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Bob Holman & Margery Snyder

Circling Back to Emily Dickinson

By July 23, 2013

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I never cease to marvel at how apropos the words of Emily Dickinson are to the thoughts and events of my life, even though I live it in a different century, a different world from hers. She is so strange, yet so on point—the best example I know of the poet’s integration of the most particular individuality and the widest universality. I’m clearly not the only one who thinks so. Every week, reading around the Web, I come across writers quoting her lines, struck by their uncanny resonance in many aspects of modern life. These references highlight both her oddity and her wide-ranging appeal:

from The New Yorker:
Her Own Society: A new reading of Emily Dickinson,” by Judith Thurman
Thurman’s essay is a fascinating exploration of the interaction between ED’s strange life and stranger poems. Her new reading of Dickinson’s work was inspired by White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson by Brenda Wineapple, published in 2008 by Knopf ().

Higginson “had doubts about the wisdom of exposing to the world the runes of a protégée whom he had described as ‘my partially cracked poetess....’ Dickinson’s life has a before and an after, separated by an invisible catastrophe, or perhaps by a critical mass of cumulative blows—spiritual concussions that contributed to her fragility, but also to the release of her creative powers, which came in a tremendous gush in her late twenties. She corresponded with a wide and diverse circle of friends—some ninety people we know of—but as she aged her world contracted like the footage of a blast rewound.... Her studied unworldliness—the virginal or bridal habit of a white dress; the lily proffered breathlessly to an exceptional visitor; the elfin figure fleeing at the sound of a doorbell; the pretense of ‘insignificance’—was also a form of camouflage:

The Soul selects her own Society—
Then—shuts the Door—
from The Guardian:
The Sound of Startled Grass: How did quiet, introspective Emily Dickinson become the darling of modern composers?,” by Valentine Cunningham
On the occasion of the 2002 performance of the last of five parts of English composer Simon Holt’s musical sequence based on Dickinson’s poems, “The River of Time,”Cunningham wrote this interesting analysis of “...her appeal for composers? I think it is the rich musicality of her address to these modernist preoccupations. It makes her wonderfully adaptable, to music of all kinds. While her bareness, spareness and rhythmic variety make her specially attractive to musical modernists, minimalists and atonalists, there have also been madrigals, rags and even sub-Wagnerianisms in her name.” Reading it is a wonderful reminder of the music and the noises of life that ring throughout Dickinson’s spare lines.

More on Emily Dickinson:
Brief biographical profile of Emily Dickinson
Library: Poems by Dickinson
Emily Dickinson in Middle Age” (August 2012)
Wearing Emily Dickinson, Wearing Her Words” (August 2011)
The Scientist in Emily Dickinson” (September 2010)
Emily Dickinson: Her Rhymes, Her Dashes, Her Flowers, Her Fits?” (July 2010)
Emily’s Pearls Still Shine in the 21st Century” (June 2008)
Poets Are Still Musing on Pictures of Miss Emily” (July 2005)
What Would Emily Say? An Indeath Interview,” by Robyn Sue Millerz (February 2003)
Emily Dickinson: Continuing Enigma,” by Jone Johnson Lewis


July 26, 2013 at 8:57 pm
(1) Aífe Murray says:

Thanks for circling us back around to Emily. If the soul selects her own society, isn’t it interesting that the ones included in Emily Dickinson’s small circumference were her maid Margaret Maher — to whom the poet was devoted — and stable hand Stephen Sullivan — “gentle boy at the barn” — and of course the man she chose, on her deathbed, to be her chief pallbearer, immigrant laborer Tom Kelley.

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