Emily Dickinson’s Revolutionary and Reclusive Life, in a Lyrical Picture-Book from the Lacuna Between Fact and Myth

Out of that lacuna in between fact and fiction rises the wondrous 2002 picture-book Emily (town library) by author Michael Bedard and artist Barbara Cooney– the story of a little girl whose moms and dads move into a house throughout the street from Dickinsons home in Amherst, the well-known pale-yellow Homestead.

While fictional, the lead character of the story might well be Millicent Todd, child of Mabel Loomis Todd– the excellent love and lover of Emilys sibling for the last twenty years of his life (while he was married to Susan, the terrific love and muse of Emilys own life). It was Mabel who came to the Homestead to play piano while Emily concealed upstairs, sending out down brandy and poems; Mabel who coined the poets moniker “the Myth of Amherst”; Mabel who painted the flowers Emily had actually once pressed into a letter in a letter, then had the painting grace the cover of the very first edition of her revolutionary poems, published posthumously and edited by Mabel herself.

“I like so to be a child,” Emily Dickinson (December 10, 1830– Might 15, 1886) wrote to her sibling when she was twenty-two. “I want we were always children, how to grow up I dont know.” She would go on to draw on that inner child in her profoundest and most prescient meditations on reality, proffered in small and incredible poems, poems that bent language into new kinds of significance, bent custom into new types of reality, bent the reality of her existence into a myth, until her very life ended up being a poem– a shape of truth on a canvas of analysis.

Emily Dickinsons house, the Homestead (Photograph: Maria Popova) When a letter is slipped under the door one day for the ladys pianist mother– a letter consisting of an invite for a go to and a pushed flower, similar to those in Dickinsons remarkable and actual forgotten herbarium– the young storyteller is instantly enchanted by the enigmatic female throughout the street, referred to as The Myth, reported to dress just in white, though she never ever leaves her home, and committed to an unusual line of work called poetry.

The day after the letter arrives, spellbound by this enigmatic neighbor and her transcendent art, the little girl unspools her interest while watering flowers together with her daddy as her mothers piano makes your house bloom with music:

And after that, while her mom plays the piano below the popular painting of the Dickinson children, the young storyteller quietly slips out of the parlor and up the stairs, where she continues to have a beautiful and unexpected encounter with the slight, birdlike, chestnut-haired reality behind The Myth.

Enhance Emily with This Is a Poem That Heals Fish– a practically unbearably beautiful French picture-book about how poetry touches and transforms us– and Patti Smiths dreamlike reading of Dickinsons stunning poem about how the world holds together, then appreciate some inspiring picture-book biographies based on the realities of other visionaries: Frederick Douglass, John Lewis, Keith Haring, Maria Mitchell, Ada Lovelace, Louise Bourgeois, E.E. Cummings, Jane Goodall, Jane Jacobs, Frida Kahlo, Louis Braille, Pablo Neruda, Albert Einstein, Muddy Waters, Wangari Maathai, and Nellie Bly.

What passes in between them in the last pages of this tender and soulful book is nothing less than living poetry.

They say that she is small, though, and that she dresses constantly in white.”
And they say that she composes poetry.”
Well, when words do that, we call it poetry.”

“I love so to be a child,” Emily Dickinson (December 10, 1830– May 15, 1886) composed to her bro when she was twenty-two. She would go on to draw on that inner kid in her profoundest and most prescient meditations on truth, proffered in small and staggering poems, poems that bent language into brand-new kinds of meaning, bent tradition into brand-new kinds of reality, bent the truth of her presence into a misconception, up until her very life ended up being a poem– a contour of fact on a canvas of interpretation.

” What does she appear like?” I stated. “The lady in the yellow house?”
” I dont know, my dear. Few see her face-to-face. They say that she is little, however, which she dresses always in white.”
We moved from pot to pot. He plucked the wilted petals as he went.
” Is she lonesome, do you think?”
She has her sister to keep her business, and like us she has her flowers. And they state that she composes poetry.”
” What is poetry?” I asked.
He laid the wilted petals in his palm. “Listen to Mother play. She practices and practices a piece, and in some cases a magic thing takes place and it appears the music starts to breathe. It sends out a shiver through you. You cant discuss it, actually; its a secret. Well, when words do that, we call it poetry.”

The next morning, the little lady takes her mothers hand and the two cross the snowy day to visit their mysterious neighbor. Emilys sister greets them warmly, then informs them what all visitors are informed– that the poet can not see them, but will listen from upstairs.