View of Emily Dickinson's bedroom at the Dickinson Homestead, Amherst, Massachusetts by Unknown artist

Unknown artist

View of Emily Dickinson's bedroom at the Dickinson Homestead, Amherst, Massachusetts, 2010s, Photograph, Emily Dickenson Museum, Amherst, Massachusetts, Courtesy Emily Dickenson Museum

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A Room of One’s Own

Commentary by

The nineteenth-century American poet Emily Dickinson is one of the most famously reclusive figures in literary history. After the age of 30, she rarely stepped beyond her family’s house and grounds in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Focused in close range on Dickinson’s second-floor bedroom, this photograph portrays the poet’s interior life as hermetic and claustrophobic. The curtains are pulled to shade the room from both daylight and views. Framed by thick mahogany scrolls, the narrow bed appears stiff and uncomfortable to sleep upon.

Yet there are also details that hint at the abundantly creative and vibrant soul that inhabited this room. The sheer curtains part to allow slivers of the outside world to filter in. The paisley fabric folded atop the bed is a type of shawl that was fashionable in the mid-1800s, suggesting Dickinson’s engagement in some of the cultural trends of her time (Wardrop 2009: 39–40). The picnic basket on the chest refers to Dickinson’s playful habit of using a rope to lower a basket of cakes and cookies out of her window to the children playing on the lawns below (Jenkins 1930: 40). The oil lamp allowed the poet to write deep into the night.

Nearly 2,000 Dickinson poems survive. When the poet’s sister discovered the poems after Dickinson’s death, the pieces of paper seemed to spill out of the dresser drawer. Perhaps it was precisely the solitude that Dickinson experienced in this room, with these particular furnishings, that enabled her to be so poetically prolific.

The woman of Shunem wisely intuited that a simple room furnished with a bed or couch, a chair, a table, and a lamp was exactly what Elisha needed to most effectively do the holy work of God. The miracles that Elisha would go on to perform—including the resurrection of the woman’s own dead son on the very bed she provided for him—came out of the peace and privacy he garnered from the moments he spent in this chamber.

 

References

Jenkins, MacGregor. 1930. Emily Dickinson: Friend and Neighbor (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company)

Wardrop, Daneen. 2009. Emily Dickinson and the Labor of Clothing (Hanover and London: University Press of New England)


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