Wednesday, January 26, 2011

More on Emily Dickinson

I have to say that, of late, I have become somewhat fascinated by Emily Dickinson. The picture of Dickinson (below, right) is purportedly the poet years after the iconic portrait taken at Mount Holyoke...and unless I am mistaken, the picture featured here has not yet been confirmed to actually be of Dickinson. To my knowledge, the only accepted portraits of the poet are a painting done during her short-haired girlhood and the aforementioned college photo. 

I believe that Dickinson was what has now come to be known as a "Highly Sensitive Person." Visitors to the Dickinson's Amherst Homestead noted that Emily was witty but tense and sometimes quiet during social gatherings. A family friend and literary critic of the period, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, indicated that his visits with Emily drained him, largely because she was so openly unnerved by the interaction. In her late twenties, after returning from Mount Holyoke, she became increasingly reclusive and eventually retreated to her bedroom, which became the Sanctum Sanctorum where her 1,700 poems were written.

This morning, I wrote another article about Emily Dickinson, an interpretive guide to the poem, "Tell all the Truth but tell it slant." You can read that article by clicking here. 

Something this article does not broach, simply because it's off topic, is that Emily is reported to have had very passionate correspondence with the widowed Massachusetts Judge named Otis Lord, a man more than twenty years her senior. Some scholars speculate that this is what the poem "Wild Nights!" is about. You can see some of the correspondence here, at the Emily Dickinson Museum, where some of Dickinson's letter drafts have been digitized for view. Apparently, the two had considered marriage, but perhaps Dickinson's introverted nature (and likely fear of the emotional incursions that her new life and role might entail) prevented this from ever coming to pass.

These letters, however, are amazing to see. (How have I seen them? Just click on the yellowing sheet at the top right hand corner of the museum's web page, once you access the link posted above--the link is associated with the words "here, at the Emily....") Her script is like a briskly shaken string that winds wildly over the page in short bursts. Here and there, she has crossed things out, found another word to sharpen her meaning. It's simply amazing to see this frank expression of the writing process.

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