Thursday, May 27, 2010
Emily Dickinson: Gardener-Poet
On the radio this morning, NPR had a story about Emily Dickinson, who lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, and was better known in her lifetime for her gardening than for the poetry she wrote. Yet, she gardened every day in a simple white cotton dress with whatever poem she was working on tucked into one of her pockets. I imagine her watching for the first foxgloves to pop their heads from the ground, smiling at the white-faced daisies she loved, and pulling those errant weeds that disdainfully rose between hydrangeas and herbs.
Though she relished her privacy and alone time, she wrote about the people around her: her family, nieces/nephews, neighbors. Her poetry shows her true love, however -- her gardens. And though the poems she wrote might be of a child's death or a family moment, somehow she always managed to toss in a garden metaphor.
Here's one of my favorite Dickinson poems:
FROM cocoon forth a butterfly
As lady from her door
Emerged—a summer afternoon—
Without design, that I could trace, 5
Except to stray abroad
On miscellaneous enterprise
The clovers understood.
Her pretty parasol was seen
Contracting in a field 10
Where men made hay, then struggling hard
With an opposing cloud,
Where parties, phantom as herself,
To Nowhere seemed to go
In purposeless circumference, 15
As ’t were a tropic show.
And notwithstanding bee that worked,
And flower that zealous blew,
This audience of idleness
Disdained them, from the sky, 20
Till sundown crept, a steady tide,
And men that made the hay,
And afternoon, and butterfly,
Extinguished in its sea.