Monday, December 10, 2007

December, 7, 2007

It's the birthday of the poet Emily Dickinson, (books by this author) born in Amherst, Massachusetts (1830), who dropped out of college at Mount Holyoke to take care of the family household when her mother had a nervous breakdown. She didn't enjoy being a housekeeper, hated dusting, and hated hosting all the men who stopped by to talk politics with her father every day. She watched as her friends got married and moved away, and she grew increasingly isolated from her community, in part because she did not consider herself a Christian and so she did not go to church. Many biographers have tried to find some other reason why she withdrew from the world, suggesting that she may have fallen in love with a man who rejected her. But there's no definite evidence for that theory.

What we do know is that Dickinson spent most of her adult life in her corner bedroom, which contained a writing table, a dresser, a Franklin stove, a clock, a ruby decanter, and pictures on the wall of three writers: George Eliot, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Thomas Carlyle. She wrote on scraps of paper and old grocery lists, compiled her poetry and tucked it away neatly in her desk drawer. After a few years of writing, she began collecting her handwritten poems into packets of folded paper, stitching the spines herself. She often included poems in her numerous letters to friends.

Dickinson eventually wrote more than 1,700 poems, most of them composed during the Civil War. She wrote 366 poems in 1862 alone, about one per day. Only seven of all her poems were published in her lifetime. Her sister Lavinia found the huge stash of the rest of her poems after Dickinson's death, but they were heavily edited when they finally came out in 1890. For a while, Dickinson was considered an interesting minor poet. It wasn't until 1955 that a more complete edition of her poetry was published, with the original punctuation intact. She's now considered the first great lyric poet in American history.

Emily Dickinson said, "To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else."

-From The Writer's Almanac

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