A daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson, taken at Mount Holyoke Seminary.
This week’s addition to the poetic bookshelf is one I’m pretty every American knows (or at least they should), in spite of her legendary nature as something of a hermit.
Emily Dickinson was something of an anomaly, in all senses of the term. Though she wrote nearly 1800 – yes, 1800 – poems over the course of her lifetime, fewer than a dozen saw publication before her death, and these significantly altered versions of her work could scarcely be called hers by the time the publishers’ ink dried. But of course, Dickinson liked it that way. The obscurity – probably not the manipulation of her craft. Though there is often great yearning within her words, she was an introvert – the majority of her relationships being carried out by correspondence alone.
And yet, one can scarcely think of American poetry today without drifting to the topic of the recluse wonder. Today, she is considered one of the great American poets, her work – much of it only after her death discovered by her sister! – considered a treasure trove of language, thought, and style.
Though difficult to settle on but one of her pieces for the show tonight, in the end I bring to you “Because I could not stop for Death” – a fine sampling of her skills, and her tendencies, as readers of Dickinson will quickly find the themes of death and time cornerstones of much of her work…
Because I could not stop for Death
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –
Or rather – He passed us –
The Dews drew quivering and chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –
Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –