Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Emily Dickinson

"My hair is bold like the
chestnut burr; and my eyes,
 like the sherry in the glass
that the guest leaves." 
Emily Dickinson
Most of you remember having to study the works of Emily Dickinson in high school. Thought about her much since? Neither have I, even though I found her verses breathless and haunting:

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.

This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

But lately I’ve been encountering references to her right and left, in online searches gone awry, in an article in the reverently satirical (how’s that for an oxymoron…) magazine “Mental_Floss,” and even on Jeopardy! Obviously it’s a Sign. I was destined to blog about this worthy poetess.

Like most exquisitely talented artists, Emily Dickinson was a bit, uh, off. As a child, she was described by her aunt as “perfectly well & contented – she is a very good child & but little trouble.”  See? Not normal.
Letters to
 Thomas Wentworth Higginson
of the Atlantic Monthly

Emily was born in Amherst, MA, on December 10, 1830.  Thought of as an eccentric by the locals, she became known for her penchant for white clothing and her reluctance to greet guests or, in later life, even leave her room. This prolific but private poet did, however, carry on prodigious correspondence with several literary luminaries she considered mentors.

 Fewer than a dozen of her poems were published during her lifetime. Not until her death on May 15, 1886 at the age of 55 was the collection of nearly 1800 poems discovered.  The first volume was published four years later and her works have been continuously in print ever since.

Daguerrotype taken December 1846
“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.

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