Saturday, 4 October 2014

Emily Dickinson...

Published: August 1 2007 on Helium

"The soul has moments of Escape
When bursting all the doors
She dances like a Bomb, abroad,
And swings upon the Hours,"
With just a brush of metaphor, simile or personification, Emily Dickinson, born in 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts, can create a sense of divine reality, etched with a hint of a smile. There is a wholesome liveliness in the words that is almost magnetic.

For some critics, the only way to find Emily Dickinson is to experience her poetry. Her inner life IS her life. Others have attempted to find another persona behind the poetic page, but the complete, "outer" reality of that other person tends to be a mystery.

Standard facts include some understanding of the community of Amherst, where Emily was born. Features of 19th century Amherst included a railroad and Amherst College, founded by Emily's grandfather, Samuel Dickinson and then her father became treasurer of the college. Of further interest, Amherst was a hub of Puritanism. It has been recorded that by the latter 19th century, Amherst had more ministers per capita than elsewhere in the U.S.

Some biographers claim the Puritanical nature of the community, its "separateness" and the high profile of her family in the community may have driven Emily to the life of a recluse. But her poetry has the answer:
How happy is the little Stone
That rambles in the Road alone,"
The lilt of the lines suggests that Emily, perhaps, was simply happy in her own company.

It is known that her father Edward was a successful lawyer and her mother lived out her final years as an invalid. Austin was Emily's older brother and Lavinia was her younger sister. These are just basic facts. Many biographers have tried to find some family relationships in Emily's world, but most comments are little more than speculation. Emily's home was on the road to the Amherst cemetery. She could have had the opportunity to view many a funeral procession. This may explain the many threads of Death in her poetry.

Information on Emily's childhood is almost non existant. An image of a young 10 year old, shy, and often seen wearing or carrying some flowers, is about all we have. It appears she received formal education at Amherst College and then spent about a year at Mount Holyoke Seminary for Girls. The brevity of her stay here is explained by homesickness. Or was she really baulking at "regimented" knowledge and needed the space of the world of her soul?

It is at this point, when Emily was in her 20's, speculation lapses further into the mists of mystery. She attempted to publish a few poems, but met rejection. She stayed in the family home, for the rest of her life. It seems impossible. There must be more. Many biographers have tried to find more. But there is just the echo of rumour and possibility. Some have tried to find romantic links, even with her sister in law Susan. Some depict her receiving friends to the house and conversing behind a slightly ajar door. Strange behavior! But is it true?

One last fact in her life relates to death. Emily died of Bright's Disease in 1886, 12 years after her father's death and just 6 years after her mother died. And after her death, her sister Lavinia found her poems, about 1700 of them, without order, title or date. They were first published in 1890. The facts of death in her life seem cold. But her poetic lines on death say so much more.
"This World is not Conclusion
A Species stands beyond-
Invisible, as Music-
But positive, as Sound,"

Somehow, it seems Emily did not feel the events in her life were what she was all about. They were not what she wanted for the public memory. She left her poetry, almost like some treasure, waiting for anyone to find the wealth they needed in her "penned" voice. Emily represented a unique woman leading her own revolution for the right to be anyone, anywhere, even in a Puritanical world.
Her poetry explains:
"The Soul selects her own Society-
Then shuts the Door-"

Poetry quotes from "A Choice of Emily Dickinson's Verse" ed. Ted Hughes. Faber & Faber. 1968.

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