Good morning! Welcome to "Morning Musings".

Musings: to meditate, think, contemplate, deliberate, ponder, reflect, ruminate, reverie, daydream, introspection, dream, preoccupation, brood, cogitate.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Emily Dickinson's Garden

Emily Dickinson was born in 1830 in this house, called the Homestead.  It was built by her grandfather in 1813, and except for a 15-year absence when the house passed out of the family, she lived there until her death in 1886....
ca. 1870

Her grandfather lost it in 1840 due to bankruptcy, but in 1855 Emily's father was able to buy it back.  Emily wrote about the move back, "I supposed we were going to make a 'transit,' as heavenly bodies did - but we came budget by budget, as our fellows do, till we fulfilled the pantomime contained in the word 'moved.'"

Emily Dickinson has fascinated me ever since I learned about her in my high school English class.  Being rather shy myself I could identify with her poem....

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! 

Only a handful of her poems were published--anonymously--while she was alive.  Her sister, Lavinia found over 1,700 poems in the bottom drawer of this chest after her death....

In 2006 we toured several author/poet's homes in New England.  Emily's house was on our agenda.  You can read about our visit HERE and HERE.  As you saw, it was closed so I had to content myself with her garden.  When we once again found ourselves in Massachusetts in May 2008 we finally were able to visit her house as well as her brother's (Austin) house next door, the Evergreen.  It was Emily's fascinating life more than her poetry that drew me to her.  I spent the winter months before our May visit reading every biography* I could find on her and her family.  I also read novels** about the Dickinsons.   I came home from the visit with even more*** books to read.  (*/**/***See list at end of post.)

By the time I visited the museum I felt I knew the Dickinson family and had come for a visit with the reclusive Emily.  In addition to the house tour, there was an self-guided audio tour of her garden.  

My tour of Emily's garden is what I want to share with you.  I am presently reading the wonderful, "Emily Dickinson's Gardensby Marta McDowell (also author of the newly-released book about Beatrix Potter's garden), and have a whole new image of Emily.  Her love for gardening was passed down to her by her mother.  Emily wasn't always reclusive.  She found ways to share her love of flowers.  She and her siblings would hang May Baskets on neighbor's doors on May Day.  She was also known for making tussie-mussies for her friends and would often leave them on their pew at church across the street, sneaking in beforehand since she herself did not attend church.  Emily was a prolific letter writer as well and would tuck a pressed flower into the envelope.  She started a Herbarium when she was 9 (see end of post for link).  She'd go wandering alone through the countryside looking for wildflowers which caused her father great concern and led to his getting her a very large dog to accompany her solitary walks.  

When she was sent off to Mount Holyoke Female Seminary at age 17 she left her garden in the care of her younger sister, Lavinia, and fretted about it.  She studied Botany and Geology, but only stayed the one year, telling a friend that her father had decided not to send her back.  In 1853 while her father was in Washington, DC, a newly-elected congressman, she and Lavina went for a 3-week visit.  She wrote that she missed her garden.  Gardening became a way of life for her.  It is no wonder that gardens are a recurring theme in her poems.  

Even though the garden no longer contains Emily's plants and is not even a replica, there was something magical about being there....just to walk in her yard amongst the trees, some of which bore witness to her life....

"I was reared in the garden, you know"

artist:  John Kirk

I walked into the garden and turned to look back at the house....
....and used my telephoto lens to capture the tulips up near the house....

Like mighty footlights burned the red

At bases of the trees, —
The far theatricals of day
Exhibiting to these. 
'T was universe that did applaud

While, chiefest of the crowd,

Enabled by his royal dress,
 Myself distinguished God.

Ken listening to the audio tour
I kept walking away from the house, listening to the audio tour....
....turning every once in a while to take another picture of the garden....

I was at the far end of the garden now....
...and zoomed in again to capture those tulips....the audio tour had just begun to speak about Emily's very large Newfoundland dog, Carlo....
....and when I brought my camera down from my face this very large dog was circling had come from out of nowhere it seemed, right on cue....

I started early, took my dog,
And visited the sea --

I continued through the garden back toward the house until I came to the Oak tree that Emily's father planted....

I wondered what Emily would think of it now.... its stately limbs cast long shadows across her garden....

As we walked back to our B&B across the street I glanced once more up to Emily's window where she would sit and write her poems and sometimes watch the people pass by.....Emily's young neighbor, MacGregor Jenkins, in his 1930 book recalled  "...what a perfect playmate she was. ...the window would be in Miss Emily's Room, and soon on the window ledge would appear a basket. It would be slowly lowered. I can see it now, jerking its way down from what seemed to us then an incredible height. We saw two delicate hands playing out a much knotted cord, and framed in the window above a slender figure in white and a pair of laughing eyes.....The basket always contained gingerbread, whether of her own making or Maggie's (the hired girl) I do not know"....

I was up early the next morning....I wanted one more visit to Emily's garden before we had to be on our way.  I sat on the stone bench with my journal to record all that I was feeling and wrote this....

Emily, dear,
Your garden has changed -- the world has encroached even further into your sanctuary.
The whirring sounds of engines –- we call them automobiles –- fill your haven with their incessant noise.
But you could go out now -- and not be accosted -- for hardly anyone would notice you.
They certainly would not speak to you.
There is a lull and a bird now sings loudly –- more loudly than before –-
Perhaps he felt he might now be heard over the far away din.

As an author/poet myself who has tried to get stories and poems published in the past in order to have my body of work "validated," I finally decided to take a page from Emily's book and just collect them in a "bottom drawer" for someone to find one day.  I no longer needed recognition.  I just wanted my stories and poems to be a part of the "collection" of who I am so that when I'm gone those who come after me will hopefully be touched in some positive way by me.  Once I realized that, I decided I'd "publish" my body of work myself on-line...I wasn't going to leave it to chance that someone would find my notebook in my desk drawer!  I've often wondered what Emily would think of the fuss her poems have made in the literary world!  I'm sure she feels spared the fame--something she never sought. 

❧  ❧  ❧

You can read more about Emily Dickinson at the  museum's website.  The Herbarium she made between the ages of 9 and 16 can be found HERE.  If you'd like to learn how to make your own Herbarium go HERE for Part 1 and HERE for Part 2.

This is a wonderful video about the flowers Emily grew in her garden....       

*Biographies:  "Emily Dickinson" by Harold Bloom; "Emily Dickinson: Singular Poet" by Carol Dommermuth-Costa; "Emily Dickinson's Letters" by Jeanette Winter; "Emily Dickinson, a Revelation" "Ancestors' Brocades" "Emily Dickinson's Home" by Millicent Todd Bingham;  "Austin and Mabel" by Polly Longworth; "Emily Dickinson - Friend and Neighbor" by MacGregor Jenkins; "This Brief Tragedy: Unraveling the Todd-Dickinson Affair" by John Walsh; "Amherst Boyhood" by Alfred Stearns; "Long Shadow: Emily Dickinson" by Clark Griffith. 
**Novels:  "Path Between: An Historical Novel of the Dickinson Family of Amherst" by Maravene Loeschke; "The Sister: A Novel of Emily Dickinson" by Paola Kaufman; "Passion of Emily Dickinson" by Judith Farr. 
***More:  "The World of Emily Dickinson" by Polly Longworth; "Emily Dikinson - Profile of the Poet as a Cook with Selected Recipes" by the Guides at the Dickinson Homestead; "The Dickinsons of Amherst" photographs by Jerome Liebling.  



  1. How I enjoyed this informative post! What a difference it made to your visit to have done so much research ahead of time. And it brought back a memory from my childhood--May baskets. How we loved making them and leaving them at peoples' doors!

    1. ....And I kept interrupting the tour guide with tidbits of information I'd acquired from my readings when people asked her questions she could not answer.....she did not seem to mind though. :-)

  2. Very lovely and educational post, Cathy. While I've never understood or much appreciated poetry, it is fascinating to get a glimpse into the lives of poets, authors and artists ... to ponder the environments that shaped their thoughts and personalities. I also enjoyed Rosalee's videos, and am inspired to dust off my flower press and introduce myself to some of our Gulf Coast flora. Your idea to collect your writings in a 'bottom drawer' is still a good one, in my opinion, as family members will cherish your 'original' works gathered in one place. And who knows? Perhaps one of them will succeed in getting them published for future generations to enjoy! Thanks for sharing.

    Sharon in Alabama

    1. Thank you, Sharon. I do have my original first drafts in my desk drawer and final copies printed out and stored in a notebook.

  3. Cathy dear, I so enjoyed my visit to another place in time. Emily Dickenson would be shocked at the fuss that is made over her. As an introvert myself, I find myself thinking these days about saving bits and pieces of my life for my children and grandchildren to find one day. We've been making "memory boxes" filled with memorabilia for them to find one day--but we have told them about them. Your writings all in one place is an excellent idea as well as online. I must go visit your writings soon. Thank you for sharing this unique visit today. ♥

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed your visit! We are expecting our first grandchild in March and a memory box is a wonderful idea! I have scrapbooks, but a box to hold items that belonged to her Daddy would be a great idea. Thanks.

  4. Cathy - you are not only an author, a poet, a blogger, a gardener but also... an educator. I love that I always learn something new from a visit to your blog. This was a great post - keep them coming! And I've already added "Emily's Gingerbread" to my recipe collection. Can't wait to try it. Take care and stay warm!

    1. Thank you for your encouragement! I get bored easily so I'm always looking for something interesting myself which takes me down many roads. I'm glad I'm not boring you! :-)

  5. Boring? No way. . .Getting to know you is the best part. I weigh whether or not to phone and chat again sometime. But your spiritual sharing draws me in all the time. Thank you for the music you add as well for worship. Learning more about Emily is delightful as my mother-in-law connects to her Dickinson line. I,too, will become a grandmother come March 31 but a great one this time and maybe on my birthday. Keep adding to that wonderful children's book collection for your little one. Your wonderful doll house blog and response was facinating. Looking forward to more days with you . . . Joann Irving

    1. Thank you Joann. That is very interesting about your mother-in-law. Is it through Emily's niece Martha? Or some other Dickinson in her family? By the way, I made it so anyone can comment now on my Another Perfect Day blog if you feel inclined to comment there. Thanks for visiting,

  6. I could move right in. How lovely and the oak tree is so beautiful. Looks like the perfect tree to sit under and create. Cathy, you are such a talented writer. I know we've touched on the topic of validation before but I really feel the road to happiness is right where you have put it. You know you're talented and you don't need someone else to validate you. It's a lesson we should all take. After all, creating is something you have to do, for your own self and not anyone else. If others take to it then it's just icing on the cake! Always write, you are amazing and we are lucky that you share your gift with us!

    1. You're so sweet to tell me this. Frankly, I've been overwhelmed by everyone's generous praise. It's one thing for my family to say they like what I know how it is, you don't quite believe to have people who don't really know me like my writing is quite a compliment. So THANK YOU.


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