Poetry is an art form I’m embarrassingly not too familiar with, I know little about the technical terms used to construct a poem, I never liked studying them back in my school days. I like more famous poems like If by Kipling and a few others but I have no idea how the likes of Ibsen for example influenced poetry. There is one poet however, that I adore, not just her poetry but her as her person and the story of her life. I am of course referring to the American poet Emily Dickinson from the commonwealth of Massachusetts .
In her lifetime (1830-1886) she would live through the United States expanding westward and the American Civil war, yet as far as we are aware she rarely left Amherst where she lived only ever venturing to Boston, Philadelphia and Washington DC and rarely leaving the family home. Despite this her writings and poetry introduced us to a unique style and although she rarely left her home town she definitely understood the world better than people who are well travelled even today.
One of the main reasons that I love Emily Dickinson’s poems is that for the most part they are relatively short easy to follow and understand, and have a personal feel to them, it’s like Emily Dickinson is actually writing to you in particular. Dickinson focuses on the little things and what she has studied and thought is also added in. Emily Dickinson had an interest in gardening, you can see this with some of her poems which have a focus on nature. It’s the personal touch that we see in her poems that I like the most. One of her more famous poems, Poem 288 otherwise known by the first line for example:
I’m Nobody! Who are you!
Are you – Nobody – Too?
Then there’s a pair of us
How dreary – to be – Somebody
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June
To an admiring Bog!
For me personally and I’m sure for many people out there, the want to be successful and to be recognised as such can cause a lot of anxieties within ourselves. In this poem Emily is telling us ‘oh come on now, you haven’t got it that bad’. Her father of course was a politician who as a so called somebody, would have had a lot of supporters and enemies. Among other things Emily would write other poems on what she thought on fame, she only had a small number of poems published in her lifetime the irony being after she died she would become one of the most famous poets in the English language, the ultimate somebody.
Emily was notoriously known for rarely leaving the family home where she lived. This was especially so in her later life. It is said that she even watched her father being buried (the cemetery being by the house from her window. Though Emily kept herself to herself she was in no way shy as can be seen by her poems and by her letters to her friends and relatives. As a woman from a well off family in the 19th century she relied on her father and later her brother for financial support so the idea that she could do something with her poetry must have felt liberating. Her father made sure she had a good education and she was not afraid to say what she thought. This was especially the case with her brother after it was found out that he had an affair. The affair that Emily’s brother had with Mabel Loomis Todd would cause another conflict after Emily’s death when there was a split between the Todds and the Dickinsons over the publication of Emily’s poems. Many decades later however, Emily would have her place as one of the greats.
Her legacy can now be seen in the fact that she is studied in schools, her poems are still in print and there have been many books written about her as well as the publication of her letters.
More recently there is the film starring Cynthia Nixon, A Quiet Passion (mixed feelings on that one). I know she clearly wasn’t, but I always get the feeling in her poems that she was going across time and writing for me and this has probably how many have felt over time.