A few years ago when I lived in Boston, I took a bus trip to Amherst, Massachusetts. I had researched a literary walk and found a book at the public library called A Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Miriam Levine. Emily Dickinson’s Homestead was on my list of authors’ homes that I planned to visit. I had taken a college course about Emily Dickinson and I was interested in her life and her work.
I took a Peter Pan bus and I let the melodious voice of Nat King Cole serenade me during the entire journey. I changed buses in Springfield, MA and took the second bus on into Amherst. When I arrived in Amherst, the bus let me off right across the street from Amherst College.
There was a May Day celebration taking place on the college lawn and the students were decorating a maypole with flowers and ribbons. It was a pleasant scene. On another part of the lawn, there were tents set up and the League of Women Voters was having a book sale. I found a duplicate of a textbook that I had used when teaching American literature. I was delighted!
I ate at a nearby Subway and walked a short distance to Emily’s home. I sat in her backyard where I saw her garden as I waited for the tour to begin. I later learned that she was interested in botany and liked to work in her garden.
Our tour guide was a young English major from a nearby college named Stacey. The tour started downstairs and we were shown many of the Dickinson family artifacts. They once owned a hat factory and we saw a hat from that era. On the wall, she had written, “I dwell in possibility.”
We were shown Emily’s personal library and it included books by authors such as Bronte, the Brownings and Shakespeare. When we moved towards the kitchen, Stacey said that Emily was a good cook. She cooked gingerbread and lowered it down in a basket to the awaiting children. We saw the basket sitting by her bedroom window later during the tour.
The one picture we normally see of Emily was taken when she was about sixteen years old. Few people knew that she was a redhead. One quote said that her hair was “as red as a wren.” Her sister, Lavinia, who was very attentive to her, said that “it was Emily’s job to think.”
I felt closer to Emily and her story when we went upstairs to her bedroom. We saw a replica of the white linen dress that she often wore. It was in a glass case and set over to the side. We were told that her writings were found in a lot of places on all types of paper by her sister, Lavinia. Some poems were loose and some were bound. The poems did change hands during publication and I wonder if some of her meanings were ‘lost in translation.’
One thing is clear. She was moved by the events around her and she had a voice. According to the tour guide, she could see a cemetery from her room and a number of her poems talked about death. She could see the processionals and was acutely aware of life’s mortality.
Emily chose to view life from a high perch as she wrote about what she felt and saw. Though misunderstood during her life, she can now live by her words, and ‘I chose just the crown.’ Her name will forever be written among the stars as a true American poetess. Fittingly, she can attest to her words that, “Saying nothing… sometimes says the most.”
This visit was well worth the trip and I will cherish its memory.
Lynn September 29, 2014