubling times in our world. I have a new place to go too on my bucket list! Thank you for another great post! 🙂

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    • The Dickinsons had some money troubles over the years, but did well for the most part. Emily’s family all lived right there with her, her sister Lavinia, her brother was next door with his wife. Her parents’ deaths preceded hers by not many years as unfortunately she only lived until 55. Thanks for your thoughts, Bette!

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