On a not-so-cold December morning, several members of the class and I gathered at ten in the morning to visit the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst. Some have already been to the museum, but it was the first time for me. I admit I was a little embarrassed that I never once visited, despite the fact that I was aware that Dickinson was not only a beloved alumna (putting aside the fact that she essentially dropped out) but that it was so close to where I was.
Needless to say, my knowledge of Dickinson was limited before this extensive tour. I was aware, however, of her reserved personality. Perhaps that is why my grade school self was so fond of her poems, particularly this one:
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!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
I heard the first lines of the two stanzas echo in my head throughout the tour, as I learned more about how fond she was of her privacy. Yet she seemed like such a personable individual based on the descriptions that Lucy, our tour guide and a Mount Holyoke alumna, gave.
Their parlour was rather disappointing, but with the understandings that it was renovated to become more modern… it was understandable. But still disappointing. I found that I was particularly attracted to the Aeolian harp that sat on a table before we went into the library. Maybe it was the musician in me, but it was eerily beautiful to think about the haunting sounds that it would have created that Emily greatly enjoyed.
A library says quite a lot about the individual, and I found that this was the case for the family. I was particularly amused when told that Mr Dickinson had a desire to keep Emily from reading contemporaries such as the Brontës or Charles Dickens, for fear that they would disrupt the mind. It’s always good to know that an attempt to ban books was still a thing even back in the nineteenth century. It’s also good to know that Emily disregarded that desire and went off to read them anyway.
However, I did not get the “aura” of Emily Dickinson (so to speak) until we reached her bedroom, which was still in process of being restored. Yet I found an odd delight standing in the empty room, hearing Lucy talk about the days Emily spent there. The room was open, with the many windows which allowed for her to see what was happening in the outside world without having to go outdoors.
After a tour of the Dickinson house, we trudged through the mud to the Evergreens, the house that Mr Dickinson gave to Austin, Emily’s older brother, as a means to keep the family together. It really was odd to me that he was so adamant about that, let alone the fact that his children were okay with it. Needless to say, the house had a completely different air to it. It was darker inside, but at the same time, more colorful and exciting to look around. There were all sorts of paintings and objects to look at. Again, the musician in me got a little too excited when I saw the Steinway piano. It also delighted me to know that they actually kept it in tune and that it was still playable. This made the house seem all the more alive despite its antiquity.
We got to see the dining hall, where Austin’s wife, Susan, entertained the guests (and she apparently did quite a good job at it). From there, we huddled together inside the kitchen, seeing the odd combinations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I found it intriguing that there was a (more or less) modern bathroom downstairs, yet when we walked upstairs to pass by the nursery, there was another bathroom but one that would have been more common in their time. It truly reflected on how long the family has stayed in that house, as well as the particular maintenance in keeping it in its original condition for as long as possible. I admit that seeing those two bathrooms made me curious to know what the bathrooms in the Dickinson home would have looked like… since we never actually got to see any.
(Curious where the mind goes, whether it is against your will or not—)
We ended on a rather tragic note as we all shuffled into what was the master bedroom, but also considered the “death room” given how many people passed away there. Lucy, however, finished an altogether wonderful and descriptive tour of Emily’s life and house that made me want to revisit some of her poems, particularly the aforementioned.
It was ironic that she dreaded the idea of becoming a “Somebody” and yet there we were… standing in her house (let alone her room) and discussing extensively about her life. I can’t imagine that she would have been all too pleased about it, but at the same time, I also feel that a part of her is pleased that people did take a delight and charm in her writings, since she did want to publish them.
She may have wanted to be “Nobody” but I’m glad that her writings were able to escape freely and inspire many poets, as well as give us a glimpse of a unique life.