Thursday, March 29, 2012

'I'm nobody. Who are you?'

The daffodils are in full bloom along the stonewall abutting our summer place, sunny yellow beacons of the approaching season. Yet it’s hard to imagine summertime in Tiverton as cold March winds blow.

One of the greatest American poets, New Englander Emily Dickinson wrote: “Dear March, come in! / How glad I am! / I looked for you before. / Put down your hat – / You must have walked – / How out of breath you are! / Dear March, how are you?”

Educated at Amherst Institute and Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, Dickinson was a voracious reader, who spent most of her life in her room. I envision “The Belle of Amherst” with her face pressed against the window, chronicling the seasons as an observer removed from wind, sun and spring rains.

To be a woman and a poet in the mid-1800s placed her outside the bounds of society norms. She sent four of her poems to a literary critic, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who advised her against publishing. During her lifetime only seven of her edited poems were printed without attribution.

By her 40s, the shy Victorian poet refused to leave the house. She died at age 56 in 1886.

Looking through her possessions, her sister Lavinia found hundreds of hidden poems sewn together, scribbled on shopping lists, envelopes and candy wrappers.

Later, Higginson would call her gift “a wholly new and original poetic genius,” according to “Benet’s Readers Encyclopedia.” He heavily edited a book containing a fraction of her poems in 1890.

The first complete edition of Dickinson’s 1,775 poems was published in 1960.

“I’m nobody. Who are you?” she wrote.

In defiance, I wander the beach battered by the spray of wind-tossed waves, propelled by icy blasts.  

Free to roam, I think about the daughter of the orthodox Calvinist, predestined to sit in her room day after day, baring her soul on scraps of paper filled with such words of passion.

“The sky is low, the clouds are mean, / A travelling flake of snow / Across a barn or through a rut / Debates if it will go. / A narrow wind complains all day / How some one treated him; / Nature, like us, is sometimes caught / Without her diadem.”  

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