"Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul." -Emily Dickinson
I have this on a nature-themed print from Hobby Lobby hanging in my bathroom. The color of the eggs in the nest match the paint color of the walls. Besides, I'm fascinated by Emily Dickinson's poetry, so it perches above the toilet. Please don't analyze that any further.
A few years ago she was the poet that I was to teach about in our Truth, Beauty, Goodness Co-op. So, we read her poems each week, selected from Poetry for Young People, a delightful, beginning poetry series for children. I also read aloud The Mouse from Amherst by Spires and had the students narrate. Then they each choose a poem to memorize. During the course of the semester, I sent home with each family the picture book Emily by Bedard, which is illustrated by another favorite, Barbara Cooney.
When our session was through, a young lady (also called Emily!) in our co-op said, "My dad says Emily Dickinson was weird." All righty, then. Not what I was hoping for, but I went with it. "Why did he think she was weird?" I asked. We had a short discussion.
I suppose one would have to define "weird". If it means "out of the ordinary", then I'd have to agree. I recently read the book Lives Like Loaded Guns - Emily Dickinson and her Family's Feuds by Lyndall Gordon.* Let me just say, I had NO idea...
This book is a well-researched tell-all tome. If you read the reviews on Amazon, you might think that the main focus is Gordon's theory that Dickinson suffered from epilepsy, thus explaining her hermit-like existence and strange phrasing in her poetry. This is fascinating enough and Gordon builds a great case for it and how it affects her poetry, but it is a minor issue as far as I can see. It's the rest of her life that gives me pause, in particular her brother's extra-marital affair - the effects and consequences of which literally continue to this day.
Gordon may have put her own spin on this series of events. Nevertheless, the experience seems to have soured Emily towards any kind of evangelical Christianity. We can't be sure exactly how the events unfolded, but from Emily's point of view which we read from her letters and in her poetry, she was offended.
All these events, plus more are reflected in the poetry she produced. I still find her fascinating and I have a much deeper appreciation for her work now. Despite the immorality that invaded her life and eventually consumed it, I can't help feeling for that awkward, intelligent 17-year-old girl sitting in that classroom. What was that teacher thinking?
*Listen to Lyndall Gordon's NPR interview on Fresh Air for more info on the book