Emily Dickinson Update - Killing Hemlocks for the Poet

An interesting story the other day from The Boston Globe, about some people in Amherst trying to cut down about 200 trees, because they believe it's what Emily Dickinson would want.

Yeah, read that sentence again.

Some of these folks are a lot more well-versed in Dickinson lore than I am, don't get me wrong, so I will not begin to argue about whether Emily Dickinson would be unhappy to have a row of 'rather forbidding' trees out of her window. I don't know. The point that was interesting to me was this one:

"Dickinson is the one American writer who is so keenly identified with
one place, and it is that place," said Martha Ackmann, an English
professor at Mount Holyoke College and vice president of the Emily
Dickinson International Society. "My students want to know what she
saw. I want to see what she saw."

Really?  I think the combination of this statement with one a few paragraphs down is particularly striking:

Officials at the Dickinson museum and Amherst College, which owns the
homestead, have determined what the poet would have seen from her
window: a low-lying hemlock hedge. She also saw a hayfield and the Holyoke mountain range from her window perch, but that view has been
obliterated by a large apartment complex built across the street from
her house.

The old saw about Emily Dickinson being a morbid poet, is tiresome, but it does have some root: Emily Dickinson more than most poets had a strong concern wtih the idea of permanence and immortality. Emily Dickinson was a distinctly American poet, in part, because of her affinity towards the simple, regular person in these stories. Whitman was the teller of grand tales, sort of the wild troubadour of American poetry, the man who wrote 'O Captain, My Captain.' Emily Dickinson was more of a murmurer, speaking about robins instead of eagles, about the everyday and commonplace, about the impudence of pride. Isn't it strange that we would build this quasi-Lenin's-Tomb shrine around her? I am not sorry that Emily Dickinson's home is still there, but it does make one wonder - trying to pretend that Miss Dickinson hasn't been dead for more than a century, that her room is still sitting there waiting for her return, with the view she wants, like we are parents who had a child die young and keep the bedroom just as the child left it. Well, the bedroom is not a closed system, especially for a soul as expansive as Emily's, and you just can't keep the world from changing. Let the trees grow, they're better than apartments, anyway. That's not Emily's opinion, it's mine.

What is Emily Dickinson's opinion on a row of Hemlock trees? I imagine that her opinion is that she's dead, and glad to leave these kinds of meddling concerns to the living.


lk said...

Jason, I don't know how I missed this post. But, I enjoyed it very much. I think your slant on the "news" is the right aim.

Did you see A. Sullivan's blog titled Why I Blog?


Jason Gignac said...

I've seen it honestly I get uncomfortable when I imagine the fact that people actually read my blog though - if it started to get famous, I would completely panic. Blogs, to me, feel less like speaking to an audience, and more like a quiet way to connect with people. Which is really a bit strange, when you think about it, I'm not sure what it says about our society. I know, a lot of writers have decried the confessional nature of blgo culture as a sort of emotional pornography/exhibitionism. But, I don't think so, I think the world has changd, and people finally feel like that existential loneliness that's haunted people from the time of the industrial revolution ALMOST has an outlet.