Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Emily Dickinson: An American Enigma – Review of I’m Nobody! Who are you? The Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) The Morgan Library & Museum, January 20 through May 28, 2017.

"Who has not found the Heaven below will fail of it above. For Angels rent the house next ours, wherever we remove.” Lovingly Emily (Included in a letter from Emily Dickinson to her niece, Martha Dickinson and friend Sally Jenkins, 1883).

Family meant everything to Emily Dickinson as evidenced through her surviving correspondence hanging on the pink floral wallpaper in the replica period rooms of The Morgan Library exhibition.  Included on the wall, was a small framed engraving of poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning which turned out to be one of Dickinson’s favorite poets. Framed under glass was the 1848 edition of Currer Bell’s, Jane Eyre. Dickinson borrowed this copy from her father’s business partner, Elbridge Bowdoin. She returned it to him with this note,

“If all the leaves were altars, and on every one a prayer that Currer Bell might be saved and you were God would you answer it?” Bowdoin did not reply to Dickinson, instead noted, “the leaves mentioned were Box leaves sent to me in a little bouquet.” These are just some of the aspects of the woman behind this fascinating poet.

Emily Dickinson's brother, William Austin Dickinson

I found myself standing in front of numerous framed Dickinson correspondence written to her family members: her handsome brother, William Austin Dickinson, her sister-in-law, Susan Gilbert Dickinson, her sister, Lavinia Dickinson as well as other personal friends throughout her life. As I read through her letters on exhibit, I couldn’t help but giggle to myself because of her wry and warm sense of humour. For instance, when her sister Lavinia, returned home on the evening of June 27, 1873, from an organ concert by Howard Parkhurst, Emily penciled the lines of her poem, A Little Madness in the Spring, on the concert program:

A little madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King
But God be with the clown
Who ponders this Tremendous scence
This sudden legacy of Green
As if it were his own-

She included such adjectives: gay/bright/quick/whole, swift/fleet.

Handwritten copies of her most well-known poem which the exhibition is named for, I’m Nobody! Who are you?, can be read in two framed handwritten pages.  For instance, in one version written around six months after the outbreak of the Civil War, she penciled in the word banish along the upper margin. Also the word advertise is penciled in the other handwritten version.

I was absolutely thrilled to be able to leaf through her private copy of her gardening book called, Herbarium. Her passion for flowers, herbs, and gardening was evident in her poetry and life as well as her bond of friendship and family which always seeped into her poems.

I urge everyone to visit The Morgan Library & Museum; especially for an unforgettable glimpse into the private world of this enigmatic woman and poet,  Emily Dickinson. 

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