Last year I had the privilege of spending an entire semester studying Emily Dickinson. I was skeptical at first, knowing little about her apart from her apparent reclusiveness and rumored love affair with a woman. I’d read a poem or two in high school and remembered that she wrote about death, and I know, for most people, the knowledge stops there.
I spent months reading, studying, and discussing her poems and various letters she’d sent throughout her life, and I left the class feeling that I had made an intimate friend.
Sure, she rarely left the house, but with a soul like hers, why would she? She cared deeply for her family and ran their household in Amherst, playing the piano, tending her garden, and baking the bread. She was also a contemporary of Emerson, but she refused to attend a gathering he attended because she heard his book “was disgraceful.” As an avid reader of Emerson’s essays, I’ve forgiven her for this, but the point is that she was human: a woman with a keen intellect, a playful ability to enjoy and commune with nature, a heart that loved deeply and truly, and a soul that transcended transcendentalism. And this is nowhere more evident than in her poetry. But sometimes it’s easier to read articles about who she was as a person or watch a movie about her life instead of simply listening to her and judging for yourself.
I get it – Emily Dickinson has long been inaccessible.
With nearly 2000 poems, it’s hard to know where to begin, and many find them confusing and abstruse. In studying her work, I often wished to hear her read them – to see how she would express various lines and dashes and emphases and rhythms. She isn’t alive to do this, but I am, so, starting today, I’ll be reading her poems aloud and posting recordings of my readings. One every day. Almost every day – I’m human, too, after all. With 1,789 poems, this will take me about 5 years, but I could not be more excited. I’ll post them here, on my website, with the date she wrote them and a transcription of the text. I might add a bit of interpretation on some of the more arcane ones, but I hope that you feel your own feelings and have your own ideas. My goal in this is merely to be a vessel for her art. I can only hope that the world will come to know and love her the way I do.
[Legally I think this is okay since all the poems can be found for free online anyway. If it isn’t, let’s have a chat before you go suing me.]