Poetry and Gardening

Musings from the days of a creative writer/gardener with a true appreciation for nature, meditation, and poetry.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Emily Dickinson: Gardener-Poet

As I watered the gardens and hanging plants last night (wondering why they were drooping, since we'd just had a fairly long spurt of rain), I thought about all the women and men who have spent their years tending gardens, getting just as much soul-tending from the plants that grew from the ground beneath them as those plants got from the gardeners' hands.  I share gardening stories with my sister and certain friends, but I truly appreciate those gardeners who shared words about nature with the world around them.

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—

Repairing everywhere,

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.