Friday, March 08, 2024

Emily Dickinson: A Literary Hero (Part 3)

"I dwell in possibility..."

Emily Dickinson and her poetry left its mark on my heart, and I didn't realize how much until I began working on this post. I don't exactly recall how I came to know Emily or her poems. I don't remember learning about her in school. Perhaps I first saw her poems quoted in women's magazines my mom used to read. Or, maybe an aunty or school teacher penned a well-intentioned few lines in a girlhood autograph book: "If I can stop one heart from breaking . . . 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".

I do know my imagination felt a buoyancy when I first read: " 'Hope' is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul...". And then there were these lines: 

"I'll tell you how the Sun rose –
A Ribbon at a time –"

Who can forget such a phrase! I don't understand some of Emily's poetry, but some pieces, some lines truly are unforgettable... and gorgeous. Emily wrote nearly 1,800 poems; only a handful were published in her lifetime. People knew she wrote poems, for she often included them in letters when writing to friends and correspondents. And she created small handmade books of them. But no one knew until after her death how prolific—or brilliant—she was.

What fascinated me about Emily was her decision to live as a recluse. For reasons unknown to anyone, from an early age she chose to restrict her social involvement and activities, preferring to live in the heart of her family home. I never desired to be a recluse the way she was—yes, I'm an introvert but I also have a bit of social butterfly in me—but I think I get it. For I can be quite content with my own thoughts, happy with my own company and books, at my desk by the window writing... being in the heart of my home, happily pottering about.

I imagine Emily sitting at her desk near a window probably overlooking the garden or her neighbourhood, and from that place, writing her 'letter to the world'. Even as a recluse she left her mark on the literary world. Though her world was small, she had a keen poet's eye for description. I often wondered how she was so insightful. Surely a curious mind and a sense of wonderment sharpened her ability to pay attention to what went on around her. In retrospect, I also wanted to sharpen my own sense of curiosity and wonderment - I wanted to be able to express what I saw and felt so others could see and feel it too.

According to letters and documents from her family estate, Emily also enjoyed gardening and was an accomplished cook, taking pride in making cakes, cookies, and candies, both for her family and as gifts for friends. I especially loved the story of Emily carrying a basket filled with freshly baked cookies or gingerbread to an upstairs window in the rear of the house and lowering it to the neighborhood children who'd been playing 'pirates' or 'circus performers' in the Dickinson orchards. The kids must have loved her kind generosity, and she obviously took delight in handing out yummy treats to them. Years ago, I contacted the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amhurst, Massachusetts, asking if I could obtain a copy of Emily's gingerbread recipe. Unfortunately the recipe wasn't available for public distribution at the time. I was disappointed. Perhaps I envisioned myself imitating Emily handing out gingerbread to kids in my own neighbourhood (although maybe not using baskets from an upper window).

I was happy to discover, while searching out some information for this post, that the recipe is online in an article written by Burleigh Mutén, a children's author and tour guide at the Emily Dickinson Museum (they do have a lovely online store). The recipe looks delicious—I'm going to try it and, if it turns out, share some with my neighbours. You'll find the recipe HERE.

Like Emily, I sit at my desk, look out into the snow-clad garden, and gaze past my neighbour's roof top into the blue skies. I muse and watch and write my own letter to the world. And so today, I honour Miss Emily Dickinson. In her small world, she found her life and lived it beautifully. I'm inspired by that. As with my other literary heroes, I fervently hope I will one day meet her in the next life to say thank you for her gentle, poetic influence in my life. We just never know, do we, who or what our lives are touching! 

On that note, I close with a few other favourite quotes of Emily's which I hope you will enjoy.

A few quotes by Emily Dickinson

"One step at a time is all
it takes to get you there."

"Tell all the truth but tell it slant..."
(That's a good line for when we're trying to
remember our stories but the details are vague)

"The Heart wants what it wants – 
or else it does not care"
(There's no use telling it to smarten
up, for the heart will yearn.)

"If you take care of the small things, 
the big things take care of themselves. You
can gain more control over your life by paying
closer attention to the little things."

"Saying nothing...
sometimes says the most."

"If I feel physically as if the top of my head
were taken off, I know that is poetry."
(For me, it's as if my skin wants to burst
like an overripe tomato.)

"They might not need me; but they might.
I'll let my head be just in sight; a smile as small
as mine might be precisely their necessity."

Links to My Earlier Literary Heroes Posts

On that note, I'm wishing you a beautiful weekend—and don't
forget, it could be your smile that fits precisely someone's necessity today.

Heart hugs,
Photo credit:
Images by Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life


  1. Brenda, you have really opened my eyes today. I had no idea of the fascinating history behind the poet that I admire so much. I wonder why she became reclusive. I wonder how she seemed to know and understand in such depth .
    'Hope' will always mean so much to me.

    1. I wonder if Emily recognized that, in order to write, she'd need to keep time and space sacrosant for what she felt pulled to write. She would have been busy in the home, especially if she did much of the cooking and baking. I read that the mother was ill towards the end of her life, and it became a fulltime job as Emily cared for her. Thanks, Barbara, for sharing your thoughts. xo

  2. Continued..........what an interesting article written by Burleigh Muten. Thank you for further glimpses into the life of Emily.

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed that article. It was so interesting.

  3. I'm thrilled with all of the quotes you've included here. As someone who admires writers who say much in few words, I'm enthralled with Emily Dickinson. I would have loved to meet her, but perhaps she led such a reclusive life that she wouldn't have wanted to meet me.

    I think the over-arching sense I get from what we know of Miss Dickinson is that she was content with her life. That in itself is an inspiration.

    1. Thanks, Joy, for the insight that she seemed content with her life. I have found that an inspiration too. In her small world, she found her life and lived it beautifully. Emily certainly knew how to say much in few words. Love that about her, too.

  4. Hello my friend.It's Sharon.I love knowing that Emily was my paternal 6th cousin,4 times removed.The following is one of my favorite poems by her.I've memorized it by heart.I also like the "Hope" poem and intend to memorize it as well . :)
    He Ate and Drank the Precious Words
    Emily Dickinson


    He ate and drank the precious words,
    His spirit grew robust;
    He knew no more that he was poor,
    Nor that his frame was dust.
    He danced along the dingy days,
    And this bequest of wings
    Was but a book. What liberty
    A loosened spirit brings!

    1. Thank you so much, Sharon, for that beautiful poem. It's one I haven't read before. So cool about knowing she's a distant relative of yours.

  5. I sometimes forget to go back and enjoy authors I liked years ago. I love so many of these quotes and learned a lot about this author. Enjoy your weekend my friend and thanks for always bringing joy into our blogs!

    1. Like you, I do sometimes forget to go back and enjoy authors I liked years ago, but I have been reading more of them of late. It has been a great pleasure to revisit them at this stage in life. For the most part, they still speak into my life even all these years later. Thanks, Diane, for stopping in.

  6. Brenda, I appreciate the deeper look at Emily Dickinson. I only knew that she was a recluse and imagined because of that her life to be very sad. You've opened my eyes, and make me curious to learn more about her. Thank you for another lovely post!

    1. Maybe many of us have had that sense about her, that she was sad in her reclusiveness, but she seemed quite alive and alert, content in her world.

  7. Hello Brenda,
    Emily's lines about "Hope is the thing with feathers..." is one I clung to during a dark period of life. I lived nearer the ocean then and often found feathers on the ground while walking. Those lines would come to me, and I would hold them in my heart and pray.
    In a bit of synchronicity, I'm currently reading Our Hearts are Restless - The Art of Spiritual Memoir, and just finished a section on Emily Dickinson. The author is speaking about Emily's choice to wear only white dresses. He says "The dress represents not her losses, her love, or her purity, but her choices. Her one choice. She has chosen to be separate. Her separateness is dictated by her poetic vocation. The poet lives apart from all that is false and unworthy of the eternal. As a poet, Emily lives as a perpetual convert to beauty and glories in it. No less than Augustine, Merton and Julian, she will separate herself from marriage, secular pursuits, and what the world calls 'happiness' for the sake of her art. She will perform her life on her own terms, and on a stage of her own making."
    I find Emily's poetry sometimes obscure and at other times, transcendent. She is sometimes characterized as being morose and depressed, but her interactions with children and with those she chose to engage reveal a great sense of humour and compassion.
    Thank you for this lovely post, and the link to the article by Muten. You might enjoy the book I referenced - a book to read slowly.

    1. That book you mentioned - I added it to my shopping cart - I'm most interested to read it. Thank you for the recommendation. And I too find some of her poetry obscure but so many others truly are transcendent.

  8. That was a lovely post, Brenda. Oh, I feel like you do, about Emily Dickinson. Some of her writing I do not understand at all but some poems, etc. are beautiful. Her house in Amherst is one hour from where I live. I have taken the tour of her home and grounds. I was even in her bedroom and saw the window where she'd lower a basket of goodies down to neighborhood children. There was a view of the road where funeral processions passed by frequently, enroute to the cemetery. Emily must have seen these as a child. Oh yes, she was quite a unqiue person. Thanks for the post, Brenda.

    1. Oh Susan, what a delight it must have been for you to visit Emily's house in person. And to see her bedroom and that window where baskets of goodies were lowered to the neighbourhood children. I'm so glad you shared that with us. Thank you!

  9. thank-you for this enlightening post about an author I admire greatly!

    1. You and Emily could have been poet colleagues. You both write so beautifully.

  10. I've had Emily on my mind too! Reading Emily Dickinson Face to Face, by her niece, is giving me a fresh perspective, and bringing back memories of my book group's day trip to visit her home. She is a true sister of the heart, and I loved your beautiful post!

    1. Oh lovely! Thanks so much for the heads up on Emily's niece's book Face to Face. It's now in my online shopping cart - I look forward to reading this first hand perspective of Emily Dickinson. I like your comment 'a true sister of the heart'. Thanks, Lauren, for stopping by!

  11. Hi Brenda. I, too, fell in love with Emily's poems after spending winter evenings by the fire reading several biographies about her and her family. My first visit to her home in 2006 was miss-timed with the museum's open hours. When we were in New England again in 2008 we booked a room across the street and had a wonderful visit. I wrote about it on my Morning Musings blog: If the link doesn't go through, you can find find the post in the archives for January 2014. There are two other posts about her that I link to in the 2014 post (or you will find in the Archives under her name).

    1. Oh thank you, Cathy, for this info and the links to your posts about Emily. I look forward to reading them. The more I read about her life, the more I am drawn to her. How lovely that you had the opportunity to visit the museum in person.


To My Beautiful Readers,

Some people come into our lives, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same. ~ Franz Peter Schubert

Thank you so much for leaving your 'footprint' here in my comment box. I do appreciate you taking a moment to share your thoughts today.

Brenda xo