After I finished up at the college, I thought, "Well, I certainly can't be in Amherst, Massachusetts and not seek out the Emily Dickinson home/museum."
...So, of course, I did just that:
Above and below are outdoor images of the house in which Emily, "the Belle of Amherst," lived. (No indoor photos were permitted.) Emily Dickinson was born in 1830, and died all too soon, in 1886.
I've always been enamoured of Emily Dickinson's poetry, and over the years, I've read a good bit about her life, but as usual, it was something else altogether to be stepping on the same ground as she did, at her home, the Homestead, and the Evergreens, the home of her brother, right next door.
The docent who led the tour I took today was excellent, and she did a great job of "fleshing Emily out as a person" for me. I learned from her that the neighborhood children used to play pirates, and they'd come to the Dickinson house, where Emily, upstairs, would take gingerbreads that she'd bake herself, wrap, and put into baskets, and then she would slowly lower the basket by ropes out the window for her pirate friends below!
It's always been incredible to me that she wrote over 1700 poems during her lifetime, but a mere 10 were published while she was alive, and all 10 of those were published anonymously, and without her permission.
While her family knew that she wrote poems, not even they realized the full extent of her writing. It was only upon her death, in 1886, at the young age of 55, that her sister Lavinia ("Vinnie") discovered her poems, and began the arduous process of figuring out what to do with her discovery. Numerous people were ultimately involved in getting her poetry published, and it's only in very recent years that we actually have the definitive collection of all her poems, presented as closely as she wrote them herself, and without the titles that were not written by Emily, but had been ascribed to the poems by others.
She had a unique manner of punctuation and grammar, and she used dashes, capitalizations, and slant rhymes, all very different from poets of that time.
During her lifetime, Emily was not known as a poet. In fact, she was better known as a gardener and botanist. Something I learned today was that she was an accomplished pianist, and she even composed her own music! Unfortunately, she kept it all stored in her own memory, and never put a note on paper, so we will never know what she wrote or how it sounded.
She was fairly eccentric, and at some point, she made the decision to stay at her father's home, but she no longer really ventured beyond those grounds. (At that time, the grounds were about 17 acres of land, and she didn't feel deprived of company or the things she enjoyed.) While she was social when she was younger, there are stories later on of her having visitors, but not face to face; she would speak to them from another room, through doors and walls:
"The Soul selects her own society,
Then shuts the door;..."
Emily had numerous health problems in her life, and was troubled by what is considered to be "iritis," an illness affecting the eyes. The docent today mentioned that some people believe she may have actually had (or at least been exposed to) Tuberculosis, since it was so prevalent at this time in history, and the iritis could have been a result of that. It was soon after her treatment for the iritis in Boston that she became more withdrawn and what the world considers "reclusive."
The image below is of the Evergreens, the house next door, which was inhabited by her brother Austin and his family.
I could go on for a long time describing Emily and her poetry, but I'll leave you with her own words, and suffice it to say, I was thrilled to be basking in the creative ether that she inhabited.
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!