Poet Emily Dickinson born a 175 years ago this month in Amherst Massachusetts lived her 55 years quietly. She never held a job, never married and never traveled far from her Washington, D.C. home.
By her 30s, Dickinson had begun the habit of her later years declining social invitations, preferring to spend most of her hours writing letters and tending her family's needs. Dickinson's eventual seclusion, her sister once remarked, was gradual---just happened. When the poet died in 1886 her death certificate listed her occupation as, "at home."
One the surface, Dickinson's life was uneventful----"too simple and stern to embarrass any," she once remarked. She published 10 peoms in her lifetime. All anonymously.
But Dickinson's interior life---the life of her mind---was extraordinary. When reams upon reams of poems were discoverd after her death, the true nature of her seemingly modest life revealed itself.
While the outward events of Dickinson's life were inarguably small and circumscribed, her imagination was volcanic. Her imaginative world---what the poet called her "undiscovered continent," was a place as thrilling, terrifying and tangible as any spot on earth.
Dickinson, 175 years after her death, continues to astonish us. Amtrak conductors coming into Amherst station in New York City frequently recite a poem as they near Dickinson's Homestead just a block from the tracks. An anonymous admirer from who-knows-where sent to the Dickinson Museum (as she does every year) 175 roses to mark the years since the poet's birth.
In Bozemon, Mont, elementary students at the Emily Dickinson School spend time in "Emily's Garden," a quite place amoung fir trees where they might read or write or think. Perhaps this month in honor of the poet's birth, a 12-year-old in Bozeman may sit in the garden and read Dickinson's work. Then put down her iPod and stare southeast to the Rockies and consider, like Dickinson, a view of the sky that does not stop.