Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Emily Dickinson: An initiation in infinitude

Epilepsy? An adultery that caused deep and persistent fissures within her family? Lyndall Gordon offers a new account of "the War Between the Houses,"as well as other delicate matters, in an article based on her recent book, Lives Like Loaded Guns, Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds.

While I've read lots of Emily's poetry, of course, through the years, I've never dug very deeply into her biography - perhaps because the work I encountered, wonderful as it was, seemed to display little acquaintance on her part with the facet of the human mystery which we know as "love", and that was the facet I have been for most of my life most curious to explore. But Gordon says:
On the face of it, the life of this New England poet seems uneventful and largely invisible, but there's a forceful, even overwhelming character belied by her still surface. She called it a "still – Volcano – Life", and that volcano rumbles beneath the domestic surface of her poetry and a thousand letters. Stillness was not a retreat from life (as legend would have it) but her form of control. Far from the helplessness she played up at times, she was uncompromising; until the explosion in her family, she lived on her own terms.
And she makes a good case that Emily's was indeed a life of considerable emotional depth and complexity in her piece for The Guardian UK. It incites my curiosity and makes me think it might be worthwhile revisit Miss Emily, so she's done her job well.

Photo credit: Amherst College Archives and Special Collections.

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