A Musing: Selected Letters (Emily Dickinson)

Emily Dickinson Poet

Wow. I’m not even sure where to start! I feel as if I’ve returned from an alternate universe.

First and foremost — I loved them. I loved reading prose by Emily Dickinson which is as singular and piercing and astonishing as I find her poetry. I loved reading a teenaged Emily Dickinson and seeing how her use of language and imagery developed throughout her life. I loved getting in her head and seeing through her eyes — how she took the everyday and made it hers. Here are two tiny examples:

Brother, Sister, Ned,

Please find the Birds that do not go South.

Emily–

(this message accompanied roasting chickens)

To Samuel Bowles the younger

Dawn and Dew my Bearers be —

Ever,

Butterfly.

(this accompanied sweet peas)

Imagine over 350 pages of lyrical, figurative, mysterious, poetic, strange, disorienting missives. See what I mean about my little trip to an alternate universe?

It was even more disconcerting reading letters by someone without, for the most part, the originating or return correspondence. Although the extremely helpful notes to each letter explain the context, who the receiver was, and important historical events mentioned (and even if it was written in ink or pencil — how I loved that detail!), it’s still very displacing to read only one side of correspondence. What did he or she say to make Emily Dickinson reply in that way? What did he or she answer to what she wrote?

The letters also provided tantalizing hints to her life story. I now see that I could have read one of her biographies before these letters, for grounding — but maybe I did myself a secret favor, because I feel as if I got 350 more pages of poems from her this way. I will read a biography very soon, though, then reread these letters. For these are letters to be read and read again and read throughout one’s life. How else are you going to take in this exceptional supernatural being?

I thought that being a Poem one’s self precluded the writing of Poems, but perceive the Mistake.

!!!!!!!!!

P.S. – I read in the notes of a few of the letters that they are held at the Rosenbach Museum and Library which is located very close to me. I just emailed them to see if they are viewable in the public collection or if I have to make a research appointment to see them. OMG!

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9 comments

  1. readerlane

    Jackie, You are inspiring me to go pull these off my shelf. I bought them years ago on a visit to Amherst to see her house and have browsed but never settled down to. Keep us posted on the letters near you 😉

    • jackiemania

      It is one of my greatest dreams to visit her house! I also want to get the booklet the museum offers on her recipes and make them all. Oh, Emily!

      I will keep you up to date about the letters near me. 🙂

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings

    Wow! now I feel *really* ignorant because I didn’t know these were available!! I have loved her poems for so many years and so these are going straight on the wishlist. And as for the fact you live near where her papers are housed – I’m *so* jealous…… Look forward to hearing whether you get to see them!

    • jackiemania

      These are a 1 v selected — the collected is in 3 v! Imagine! Maybe I will get those out of the library one day. The biography I’ve selected to read is in 2 v! Luckily my school library has it:

      Life of Emily Dickinson
      By Richard B. Sewall

      • kaggsysbookishramblings

        I’ll have to look that out. I recall seeing a play on TV about ED when I was about 14 or so – it was live on a Saturday night so I guess no recording exists, but although I can’t remember much about it, I do feel that it was very moving.

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