Some say Emily Dickinson had a morbid fascination with death. Others see the fact that approximately 1/6th of all her poems and letters were about death as something not unusual for one who lived next to a cemetery and during a time when folks died of illnesses at a much younger age than we do today. Her poem #614 speaks of diggers attempting to find a man buried in rubble. Too late, the saving grace is Death, in that he is no longer suffering.
I saw the setting of the first line of #614 as a place where dreams die, aspirations are quashed and we sometimes don’t even understand that we have made ourselves prisoners. I imagined a frolic of mythical forest fairies engaging in a battle with death, attempting to coax it into and ward it off with their fairy ring of mushrooms, a place of legendary doom for non-fairy folk.
In researching fairy rings, I learned quite a bit and will definitely be on the lookout for them in the future. If there’s a full moon and you see me running around one nine times, from east to west (the direction of the sun), it will be in hopes of hearing the fairies dancing and frolicking underground. Please just watch from afar and don’t make me lose count, for legend has it if I run around a tenth time I will meet ill fate and be made to run to the point of exhaustion and death and/or perhaps become invisible.
MCNAUGHTON, RUTH FLANDERS. “Emily Dickinson on Death.” Prairie Schooner, vol. 23, no. 2, 1949, pp. 203–214. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40624107. Accessed 22 July 2021.
According to some scholars, Dickinson’s poem #613 is quite the exercise in feminism. In it, she masterfully uses the imagery of a captive bird and speaks in a defiant voice about the struggles of being a female, expected to be silent and kept locked up by societal expectations of the mid 1800’s.
Although she never engaged in any public romantic relationships, researchers have long questioned the many cryptic references to “loves” in her poetry and posed questions about her private life and potential relationships with several men and also with her sister-in-law, Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson. In my version of this poem I imagine the coded language she used to send messages that would not be deemed appropriate during her time. Over a century and a half later, fans of her work are still looking for the meanings between her lines.
Note on “fascicles:
*During Dickinson’s intense writing period (1858-1864), she copied more than 800 of her poems into small booklets, forty in all, now called “fascicles.” She made the small volumes herself from folded sheets of paper that she stacked and then bound by stabbing two holes on the left side of the paper and tying the stacked sheets with string. She shared these with no one. They were discovered by her sister Lavinia after Emily’s death.