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Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson by Amherst College, on Flickr

Biographies about Emily Dickinson inevitably paint her as the recluse woman locked away in a house staring through an upstairs window out into the world she was possibly too scared to visit. This may be true, especially in later years when the need to take care of her ill mother preoccupied her time, but there have been revelations in recent years which suggest she may have craved the excitement of life more than was thought before.

In his article “Emily Dickinson’s Secret Lover” Christopher Benfey quotes a remark from Emily’s sister-in-law Susan Dickinson whom said, “I went in there one day, and in the drawing room I found Emily reclining in the arms of a man.” Does this suggest Emily to be avidly involved in salacious romantic pursuits?

Her poem “A Bird Came Down the Walk” may offer a glimpse into the real Emily as well. Could the bird have been a gentleman caller coming over for the evening? She watches him from her window walk down the path to the door. He is nervous about meeting her as seen in the third stanza and removes his velvet hat. She opens the door and offers her hand to him which he graciously takes and bows majestically to her.

In “Wild Nights – Wild Nights” Dickinson is eluding to a party, or some say a steamy tryst, but there is also the passion to be spontaneous, to unwind from the norm and fling inhibitions to the side. Lines 7 and 8: “Done with the Compass – Done with the Chart!” says that she wants a new direction not set for her. She wants to throw the chart away and forgo the path given her.

We can gain more insight into her possible craving for life from the letters she wrote to Thomas Wentworth Higginson. These letters show a girl not just  interested in what others thought of her and the poetry she was striving to perfect, but almost obsessed with meeting him. At first Dickinson suggests she come to his place implying she was of “little shape” and “would not crowd your desk, nor make much racket as the mouse that dents your galleries.”

As the correspondence between Higginson and Dickinson continue, she becomes more excited to be receiving instruction from him and continuously thanks him while also questioning why he is spending his time on her. This can be seen as apparent low self-esteem towards herself coming through. It is also interesting that Dickinson mentions other people encouraging her to publish what she had written. Apparently she was not completely removed from society as some may allude.

Emily Dickinson’s poetry is full of romantic longing and dark brooding towards life, however there are sparks shining through in her poetry and other writings which shed new light on a believed reclusive individual.

What are your thoughts about this? Let me know in the comments section below.

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