Emily in the Garden

The heat feels good. All ninety-nine degrees of it.

The pole beans twist themselves around the bamboo supports, under the arcing sun.

pole beans

The pansies on the front porch of the Cabin salute.


Even Oliver likes to move his luxuriating form outdoors, having decided that sun-warmed gravel is a choice nap mat. Along the lines of ancient cultures whose people slept comfortably with their heads on carved blocks of wood or stone.

Oliver gravel prone

All the quiet and heat and a sense of the plants feverishly growing brings to mind the work and life of Emily Dickinson, she who was, according to one scholar, “known more widely as a gardener, perhaps, than as a poet” during her time. Dickinson conscientiously tended the flower garden at the Homestead in Amherst, Massachusettes, where she spent her whole life, assembling. a collection of pressed plants in a sixty-six page leather-bound book which contained 424 pressed flower specimens organized according to the Linnaean system.

Dickinson is usually thought of the way she appears in the iconic photo taken when she was about eighteen.


Recently another portrait materialized in an archive, with the poet on the left and her friend Kate Scott Turner on the right.

Emily Dickinson

She would have been well into her genius years, both in terms of writing and gardening.

The Homestead garden was famous in its time, at least among the neighbors. Dickinson’s niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, remembered “carpets of lily-of-the-valley and pansies, platoons of sweetpeas, hyacinths, enough in May to give all the bees of summer dyspepsia. There were ribbons of peony hedges and drifts of daffodils in season, marigolds to distraction—-a butterfly utopia.” Dickinson loved scented exotic flowers, writing that she “could inhabit the Spice Isles merely by crossing the dining room to the conservatory, where the plants hang in baskets.” She liked to send friends bunches of blooms with verses attached, but complained mildly that “they valued the posy more than the poetry.”

Dickinson went everywhere, apparently, with her brown Newfoundland Carlo, a gift from her father in the fall of 1849. “My shaggy ally” she called him in a letter.

A lovely animation gives the perfect flavor of the poem “I started early—took my dog.”

Emily was so mysterious, endlessly elliptical.

Presentiment is that long shadow on the lawn

Indicative that suns go down;

The notice to the startled grass

That darkness is about to pass.

Less than a dozen of Dickinson’s 1,800 poems were published in her lifetime. Among the rest were 40 pieced-together and hand-sewn books she had assembled in the years before her death.

Wild Nights

That’s the fascicle-bound manuscript page for the passionate, rhapsodic poem Wild Nights!:

Wild nights! Wild nights! 
Were I with thee, 
Wild nights should be 
Our luxury!

Futile the winds 
To a heart in port, 
Done with the compass, 
Done with the chart.

Rowing in Eden! 
Ah! the sea! 
Might I but moor 
To-night in thee!

In her final years Dickinson also wrote on scraps of paper, chocolate wrappers, the margins of books, and even envelopes she received in the mail. A book documenting these envelope poems is due out this coming October, to be titled Gorgeous Nothings. A related appreciation and performance can be enjoyed even before the book is published.



Filed under Dogs, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Poetry, Publishing, Writers, Writing

2 responses to “Emily in the Garden

  1. That book looks adorable. I wonder what poem it includes.


    Bill Murray is good in the lower video too… at the Pets House building site. (I’m particularly fond of him… and of Emily.) Here’s a darling book which I bought for my grand-daughter: EMILY … http://www.amazon.com/Emily-Michael-Bedard/dp/0440417406/ref=sr_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369951466&sr=1-9&keywords=emily+dickinson

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