Book Reviews

E is for Emily Dickinson

For it was in high-school a really sen­si­tive, intro­verted teen-age girl was intro­duced to Emily Dick­in­son and her world. My teacher, Mr. Ver­sace, knew I was about to be kicked out of school for tru­ancy and had no sup­port  of any type at home. I had no idea who Emily Dick­in­son was even though my mother was incred­i­bly lit­er­ate and well-read. It turned out that Ms. Dick­in­son saved me from hat­ing myself com­pletely and giv­ing up on all grown-ups.

Emily (I don’t think she would mind if I referred to her using her first name) was born in the early 1830s to an upper-class fam­ily in New Eng­land; who expected great things from Emily because of her intel­li­gence and the many years she spends at pres­ti­gious schools. How­ever, Emily choose her own route in life and didn’t become the esteemed suc­cess her fam­ily expected.




THIS is my let­ter to the world,
That never wrote to me,—
The sim­ple news that Nature told,
With ten­der majesty.
Her mes­sage is committed
To hands I can­not see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge ten­derly of me!

The locals were quite both­ered by her as she refused to greet any com­pany vis­it­ing or attend any social event. No, she chose to stay home, safely in her bed­room, and write poetry. Per­son­ally, I can relate! When she did make an appear­ance she only wore white cloth­ing. When peo­ple had the chance to read her poetry they were even more off-struck by her. Her poems had no dis­cernible rhythm, they usu­ally didn’t have any titles and she loved to write about death and immor­tal­ity. She lived all her life in her bed­room really and her rela­tion­ships took place by let­ter cor­re­spon­dences. Today, maybe she wouldn’t have been con­sid­ered so “odd”.




STARTED early, took my dog,
And vis­ited the sea;
The mer­maids in the basement
Came out to look at me,
And frigates in the upper floor
Extended hempen hands,
Pre­sum­ing me to be a mouse
Aground, upon the sands.
But no man moved me till the tide
Went past my sim­ple shoe,
And past my apron and my belt,
And past my bodice too,
And made as he would eat me up
As wholly as a dew
Upon a dandelion’s sleeve—
And then I started too.
And he—he fol­lowed close behind;
I felt his sil­ver heel
Upon my ankle,—then my shoes
Would over­flow with pearl.
Until we met the solid town,
No man he seemed to know;
And bow­ing with a mighty look
At me, the sea withdrew.

I mean Vam­pires are really in style now, so Emily’s favorite themes of death and dying would be very much in vogue. And I know many intro­verts who choose not to be a social but­ter­fly and can form inti­mate friend­ships over the inter­net; <Clear­ing throat and not men­tion­ing any names, like myself per­haps>. As an ado­les­cent who hated most of the world; I drew a big sigh of com­fort after first becom­ing famil­iar with Emily’s work; because I rec­og­nized a kin­dred spirit. I loved the off-rhythms and I under­stood per­fectly the metaphors that she used to make every­one aware of her feelings.

Mr. Ver­sace was really insight­ful in giv­ing me some of Emily’s work to read. I still lis­tened to punk music but when I started wear­ing white a la Emily, I began to feel cleaner some­how, a blank slate that wasn’t scrib­bled on by my moth­ers rage and cru­elty against me.

Emily and her work are either really well-loved or peo­ple can’t stand them. There’s no in-between for her. I like that about her. I avoid peo­ple who are always “nice-nice” and are peo­ple pleas­ing all the time. When I read Emily, I’m reminded that intel­li­gence, cre­ativ­ity and beauty doesn’t always come in the most col­or­ful or loud pack­age. Some­how, I think there’s a lot of you who could relate to Emily and her work. If you haven’t read her poems or any­thing about her life and are inter­ested, there’s plenty of won­der­ful mate­r­ial avail­able. I hope I’ve intro­duced you prop­erly to my friend Emily. She’s a lit­tle shy you see…

This post is for “ABC Wednes­days” which I find most Excel­lent! Hope to see you there.

Part One: Life



IF I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one faint­ing robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

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