A light exists in spring
Not present on the year
At any other period.
When March is scarcely here
A color stands abroad
On solitary hills
That science cannot overtake,
But human nature feels.
It waits upon the lawn;
It shows the furthest tree
Upon the furthest slope we know;
It almost speaks to me.
Then, as horizons step,
Or noons report away,
Without the formula of sound,
It passes, and we stay:
A quality of loss
Affecting our content,
As trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a sacrament.
~ Emily Dickinson
This a picture of Emily Dickinson.
This is a “fabricated” picture of Emily Dickinson.
According to a docent at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, in the late 1990s, the photograph was probably altered after Dickinson’s death in 1886, as a tribute and a keepsake. At that time, families often had photographs “enhanced” after a loved one’s death.
I didn’t know Emily Dickinson personally, but judging from what I’ve read and heard about her, I think if she’d seen the enhanced version, she’d have hooted.
She was obviously depressive, but she also had a sense of humor.
The docent told the following story (documented in an LA Times review by Susan Reynolds):
‘Once, when Samuel Bowles, an old family friend and the subject of Dickinson’s Master poems, went to visit, he found himself yelling up the stairs: “Emily, you damned rascal. No more of this nonsense! I’ve traveled all the way from Springfield to see you. Come down at once!”‘
The detail that doesn’t appear in the article, but that the docent added, is that, at Bowles’ summons, Emily left her room and came down the stairs, laughing.
Try calling someone without a sense of humor a “damned rascal” and see what happens.
And she wasn’t quite as antisocial as she’s generally portrayed. Alix North, in a biographical sketch of the poet, writes that in her twenties, Dickinson had a “busy social life” but that by her thirties, she had become reclusive and withdrew when visitors came.
It’s been speculated that Dickinson pulled away from the public because she thought she wasn’t beautiful, or that she was mourning an unrequited love, or that she was agoraphobic. But perhaps Dickinson “became an isolata , creating a moat around herself to preserve the rarity of her soul and because she believed that isolation was critical to artistic expression.”
By the age of 35, Dickinson “had composed more than 1100 concise, powerful lyrics that astutely examine pain, grief, joy, love, nature, and art.”
In other words, she knew exactly what she was doing: Social butterflies rarely, if ever, compose more than 1100 poems by the time they’re 35, at least not concise, powerful ones.
[Sentiments expressed in the preceding paragraph are mine alone. I could be wrong, but I’m not. A 14-year-old boy once told me that anyone who stayed at home as much as Emily Dickinson did couldn’t know enough about life to write anything worthwhile. I refrained from replying that 14-year-old boys don’t know enough about anything to say what Emily Dickinson could or could not do. Now I wish I’d said it. But as I was saying before I interrupted myself . . .]
Edward Dickinson, the poet’s father, was described by contemporaries as “stern and unyielding”; “within his home his decisions and his word were law.” Emily wrote that she didn’t learn to tell time by the clock until she was fifteen because “[m]y father thought he had taught me but I did not understand & I was afraid to say I did not & afraid to ask anyone else lest he should know.”
The museum’s docent pointed out, however, that he was also kind. He could have required Emily to work and support herself or at least to contribute to family finances. Instead, he supported her until his death in 1874. Her sister, Lavinia, took care of most domestic tasks that would normally have been shared. Her family allowed Emily time and space in which to write.
Well, I’ve gone on about Emily Dickinson for a lot longer than I intended, and I hope you’re still with me. I’ll stop now, but not before saying this, which I’ve said before, but I’m going to say again:
A textbook I taught from in 1973, my first year in the Texas secondary school trenches, contained the statement that Emily Dickinson is one of America’s greatest women poets.
Emily Dickinson is America’s greatest poet.
And I am unanimous in that.
See also, Emily Dickinson: “To March”
“A light exists in spring” was taken from a digitized version of Poems: Third Series by Emily Dickinson, edited by Mabel Todd Loomis, 1896, 1898.
Other sources I’ve used include
- The Emily Dickinson Museum
- “‘Wild Nights’ Probes the Passionate Life of Poet Emily Dickinson,” by Susan Reynolds, a review of Judith Farr’s WILD NIGHTS: The Passion of Emily Dickinson, published in The LA Times, August 20, 1992
- Judith Farr‘s webpage
- “Emily Dickinson 1830 – 1886,” by Alix North, on Isle of Lesbos
- My own memory, which I can’t link to because it’s all over the place