Bones Abroad: Emily Dickinson, Death and Amherst, MA

Written by: Katy Meyers Emery

Primary Source: Bones Don’t Lie

Emily Dickinson daguerreotype with overlaid poem by Flickr user Julie Jordan Scott

Emily Dickinson daguerreotype with overlaid poem by Flickr user Julie Jordan Scott

Ever since I was young, I’ve loved the work of Emily Dickinson. Her poem, “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”, has haunted me- but in a really good way. I rethink the worlds every once in a while. I’ve loved the idea of a death as a personable and caring entity. That probably sounds pretty dark- but I’m cool with that. Today I had the opportunity to visit the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, NY. It was really see interesting to see the house that inspired her writing and poetry, and I have to admit- it really changed my perception of her!

Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst at the Dickinson Homestead on December 10, 1830. Her life was fairly quiet, punctuated by a couple trips, but for the most part she lived out her days in her house. As a child she spent her days reading, exploring nature, and building friendships. During her 20s and 30s, she began more intensively writing poetry, and composed over 1100 poems. She rarely shared her work, and during her lifetime it was only published by friends who did this anonymously. As she grew older, she withdrew further from the public, and increasingly spent her days at the Dickinson homestead, writing in her room and enjoying the house’s grounds and gardens.

Emily Dickinson's Homestead

Emily Dickinson’s Homestead

It wasn’t until after her death on May 15, 1886 that she became famous for her poetry. Her sister, Lavinia, found 1800 works of poetry in a dresser drawer following Emily’s death. Her work was published posthumously by her sister, sister-in-law and then her niece. After it was finally published, she became world-renowned. The public loved her poetry about nature, life and death.

The Emily Dickinson Museum is located in downtown Amherst, and is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm. Learn more about the museum on their website: Emily Dickinson Museum.

Emily Dickinson's Grave, by Flickr user Mark Zimmerman

Emily Dickinson’s Grave, by Flickr user Mark Zimmerman

Emily is buried in Amherst, and you can visit her grave in Amherst’s West Cemetery. Her grave marker reads:

Emily Dickinson

Born Dec. 10, 1830

Called Back

May 15, 1886

The grave marker is surrounded by a black metal fence that includes the Surrounded by a black iron enclosure, and includes the burials of Emily’s father, mother, sister and paternal grandparents. Her burial has jewelry, beads and trinkets surrounding the marker.

If you end up in Amherst, definitely check out the Emily Dickinson Museum and take the tour. And if you need a snack, check out High Horse Brewery- they have awesome skull pint glasses!

I leave you with my favorite poem:

Because I could not stop for Death (479)

By Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death –

He kindly stopped for me –

The Carriage held but just Ourselves –

And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste

And I had put away

My labor and my leisure too,

For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove

At Recess – in the Ring –

We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –

We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed us –

The Dews drew quivering and chill –

For only Gossamer, my Gown –

My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed

A Swelling of the Ground –

The Roof was scarcely visible –

The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ‘tis Centuries – and yet

Feels shorter than the Day

I first surmised the Horses’ Heads

Were toward Eternity –

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Katy Meyers Emery
Katy is currently a graduate student studying mortuary archaeology at Michigan State University. Her academic interests are in mortuary and bioarchaeology, with a specific interest in connecting the physical remains to the mortuary context. Along with this, she is also interested in Digital Humanities, and the integration of technology into academia, as well as public archaeology and outreach.
Katy Meyers Emery

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