July 01, 2021

#08-103: The Belle of Amherst

black-and-white photo of a demure 19th-century girl in a stiff formal pose, elbow resting on desk next to a stack of books, black dress and hair severely pulled back, all in an old-fashioned-looking frame
Emily Dickinson at 16 or 17

Note: She wrote the words, "I'm nobody"--but this just isn't true of shy, retiring Emily Dickinson, one of America's greatest poets.

Get Ready: Emily Dickinson says it would be "dreary to be somebody." Do you dream of "being Somebody"? What would you like to be known for?

Read Emily Dickinson's "There is no frigate like a book"--it's a FULL LESSON!

Few poets have a story as interesting as that of the American Emily Dickinson. She was born in 1830 in the family mansion at Amherst, Massachusetts, and--though she lived a stretch in another home in between--died in the very same house at the age of 55. She traveled little, and in her later years was something of a recluse.

Yet she might say that, through her reading, correspondence, and foremost through her nearly 1,800 poems--many not discovered until after her death--she had traveled far. (One thinks of Thoreau's famous quip: "I have traveled a good deal in Concord...").

Indeed, one of her poems tells us about such "travel of the mind": "There is no Frigate like a Book, To take us Lands away..."

She was little-known during her life; she published only ten poems, and those were subjected to the hands of editors. She seems to have been truly self-effacing, and not at all boastful, as this poem suggests:

I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one's name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

Yet for all her reclusiveness, she was truly "drunk on life," as they say, as a good poet should be. In one stanza of a longer poem, she wrote:

Inebriate of air – am I –
And Debauchee of Dew –
Reeling – thro' endless summer days –
From inns of molten Blue – 

Drunk on air, drinking from the sky!

The result of all this poetic temperament seems to have been that most elusive of virtues: Hope. One of her poems begins:

Hope is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

It is a strange contrast, this seeming-exuberance versus the pale, sickly "Belle of Amherst" living her life through her bedroom window (or so the stereotype would have it). This principle of contradiction seems to be expressed in yet another poem, which begins

Tell all the truth but tell it slant –
Success in Circuit lies,

and ends,

The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind–

She was sublime!


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emily_Dickinson

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. circuit
  2. debauchee
  3. elusive
  4. exuberance
  5. foremost
  6. inebriate
  7. quip
  8. recluse
  9. self-effacing
  10. temperament

  1. one's natural predisposition
  2. hard to catch
  3. a person addicted to sense pleasures
  4. a brief, clever comment
  5. one who hides away from society
  6. great enthusiasm
  7. extremely modest
  8. a roundabout approach
  9. most important
  10. drunk; intoxicated

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for July 1, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. h; 2. c; 3. b; 4. f; 5. i; 6. j; 7. d; 8. e; 9. g; 10. a