Emily Dickinson was born on December 10, 1830. In honor of her birthday, here is a post from 2009.
“I’m nobody! Who are you?”
Emily Dickinson wrote that line, but she didn’t mean it. She knew she was somebody. If you have genius-sized talent, you might have an uneasy relationship with it. But you could hardly fail to notice it was there.
Both sides of her family had produced poets before, but nobody like her.
This is how she described herself physically:
“[I] am small, like the Wren, and my Hair is bold, like the Chestnut Burr–and my eyes, like the Sherry in the Glass, that the Guest leaves.”
She rejected editorial meddling, refused to publish during her lifetime, and consigned most of her 1775 poems to a drawer. Recipients saved about 1100 of her letters with no idea of her future fame or even, in some cases, that she wrote poetry at all. When you browse the letters, you know why no one wanted to throw them away. They are like the poems—sometimes better.
I ask God on my knee to send you much prosperity, few winter days, and long suns.”
This is what she wrote to a friend on the death of the friend’s newborn child:
Don’t cry, dear Mary. Let us do that for you, because you are too tired now. We don’t know how dark it is, but if you are at sea, perhaps when we say we are there, you won’t be so afraid.
The waves are very big, but every one that covers you, covers us, too.
Dear Mary, you can’t see us, but we are close at your side. May we comfort you?
Then there are the Master letters, love letters to an unknown recipient that she may never have sent. Those are practically incandescent.
The “doors of perception” were jammed wide open for Dickinson. The way people feel during life’s most intense moments—such as births and deaths—was the way she felt almost all the time. That is my guess, anyway.
I believe she was telling the truth when she wrote, “I feel ecstasy in living.The mere sense of living is joy enough.” And: “Every day life feels mightier, and what we have the power to be, more stupendous.”