Emily came into my life when I was just into college. The world of English Literature opened a vast universe before me even as I carried on with my affair with poetry which had commenced much before that. And when I got married, Emily just as easily walked into my life in the form of a gift that a friend had gifted to me. Had he known that Emily indulged in poetry that made one delve into the corners of the heart that were gloomy and best left ignored then maybe, he would have given me something else. But, I treasured the book like I still do opening the pages at random automatically landing into verse that made you wonder, “Oh! My! How come I never thought of that!” Or, “I never knew that this universal emotion could be expressed in this manner too!”
Her writings were innovative in nature and, like any other poet reflected her emotions and thoughts. She used similes and metaphors in most of her poems which made them all the more interesting and soothing. Her dedication to writing has been a source of inspiration for many feminist writers. Even as a young child, Emily wrote a lot entertaining her classmates and friends with rhyming stories. How is it that most well known and sensitive poets/writers tend to suffer from some ailment or the other that temporarily or permanently prevent them from pursuing life the way they want to? The same wave of destiny seems to have occurred in Emily’s life too as her studies were often interrupted by ill health. But, she used this period to broaden her perspectives and do what she liked doing best – writing. Her quick wit, intelligence and sense of humor brought about poems that were to convey messages even in the most difficult of situations. In her college years she enjoyed singing, references of which are found in her writings. She was fond of reading writers such as Emerson, Thoreau, Dickens, Browning, the Bronte sisters and John Ruskin.
Hope is something which has featured in many of her poems, something which we all crave for in our lives every time the waves of difficult situations torment our minds and hearts. Like she says:
“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.”
But then, death as a thought, as an experience, as an emotion kept figuring up in her life every now and then as many of her dear friends died or were taken away during the War. That seemed to have made Emily wonder and reflect upon the meaning of life and existence. This added to her shy nature only made her delve into the interiors of her mind that housed all those subconscious desires, fears and queries that we all have too but seldom dare to question.
This is one poem of hers that I still like.
“Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labour, and my leisure too,
For his civility.
We passed the school where children played,
Their lessons scarcely done;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.
We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.
Since then ’tis centuries; but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward eternity”
Emily has written around 2000 poems and a lot of letters to people she admired or liked with whom she could share her thoughts and emotions. Like all great writers that we know in history, Emily had her upheavals in her personal life. Many biographers refer to an invisible lover in her writings. But then, such things can be quite subjective and I would rather enjoy reading a poet’s piece of work from afar and maybe try to decipher why I liked some poem so very much. Was it the emotion? Was it the thought expressed so gracefully and simply? What do you say?
Death paused for Emily Dickinson at the age of 55 in this month of May. People like me who have read her poems remember her with gratitude and adulation for contributing those little emotions tied up in strings of beautiful verse…..
“I’m nobody, who are you?
Are you nobody too?
There’s a pair of us, don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know!
How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog,
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!”