Emily Dickinson’s House

Reading this week:

  • Water, Wood, and Wild Things by Hannah Kirshner (beautiful)

The very same day that we visited the Green Mountain Spinnery we also visited Emily Dickinson’s house! In fact we visited it first but because I was so worried about forgetting the steps to spinning I wrote that first to ensure I got everything down. So it got published first. But now we are here to revisit the morning.

You may think that it was my super amazing girlfriend’s idea to visit Emily Dickinson’s house. You would not only be stereotyping the both of us, but you would also be wrong. It was my idea. In fact, the house is in Amherst, and my super amazing girlfriend had gone to college there, and never even been! You see what had happened was that while I was goofing off at work I read an article in the New York Times about the pandemic remodel they did to bring the house back to its “Technicolor 1850s glory.” I am a big fan of color, and pattern, and boldness, and this is a trait I share with the Victorians and Emily Dickinson. And Emily Dickinson is a famous literary person so I am right in my aesthetic opinions. Also like I don’t know much about Emily Dickinson nor am I sure I have ever actually heard one of her poems (though I did read another article about her baking so that is nice), so this was probably the only thing that was going to draw me to this house, and boy did it deliver:

I also really liked the bevy of rocking chairs. I should get a rocking chair. I could be a rocking chair kinda guy. Anyways the house tour. It was really nice! Our tour guide was obviously a huge fan Dickinson and really tied together the different experiences that Emily had in the house with the imagery and themes and language that came through in her poetry. Given that Dickinson wrote a lot of her poetry in the kitchen while waiting for bread to bake, etc, it is probably a little unfortunate that the house’s kitchen is now the entryway and gift shop, but there were plenty of other parts of Emily’s personality. One nice coincidence is that in the car on the way up I was reading American Eden, which talks about among other things the rise in popularity of botany as a pursuit in the early United States only to arrive and discover that Emily was a huge fan of botany and had a conservatory in the house where she spent a lot of time. The conservatory they have is rebuilt but with the original windows, and is a lovely spot that yeah I could see being the inspiration for a lot of poetry:

Besides the conservatory, the tour takes you through her dad’s office, which had a lot of neat furniture and a selection of the books she owned (the originals are at Harvard, apparently), to the entryway which had a very neat shellacked canvas floor covering, and into the parlor where the Dickinsons entertained guests and did other parlor-type things. There the tour also highlights the people who labored in the house, both Black and Irish servants. From there it is upstairs where there is a short lecture with some fun visual displays that talks about how Dickinson labored over the word choice in her poems and how she never titled any of them. An interesting perspective into an artist’s work. Apparently they date some of her poems by her handwriting. A particular highlight of our tour is there was a brave little boy who got volunteered to man a lot of the visuals and also play the piano in the house. A very talented fellow, that kid.

After that you go into Emily’s room where she spent much of her time especially in the later years of her life. The room included a recreation of her writing desk which looks like a nice little desk indeed. Her nieces and nephews would apparently play pirate games outside under her window and she would lower them booty in the form of cookies and the like, which is very fun. After this we were led outside to the back of the house where you can see an oak tree that was there in Dickinson’s time and could contemplate the span of nature that she also contemplated as inspiration for her poems. It was a touching and serene moment only punctuated by a poor lady who was walking through slipping and falling. She was fine but that poor lady. After that we bought souvenirs and then got some noodles for lunch. All in all a wonderful visit and I can’t wait to redecorate our house with the exact same wallpaper and carpets that she used because they are beautiful and historic and as long as we avoid the arsenic ones it’ll be fantastic.

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