Virtual Field Trip to Emily Dickinson Museum

One of my graduate students has been doing an author study of Emily Dickinson for our Writing and Thinking class this spring. Through his work I have been drawn to his discoveries and sharing about the unique poetry written by Emily Dickinson. Her poetry, as he describes is “more than a piece of writing to be studied, they are pieces of timeless art.” Using Dickinson’s letters and even her gardens helps to understand her poetry more deeply, her revision process, and the power of her words.

Emily Dickinson was born December 10, 1830, in Amherst, Massachusetts. During her lifetime, Emily Dickinson published less than a dozen poems. All of them were anonymous. By the time Dickinson turned 35, she had composed more than 1100 concise, powerful lyrics that astutely examine pain, grief, joy, love, nature, and art. She recorded about 800 of these poems in small handmade booklets (now called “fascicles”), very private “publications” that she shared with no one. After Emily’s death, a hidden trunk was found by her sister containing almost 2,000 poems. Emily Dickinson’s experience as a gardener helped develop several of her poems about nature.

Take a virtual tour of the grounds and landscape of the Emily Dickinson Museum

Through her windows, Dickinson would have viewed a sweeping meadow and The Evergreens’ picturesque landscape. She was a passionate amateur botanist, as a teenager collecting more than 400 specimens and pressing them into her Herbarium (also at Houghton), and a lifelong gardener. Her father built her a small conservatory on the side of the house, where she tended calla lilies, gardenias, and inland buttercups. Nature, as The Gardens of Emily Dickinson, by Judith Farr, indicates, lent vitality and endless inspiration: one-third of Dickinson’s poems, and half her letters, mention her favorite flowers. Often, she records the most precious, minute observations: “A Bird, came down the Walk -/He did not know I saw -/He bit an Angle Worm in halves /And ate the fellow, raw,/ And then, he drank a Dew/From a convenient Grass -/And then hopped sidewise to the Wall/To let a Beetle pass –….” [This Dickinson text—#359—and #1696 and #1091 below, are from R.W. Franklin, The Poems of Emily Dickinson (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998).]

Dickinson found great joy in exploring the mysteries of nature, and some of her poems read like riddles. A concise and complex poem like the one below forces the reader to slow down and consider each word and image. Can you figure out what this poem is about?

A Route of Evanescence, (1489)

A Route of Evanescence,
With a revolving Wheel –
A Resonance of Emerald
A Rush of Cochineal –
And every Blossom on the Bush
Adjusts it’s tumbled Head –
The Mail from Tunis – probably,
An easy Morning’s Ride –

On the Museum’s webpage about the Major Characteristics of Dickinson’s Poetry it states, “One of Dickinson’s special gifts as a poet is her ability to describe abstract concepts with concrete images. In many Dickinson poems, abstract ideas and material things are used to explain each other, but the relation between them remains complex and unpredictable.”

Although the museum is currently closed due to the pandemic, teachers and students can still go online to view the museum, galleries, and tour the grounds. Additionally, the museum website offers lesson plans, resources, and extensive historical biographical information about Dickinson and her family.

Looking for more about this elusive poet, Apple TV’s Dickinson is an American comedy streaming television series about Emily Dickinson, created by Alena Smith starring Hailee Steinfeld. This retelling of Dickinson’s story draws attention to the parallels between the 1800s and our world today. The second season was released in January 2021.

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