The Emily Dickinson Homestead in Amherst Massachusetts
A Poetry Day in Amherst
It was an ideal setting in an autumn afternoon. The atmosphere was clear, apart from definition. Dapple-dotted sunshine filtered through minty leaves, leaving birthmarks on the house. Forest green shutters showed well against the pale painted brick of the substantial dwelling. In the garden, bumblebees hovered from stem to stem, paying calls to high-society flowers. By the fading afternoon light, I caught a glimpse of a bunny with a bushy tail hiding in the bushes. Poetry floated on the breeze from prosy mountains, whispering gently of the Past. They, the few who paid tribute, were giving voice to the more-than-a-century-old poems of Emily Dickinson. They were running the poetry marathon, reciting her poems, all 1,789 of them. They had begun early in the morning, and they wouldn’t stop until late that night.
The Emily Dickinson Homestead. It was right up there on the list, the list of dreams unfulfilled, right next to eating gnocchi and gelato in Little Italy. I wanted to see her home, her birthplace. I wanted to see for myself where she lived, how she lived, what her bedroom window looked out upon. I wondered if I could get closer to the poet, by getting closer to her home.
It was a late September day when I drove into Amherst. College students roamed the sidewalks of the small Massachusetts town. The college was founded by Emily’s grandfather, Samuel Dickinson, in revolt to the growing liberalism at Harvard University. Dickinson’s intention was to found a conservative seminary for aspiring ministers. Over time, Amherst, like Harvard, has fallen away from the original intent of its founders.
The Homestead sits comfortably amid its well-planted past. As we walked through the house, the tour guide gave freely of her stories about Emily Dickinson and her family. She told of how Emily wasn’t quite the recluse that everyone believes her to be. She loved her family and friends intensely. She loved children, especially her niece and nephews, and used to drop “booty” to them out her window. She wasn’t a morbid soul; she was filled with life, and enjoyed the pleasures of her garden and her poetry, simple though they might sound to those who haven’t tasted of them.
Outside, evergreens fill the space of a few moments walk to The Evergreens, the house next door. It is smaller than The Homestead and was built by Emily’s disreputable brother William Austin. Close to the original house is the garden; it brings forth blossom in true tribute to the poet who was also a skilled botanist. I strolled through the garden and knew. Dreams do come true. Here is where she walked, on this very lawn. Here is where she befriended the garden-creatures and chronicled their simple being. Here is her inspiration. Here is her home, among the flowers and the bumblebees.
A short drive from The Homestead, one can find the burying ground. Dickinsons are lined up behind a fence; their tombstones lean over iron spikes. Still fenced in, still held by boundaries, still Emily lies in her grave.
Emily Dickinson, who wrote of joy and agony, saw death in life and life in death; she felt pain in solitude as well as in company. Her poetry, though hardly accepted or even read in her own time, speaks now with words that have outlived their author.
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