Last Friday I visited the Emily Dickinson exhibit at the Morgan Library. I had very little knowledge of Emily Dickinson’s life or poetry before this exhibit. The medium sized room had light green walls with floral patterns to match Dickinson’s bedroom, and a map of Amherst, her hometown, at the entrance. The contents of the exhibit were displayed chronologically going around the room from left to right. I learned about how her religious education deemed her as a “no hoper” early on in terms of her religious dedication. Later in her schooling, the boys would train for the civil war with gun practice during athletic time. During the four years of the Civil War, from 1861 to 1865, was when Dickinson wrote the majority of her poems during her lifetime. This explains some of the content of her poetry, often including themes of death and mortality. It also fits in with the photo of Emily in her bedroom which overlooked a cemetery, the same bedroom she barely exited for many years. The war inspired Dickinson to write, and look within.
The exhibit showed her letters to friends and lovers, which included poetry in them. We learned more about her personal life through these artifacts. There was one invitation to a candy pulling from 1850 given to her by George Gould, a possible lover. On the back, Dickinson wrote a poem twenty six years later in 1876. To me, this suggests that Dickinson was a sentimental person. Her handwritten poetry and letters showed her genuine character in them, with differences in syntax and style than many of her poems published today. This suggests that editors have tried to correct her unique uneven style, populated by dashes and pauses. I even got to see the poems that were published in her lifetime, and a letter containing backlash at the editor she sent her poetry to. Besides her poem being buried in the page of advertisements, I noticed the lack of byline, and rightly assumed that it was because it was not socially acceptable for women to be published writers.
During this Morgan Library exhibit, I understood her anger at her editor, and her overall frustration of living in her time period. I got to know her handwriting, her original uneven poem style that was later edited. I met her friends through her letters, read how she spoke to them, understood her personality. During her time, Emily Dickinson was misjudged because she did not get married, was not religious and spent many years in her home. In the end, she really was an activist and war poet exploring deep questions of identity. The curation of the exhibit made it easy to chronologically understand her life, and gave us inner glimpses of her personality. After seeing this exhibit, I view Emily Dickinson as a wise writer, deep thinker, and strong woman unafraid to be herself.