October 25, 2010


Many critics note that Emily Dickinson (1830-886) had a preoccupation with death but I’d say privacy was pretty high on her list, as well:

                                The soul selects her own society,

                                Then shuts the door

                                On her divine majority

                                Obtrude no more.


                                How dreary to be somebody!

                                How public like a frog

                                To tell your name the livelong day

                                To an admiring bog!

So great was Dickinson’s abhorrence of notoriety, she was little published in her lifetime and mostly anonymously. One wonders how she would have conducted herself had she lived today, surrounded by the World Wide Web. Would she have googled or twittered or signed up for Facebook?  Would she have released her poems to the virtual air?

The record shows Emily did send off a few of her pieces anonymously to Thomas Wentworth Higginson for his comment.Higginson was a literary critic and he, not knowing she had already been published, advised her to postpone her submissions until she’d had more experience. Of course, history smiles at the man who so misjudged her work but he redeemed himself after her death by preparing her poems for publication. What interested me most was her brief explanation to Higginson about why she was submitting her work for review:

                              The Mind is so near itself – it cannot see, distinctly–           and I have none to ask.

No matter how secluded her life, Dickinson felt the need for an audience. That makes her wonderfully human and it gave me a clue as to how she might have lived today. She would have used the World Wide Web to good effect, sending out her words through time and space, even if anonymously. Both she and her vast audience would have benefitted by the connection.