Friday, May 15, 2009

Emily Dickinson died today

I hope The Writer's Almanac won't kill me for lifting this verbatim, but I thought it was so interesting I had to share. I don't even usually like poetry (I know, I know) and have never been particularly obsessed with Emily Dickinson, but this was just fascinating. Now I want to read her biography.

BTW, if you don't get The Writer's Almanac free daily e-mail, click here and sign up. Every day you get an e-mail with a poem or two, and interesting facts about historical and literary events that happened on that date.

Anyway, from today's e-mail:

"It was on this day in 1886 that Emily Dickinson died at the age of 55. She wrote:

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

She had been ill and grief-stricken for years. In 1874, her father, whom she adored, had a stroke and died. The funeral was held in family home, but Emily stayed in her room during the service with the door ajar. A year later, her mother had a stroke, which rendered her paralyzed and with memory loss. Dickinson wrote, "Home is so far from Home."

When she was in her 40s, the reclusive Emily Dickinson had a romance with an aging widower, Massachusetts Supreme Court Judge Otis Phillips Lord. They wrote to each other every Sunday, and their correspondence was the highlight of her week.

Dickinson's mother died in 1882, then her favorite nephew died of typhoid fever, and in 1884, Judge Lord died of a stroke. Dickinson wrote, "The Dyings have been too deep for me, and before I could raise my heart from one, another has come."

Emily Dickinson died of Bright's disease on this day in 1886. Her coffin was white and surrounded by violets.

Dickinson had made her sister promise to burn all of her letters (though some survived), but didn't give any instructions about her notebooks. There were 40 notebooks, along with various loose sheets of paper, and these contained about 1800 poems.

The first edition of Dickinson's poems was published in 1890 and edited by Mabel Loomis Todd, a woman who had an affair with Emily's brother. This edition and many after it made sweeping edits to her poems. It wasn't until 1955 that Dickinson's poems were finally published just as she herself had written them--with punctuation, capitalization, and obscure diction intact. The volume, compiled by Thomas H. Johnson, in now the authoritative edition of Emily Dickinson's poetry."


PurpleClover said...

I also read somewhere (can't blasted find it) that her famous last words before her death were, "I must go in, for the fog is rising." I hope when I die, it can be with as much dignity and grace.

And as a lover of all things Emily Dickenson, I must admit my blog name "Purple Clover" is after one of her poems. Thank you for posting this. She IS such an aspring woman.

lotusgirl said...

That's neat. I like Dickenson's poetry.

KLo said...

How weird is this? I was talking to some of my English Department colleagues about the kind of crazy writer I wanted to be remembered as (Salinger had the hermit thing, Thoreau had the woods, and so on). I said, all excited, "I'll be the crazy writer that's lived in the same house her whole life and never left it because she loved it so much!"

My colleagues looked at each other and said, "Emily Dickinson."

Anna Claire said...

KLo that cracks me up!

I think I want to be reclusive and mysterious like Harper Lee or S.E. Hinton. Oh wait, I have a blog. There goes the mystery...

Elizabeth McKenzie said...

It was an interesting article. The picture mesmerized me. She was so pretty.

Buffy said...

This has always been one of my favourites from Emily.

I wonder how many of these Victorian women writers were compelled to stay hush-hush because they were women. Even Austen had to keep a bit of a lid on it.

Shame really.

Crimogenic said...

Not into poetry, but this was one that I liked.

Is always interesting to read about Dickenson. She seemed to be quite an complex woman, a tortured soul...

Angie Ledbetter said...

I wonder if what we know of our literary giants is just a very small portion? No such thing as privacy and hidden portions in the world today, but at least there are pen names. :)

rebecca said...

I know what you mean about poetry. But some poems stick with me and I come to love for its rhythm and language - we each know what we like and sings to our souls. This poem from Dickinson being one of my favorites. Also, if you liked this one, you'll also love WH Auden's Funeral Blues. It was the poem recited in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Simply gorgeous in its haunting quality.