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.