Emily Dickinson on life, not death

8 Apr

That’s Emily on the left, with her brother Austin and Lavinia, the destroyer of the good gossip. Emily’s a little ginger, adorable!

Hello, and welcome to SK.


April, as we know is National Poetry Month, and we’re going to share some of my poems as well as others. Today we’re featuring Emily Dickinson, a fellow Massachusetts girl, born December 1830, roughly two years before me in my first iteration.


Emily was the second of three children born into a well-to-do-enough (not wealthy) family in Amherst, Mass. Her grandfather Samuel Dickinson was the primary founder of Amherst College.


With education being a prominent family focus, Emily and her younger sister Lavinia were given the same educational opportunities as their older brother Austin. She even did a term at what is now Mount Holyoke College.


Emily is often cast as a doom-and-gloom character. Actually, while she may not have been quite the opposite, she was social. She loved school, had friends, adored her family (well, maybe not her mother so much) and enjoyed community gatherings. When she was about 14, her closest friend – who happened to be  a cousin – died. Emily never got over the loss.


She did move on, only to have another good friend die when she was in her young 20s. Emily grieved but soldiered on. In 1850 her mother became ill and remained bedridden for 32 years. She could not function without either Emily or Lavinia. Emily, who was in and out of depression, took on the role, which allowed her to spend her days with her beloved Newfoundland Carlo, baking (a passion)  and playing with words when not caring for her mother.  


Within eight years as caregiver, Emily became more recluse. This, sadly, is the image that most of us have of her. However, she did have visitors regularly, often discussing literary works with them, and it was she who contacted a publisher for her original poems.

Rumor has it (we love rumors) that Emily had a late-life romance with a widowed judge. Unfortunately all her diary entries about the Honorable dude, along with letters from him, were destroyed by Lavinia upon Emily’s death. Thanks Lavinia, this could have been a really good blog post, maybe an Internet sensation even. Now we’re left only with poetry no hot and heavy romance. Yeah, thanks for nothing, Lavinia!


Deaths piled up. Her father died, then a beloved nephew. Emily, too, started to feel poorly. In 1884, she wrote:


“The Dyings have been too deep for me, and before I could raise my Heart from one, another has come.”]


A few months later, Emily saw “a great darkness coming” and fainted while baking in the kitchen. She died a year later of Bright’s disease, an archaic name for kidney disease. She left behind hundreds of poems. While some may say they focused on death, we think Emily was always referring to life. Here is an example:


I had no time to hate, because
The grave would hinder me
And life was not so ample I
could finish enmity

Nor had I any time to love; but since
Some industry must be
The little toil of love, I thought
Was large enough for me.

And, as promised, here is one from me, inspired from my days as a nurse in the Civil War:

Beds To The Front Of Them

‘Beds to the front of them,
Beds to the right of them,
Beds to the left of them,
Nobody blundered.
Beamed at by hungry souls,
Screamed at with brimming bowls,
Steamed at by army rolls,
Buttered and sundered.
With coffee not cannon plied,
Each must be satisfied,
Whether they lived or died;
All the men wondered.’
Louisa May Alcott

Have a great day, everyone, xo LMA


6 Responses to “Emily Dickinson on life, not death”

  1. soonie2 April 8, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

    I pass her house every time I drive out to Amherst to visit my son..I must make the stop to visit one of these days!

  2. liz feltham April 8, 2014 at 6:19 pm #

    Love, love your original poem. Emily’s is okay too. In a strange bit of coincidence, I have a two Newfs, and I also was inspired by the Charge of the Light Brigade for my poem of the day. 🙂

  3. roughwighting April 8, 2014 at 7:21 pm #

    I felt deeply every word you wrote about Emily Dickinson. She had a sad, claustrophobic life, yet found the world (and the world found her) through poetry. That says it all.
    As does your Civil War poem, LMA. A horrible war, a horror for the men and women who lived through it, and you describe that well.

  4. sued51 April 9, 2014 at 6:42 am #

    LMA, Thanks for featuring Emily Dickinson…love her! It must have been difficult back then with life expectancy so much less, not to be surrounded (and affected) by death. That’s why I feel so sorry for Mary Todd Lincoln…how could someone help but be depressed??

    There’s a little typo you might want to fix…Her mother became bedridden in 1850…:-)

    • Louisa May Alcatt April 9, 2014 at 8:53 am #

      Good catch! Many thanks and yes Emily’s words are so delicate yet speak so loudly, xo LMA

  5. LB April 14, 2014 at 6:15 pm #

    Yeah, thanks Lavinia!! 🙂
    Seriously though, thank you for the post about Emily, her life and work. Phew … so many deaths, and renal disease, too.
    I’m not the best at poem interpretation, but you’ve sure communicated some of the horrors of the Civil War. I look forward to more of your poems.

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