Guest Author - Jessica Smith
Location, location, location. Everyone recognizes that old refrain. But how does it apply to poetry? More importantly, how does it apply to the creation of poetry? We've already discussed the best places to enjoy poetry (see article: The Best Places to Read Poetry), but what about writing it? Most poets have a favorite writing spot- a personal office, a secluded nook, a special bench. So what do these places tell us about the poets themselves? Furthermore, can studying the location of creation give us deeper insights into the works produced there?
Emily Dickinson is one of America's most famous poets. She's best known for her short, lyrical poems, puzzles of verses treating topics such as birds, insects and death; her white dress; and her seclusion. Though she corresponded regularly with others up and down the East coast, and was educated and well-read, she almost never traveled beyond the boundaries of her town of Amherst, Massachusetts. In fact, many believe that she rarely ventured beyond the boundaries of her own house and garden. Countless biographies present the image of a timid, plainly dressed woman, meekly confined to her house, and the books and sheafs of paper within.
Confined though her body may have been, however, her mind certainly stretched infinitely. Dickinson's poems softly shadow the all-encompassing, falling snowflakes ("artesans like ghosts"), skip curiously after quick little birds ("He glanced with rapid eyes"), and study Nature with an inquisitiveness that both disarms and intrigues the reader. On a tour of her house, one could easily imagine the poet walking slowly through her garden, or sitting at a desk gazing out the window to the fields and forest over the horizon. In this light, it seems likely that she gained inspiration from her surroundings- not only from the physical objects, but the fact of its seclusion as well. Many of her poems reflect a gentle, melancholy tone, the kind of curious pondering that minds take on while alone- reflective, self-examining, seeking deeper meaning beneath surface trivialities. Could this manner of thought, which shows through her poetry, be a product of her seclusion? Could the poem "I heard a fly buzz- when I died-" have been written in the midst of a house filled with the hustle and bustle of many restless inhabitants?
We may conclude, then, that the house of Emily Dickinison inspired her poems, and even leant itself to affect the tone and voice of the poet deep within them. However, the house cannot keep all of the credit. True, Dickinson never traveled the world, never saw or experienced other vistas or cultures. Yet, her poems span all the common and deeply experienced themes of the human condition: life, death, the afterlife, the soul, pride, courage, victory and defeat, and on and on. One of the reasons Dickinson's poetry has endured so long is that it is built on these eternal themes. Not only built on them, but reflective of them, studying and revealing them in unique, intriguing, and touching ways. Her confinement existed in the physical realm only, and therefore only influenced one small part of her poetry. A particular poem of hers sums this up perfectly, in which she wrote:
I never saw a moor
I never saw the sea
But I know how the heather looks
And what a wave must be.
Here she admits her unlimited physical experience, yet explains that it doesn't stop her from understanding such things, from reflecting on and discovering their deeper meanings.
So while we can visit the poet's residence, sit where they sat, see things that they saw, this only presents one part of the whole picture. Dickinson's small window of the world gave her images of nature and some small human interaction, from which she extrapolated the deeper themes and meanings of life. The stones in her path, the walls in her room, cannot begin to showcase the soaring heights which her imagination and introspection achieved while near them. Thus, we may conclude that the location of the poet's writing is not a key or complete answer of understanding, but instead a starting place from which to explore the beautiful and myriad meanings of their words.