It has a song—
It has a sting—
Ah too, it has a wing.
I’ve been fascinated with Emily Dickinson ever since discovering her in a high school English class. This is probably the third or fourth biography I’ve read about here through the years and her biographers seem to be all over the place. One spent most of the book trying to prove that Miss Dickinson went into seclusion because she was jilted by the only man she ever loved—a thesis which is interesting, but not supported by any of her closest family or friends.
Most of the biographies of Miss Dickinson try to read her from the time in which they were written, rather than understanding her in her context. They also misunderstand the Christianity of the time, grab happily her skepticism about faith and fail to understand her within the context of the Christian faith at the time she was living. In other words, they appropriate her to their own ends. Happily, Roger Lundin escapes all of these mistakes in his excellent biography.
Emily Dickinson was a genius, such a genius, and so far ahead of her time, that no one recognized it while she was living. They caught glimpses of it, but both her poetry and her thinking were so radically ahead of the culture, that no one began to really understand this until after she died. It didn’t help that she consented to only a handful of her hundreds of poems to be published in her lifetime.
She was also a true eccentric, gradually connecting with people outside of her family less and less until by the time she was in her 40’s, she rarely left the house and rarely visited with people who came to the house unless they were very close friends of the family. She would often sit out of sight of a visitor and either just listen to the conversation, or have a conversation with the visitor, but never see them face to face. Why she did this is not known for sure, those closest to her said that it was a habit that developed over time and for no specific, chosen reason. It was just Emily being Emily. They allowed her space to do what she wanted.
Samuel Bowles who was a good friend of Miss Dickinson and did often see her when she visited once dropped by to see her, and she even refused to see him that day for whatever reason. He stood at the bottom of the stairs and shouted up, “Come on down and see me, Emily, you damned rascal.”
She later wrote a note of apology for not coming down and signed off, “Your Rascal P. S. I washed the adjective.”
A good example of her wit and charm.
I never lost as much but twice,
And that was in the sod.
Twice have I stood a beggar
Before the door of God!
Angels -- twice descending
Reimbursed my store --
Burglar! Banker -- Father!
I am poor once more!