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I’m Nobody! Who are you? The Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson

Henry Sternberg, Writer

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Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough.”

— Emily Dickinson

This spring, The Morgan is hosting an exhibit on one of the most popular and enigmatic American poets of the nineteenth century, Emily Dickinson. The exhibition, I’m Nobody! Who are you? The Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson, put the poet on a pedestal highlighting her life and her accomplishments as a poet, which interestingly enough stands in contrast to the kind of life she lived. Emily Dickinson lived a life of relative obscurity. Only ten of her works were ever published during her life, all of which were probably published without her consent. She wrote almost 1,800 poems and it was only after her death that a trove of them was discovered.

Although Dickinson was not interested in publishing, she kept up an active correspondence with friends, even as she grew older and more reclusive. The exhibition showcases many of her letters alongside her poetry and debunks her popular typecast as a hermit.

The exhibit follows Emily Dickinson’s life and legacy in Amherst, Massachusetts in great detail.  Her grandfather founded Amherst Academy, one of the best private academies in the state, and Emily was student proud of her time at the school. The Dickinson’s watched as Amherst College grew out of the academy. Both Edward Dickinson, the father of Emily, and Austin Dickinson, Emily’s older brother, ended up graduating from the college and becoming the school’s treasurer. As a result, the college’s intellectual and social life formed a large part of the Dickinson households.

Although the family was heavily involved with Amherst College, Dickinson could not continue her studies there after her time at Amherst Academy. Amherst College would only vote to become co-educational in 1974. The exhibit follows Emily’s life at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, one of the best academic institutions a woman could attend at the time. The seminary’s religious focus made a bad impression on Dickinson. Her spiritual and religious life was deemed “without hope”. Emily wrote to her friend Abiah Root, “There is a great deal of religious interest here and many are flocking to the ark of safety. I have not yet given up to the claims of Christ, but trust I am not entirely thoughtless on so important and serious a subject”. Dickinson never returned to the college after her first year, but its impact on her life can be seen various of her poems. For

Dickinson never returned to the college after her first year, but its impact on her life can be seen in many of her poems. For instance, in her poem Some keep the Sabbath going to Church, she professes to the same lack of interest in faith she had at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary.

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church
I keep it, staying at Home
With a Bobolink for a Chorister
And an Orchard, for a Dome
Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice
I, just wear my Wings
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last
I’m going, all along.

This poem is among others on display accompanied by an audio book reading.

There is still time to see the exhibit. The exhibit opened on January 20 and closes on May 28, 2017. Find the time to check it out!

 

A portrait of the Dickinson children. From left to right Emily, Austin and Lavina.

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I’m Nobody! Who are you? The Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson