The Enigma of Emily Dickinson
Ascetic, eccentric, recluse was what many said of Emily Dickinson the elusive waif of literary genius. A misanthrope melancholy master of prose, Emily Dickinson lived in the world of paradox never seeing the outcome of her own masterpieces. A staggering 1800 or more poems were born from her burgeoned soul and only 9 were published in her lifetime.
Her childhood was a whirlwind of academic achievement engrossed in classical literature and piano. Yet in the thin air of her academia Emily’s dark shadows of fear and isolation were ever drawing closer. Like the thick fog from the ocean’s unrest the bright ship of her personality began to sink but her heart was often buoyed by her ardent faith and the many unusual friends that came along side.
Whether the fear of her own death or those around her, the young Dickinson began to retreat into her own pathos creating an elaborate network of long distant relationships. Her varied passions ranged from botany accumulating a prolific collection of flowers and a affinity for music. Yet in sharp contrast to the panoramic color that framed her life the dark tide of personal tragedy set in consistently taking those that were dear.
If there was one friend that may have been able to pull Emily from the riptide of her self imposed isolation it was the young attorney Benjamin Newton. He became the keyhole into a different reality for Emily exposing her to modern poetry and literature. For a moment it seems her prison saw an escape and much of what she became as a writer blossomed during this time - but again tragedy intervened. Newton, like her cousin before him, was stuck down. The first by Typhus the other by Tuberculosis which drove Emily into the dangerous rocks of depression again. She withdrew until she was nearly impossible to reach.
When the warm arms of spring may have rescued her tragedy struck again stealing another mentor and friend the principal at Amherst Academy where she had attended. Brain congestion was the trespasser now making any relationship for Emily almost criminal. Salvation seemed to come 5 years later by the name of Charles Wadsworth who was a well known minister at the Arch Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. For the next 30 years Wadsworth would prove to be a great ally to Emily giving her some semblance of happiness and peace.
At the age of 52 after caring for her habitually ill mother most of her adult life Emily said goodbye to them both as the ship of death sailed again. Emily Dickinson, like a silent sentinel stood at the threshold of life and death so many times; recluse must have seemed to be her only resort.
Friends were fleeting over the next few years as distant voices urged her to write. One such freind was a abolitionist and ex-minister who wrote for The Atlantic Monthly. Seeing the sparks of brilliance in the letters he received urged him to continue to correspond with her until the end. Like grey ships in the night others came in and out of Emily’s life and faded into the past by death or her own entreated isolation.
Seemingly unable to escape the prison of her melancholy, visitors to the family home would only glimpse a apparition in a white dress. Shakespeare, Longfellow and a myriad of letters and books became her mute companions as the austere Dickinson retreated even further. From this evanescent place of exile the student became a master as she honed her words into her magnum opus as hundreds of poems were wrought. Emily Dickinson was the ghost that wandered the winding dark halls of poetry inspiring and mystifying everyone that presumed to know her.
Only 4 years after losing her close friend and mother, Emily prophesied in a letter, “a great darkness coming”, soon after death claimed her favorite cousin. It was debatable what it was that ailed Emily and caused her swift decline in the budding spring of 1886. After another personal trauma she was left bedridden and unresponsive. One could sadly conclude that the delicate Emily Dickinson died of a broken heart.
The fragile creature who relished every private moment in her flower gardens amidst fragrance and butterfly could not bear another burden so great. Her white coffin garnered in vanilla, orchids and violets carried through a field of buttercups laid the poet to rest.
She had finally; stubbornly found her peace in the place she feared the most - in death.
"Because I could not stop for Death—
He kindly stopped for me—
The Carriage held but just Ourselves—
And Immortality..." Emily