A poem for forgetful bloggers.
Born on 10 December 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts, Emily Dickinson left school as a teenager and lived a reclusive life on the family homestead. There, she secretly wrote reams of poetry and hundreds of letters. Dickinson’s remarkable work was only published after her death and she is now considered a major figure in American poetry.
During her lifetime Dickinson was known in Amherst as “the Myth”. She lived a cloistered existence, wearing only white, seeing no one but her sister Lavinia, and writing poems that were tucked away in her desk. She is the poet of nature, of loneliness, of renunciation, and (perhaps most famously) of death and remembrance:
“Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
Dickinson’s seclusion during her later years has been the object of much speculation: she may have suffered from agoraphobia, depression and/or anxiety, or may have been confined due to her responsibilities as guardian of her sick mother. Dickinson was also treated for a painful ailment of her eyes, but from the mid-1860s she rarely left the homestead.
In her spare time, Dickinson studied botany and produced a vast herbarium. In 2016, The New York Times noted that the Emily Dickinson Museum had brought the poet’s beloved orchard back to life, planting a small grove of heirloom apples and pears of the kind grown by the family – all part of an effort to return the Dickinson estate to its 19th-century splendour.
Dickinson’s poems are often short, haiku-like observations of life that contain homely truths. In the introduction to The Complete Poems (1924), her niece Martha Dickinson Bianchi writes:
“Her interpretation demands height and depth of application in her readers, for although her range is that of any soul not earth-bound by the senses, she does not always make it immediately plain when she speaks out of her own vision in her own tongue. In spite of which, beyond those who profess her almost as a cult, she is supremely the poet of those who ‘never read poetry’. The scoffers, the literary agnostics, make exception for her. She is also the poet of the unpoetic, the unlearned foreigner, the busy, practical, inexpressive man as well as woman, the wise young and groping old, the nature worshipper, the schoolgirl, children caught by her fairy lineage, and lovers of all degree.”
Just released is “A Quiet Passion”, a 2016 biographical film directed and written by Terence Davies about the life of Emily Dickinson, described by Richard Brody in The New Yorker as “an absolute drop-dead masterwork”.
As for Dickinson’s poem for bloggers, the following possibly written in 1863 appeared in The Complete Poems:
“A thought went up my mind to-day
That I have had before,
But did not finish, – some way back,
I could not fix the year,
Nor where it went, nor why it came
The second time to me,
Nor definitely what it was,
Have I the art to say.
But somewhere in my soul, I know
I’ve met the thing before;
It just reminded me – ’t was all –
And came my way no more.”