Today Emily Dickinson would be 184 — a nice, round, unobtrusive age for someone who’d been wonderful to have known at least for a time, brief or not, during those first 56 years.
Dickinson has always been one of my favorite writer of words, and the most-truest of poets. She wrote passion for passion’s sake, in simple, easy to imagine words, wispy-staring out windows, or in the shade of a back porch, maybe watching laundry flapping in an August breeze.
Life via a poet’s eyes, and not for any kind of public.
If not for Emily’s younger sister, Lavinia Norcross Dickinson (called ‘Vinnie’), discovering a shitload of material after her death, Emily Dickinson’s work would most-likely be found only in personal family archives, and maybe in brief mention via local histories — not as the best-simple wordsmith ever.
(Illustration found here).
Emily and Vinnie were way-close — from the Emily Dickinson Museum:
Born two years after Emily, on February 28, 1833, the two were raised as if of an age.
They began attending Amherst Academy together in the spring of 1841 at ages ten and eight, and shared a room and a bed into their twenties.
Each, however, had her own circle of friends and very different personality.
As Emily once told a friend, ‘”if we had come up for the first time from two wells where we had hitherto been bred her astonishment would not be greater at some things I say.”‘
While Emily was shy, introverted, Vinnie’s ‘friendly flirtatiousness‘ made her a popular lady for the day — she remained unwed, though, like Emily:
Different as they were, the sisters were extremely close.
While Austin was often exasperated by his youngest sister, the poet called her bond with Lavinia “early, earnest, indissoluble”.
Indeed, from young womanhood, Emily depended upon Vinnie’s physical presence when engaged in social activities or even going through the seasonal construction of new clothing, for Vinnie worked with the dressmaker and served as model for both of them.
As she neared age thirty, the reclusive poet admitted, “Vinnie has been all, so long, I feel the oddest fright at parting with her for an hour, lest a storm arise, and I go unsheltered.”
Vinnie’s pride in her brilliant sister was as strong as her devotion to protecting her.
After their father’s death in 1874 and their mother’s stroke the following year, Vinnie and Emily, with the help of their maid Margaret Maher, cared for their invalid mother until her death in 1882.
When Emily died in May 1886, Vinnie burned her sister’s correspondence, as requested, but to her amazement discovered hundreds of poems about which Emily had given no instructions.
Without what Emily called Vinnie’s “inciting voice,” we would know little or nothing of Dickinson’s great lyric poetry.
She died in August 1899. So personal was Emily, all her written shit incinerated after dying, and left behind a load of stuff, which most-likely were written on envelopes, napkins, or some other assorted item as writing tablet, or ‘hand-sewn books, known as “fascicles,”‘ and Vinnie’s ‘amazement‘ at finding it — and being Vinnie, she could have easily have screamed into the air, “What the fuck, Emily!”
Or New-Englander words to that effect.
Now Emily is of great fame.
Last Monday, a marathon reading of Emily’s work was held at the US Library of Congress by scholars, as well as the general public. Via the Washington Post:
The idea for this eight-hour literary tribute came from Eleanor Heginbotham, a retired English professor who serves on the board of the Emily Dickinson International Society.
In St. Paul, Minn., she participated in marathon readings of Dickinson’s entire canon — more than 1,700 little masterpieces.
Monday’s reading at the Library of Congress, which people are free to observe for as long as they’d like, will be somewhat less ambitious but no less devoted.
“Dickinson has so many moods,” Heginbotham says.
“She’s angry, she’s playful. She’s stomping her foot at God and begging to be admitted to His presence.
“That’s why a marathon is so good, because you get so many different voices. When you read them end to end, poems you’ve never read or never focused on open up in some different way.”
Also starting today, a pop-up exhibit: ‘The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is hosting the “Emily Dickinson: Musician and Poet” exhibition. It celebrates Dickinson’s connection to music and how music has influenced her as a writer. Curators collected letters and poems for this display.’
The show runs through March 2015.
Poets are odd, duh!
Lucy Scholes at the BBC this morning, and recluse writers, among them, Vinnie’s sister:
She’s a woman often featured regularly on ‘celebrity recluses’ lists, but really she was a recluse first and foremost and a literary celebrity thereafter, especially since her poems were not very well regarded, and barely any were actually printed, during her lifetime.
By the standards of the day she was considered an eccentric — she barely left her room, let alone the family home in 20 years, communicating with even those closest to her mainly by letter — and would most likely be diagnosed as suffering from extreme agoraphobia if she was alive today.
And 184 years old, too.
And, too, happy birthday, Emily, and good cheer to your sister — ‘Fame is a Bee‘
Fame is a bee.
It has a song—
It has a sting—
Ah, too, it has a wing.