I've never paid much attention to Emily Dickinson until recently, when I read a fascinating historical novel based on her odd, eccentric and remarkable life. (The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn). And then, just three days ago as my husband and I were visiting friends along the East Coast, we found ourselves within 10 miles of Amherst, Massachusetts, where Emily lived and died. At right is the only known image of her, a daguerrotype taken when she was about 16 -- neither she nor any of her family thought it did her justice, and it was hidden away in a drawer, and she never had another photograph taken.
The day we visited her home was a mildly rainy morning, quiet, soft and gray. We walked around the grounds, a large property which included her brother's house, The Evergreens, also a museum. We were the only two in line for a late morning tour, and our docent, an older man with a white beard and a cheerful manner, recited Emily's poems as we wandered from room to room. Upstairs in her bedroom where she wrote and slept and died, he movingly spoke aloud a poem she wrote about her many sleepless nights:
Will there really be a "Morning"?
Is there such a thing as "Day"?
Could I see it from the mountains
If I were as tall as they?
Has it feet like Water lilies?
Has it feathers like a Bird?
Is it brought from famous countries
Of which I have never heard?
Oh some Scholar! Oh some Sailor!
Oh some Wise Men from the skies!
Please to tell a little Pilgrim
Where the place called "Morning" lies!