Happy Birthday Emily Dickinson

Nov 30, 2015

Xianna Michaels Flower Mandala

People often ask me if I have a favorite poet, and I usually say that I have favorite poems rather than one favorite poet. But if I had to choose, then I’d say that besides Shakespeare, who is in a class by himself, it would be Emily Dickinson.

As a sixth grader I remember learning the poem “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass” and enjoying the picture it painted so much. Who can forget the phrase “a whiplash/Unbraiding in the sun”, or the uncertainty of that “tighter breathing” at the end?

As a college student I still loved the imagery and I appreciated the unique slant rhyme and her subtle adherence to meter. I found her work haunting and unforgettable. Sometimes, as in “My Life Closed Twice Before it’s Close”, I thought her a little too obsessed with death. But that was before I really knew her.

Decades later I came to understand that she was a mystic, and her poems reflect her understanding of a world most of us cannot see. Rather than obsessing about death, she is telling us that this life is not all there is. Her work is deeply spiritual and very uplifting.

She is one of my favorite poets to teach, not least because of the charm and brevity of her meaningful lines. My favorite Dickinson poem is probably “To Make A Prairie”. A child can appreciate it for the picture of that clover and bee. But an adult can understand that the poem is about the extraordinary power of the imagination. The conciseness of such a powerful poem only serves to emphasize how much can be accomplished with so little – just a clover and a bee – or if need be, just the power of the mind.

Emily Dickinson was born on December 10, 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she lived all her life. When she died in 1886, she left some 1,800 poems, most of them unpublished in her lifetime. What an extraordinary legacy she left to the world! No matter how many times I dip into her collections, there is always another poem that I’ve never seen before. She is a constant source of inspiration and delight.

Happy Birthday, Emily Dickinson!

Here’s my favorite of her poems:

To Make a Prairie
by Emily Dickinson

    To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.