Tuesday, December 20, 2011

More Emily Dickinson and Ultrarunning

Last week (10 Dec 1830) was the birthday of Emily Dickinson, the famous New England poet of the mid 1800s.
The Writer's Almanac noted this date.  Ms. Dickinson seemed rather normal until she was a young adult, then seemingly became more and more closeted and reclusive, eventually scarcely venturing from her home at all.

Over the years, scholars have done a lot of speculating about Dickinson, coming up with all sorts of theories. Last year, a biographer named Lyndall Gordon suggested that Dickinson was epileptic, and that her epilepsy explained her seclusion, the rhythm and content of her poetry, and even her famous white dress, which according to Gordon was white for sanitary reasons. Various critics have tried to prove that her seclusion was the result of a broken heart, and have offered up any number of men in her life as the possible heartbreaker. A few years ago, a scholar named Carol Damon Andrews published an article claiming that Dickinson was engaged to her brother's friend George Gould, but that her father broke it up because Gould was too poor, and that Dickinson's love poems are written to Gould. There is also the popular theory that she was a closeted lesbian, possibly in love with her sister-in-law, Susan. Other scholars have diagnosed Dickinson with SAD, seasonal affective disorder.

Many people think that there is no one answer for Dickinson's seclusion — but that above all, she was driven by a fierce desire to write poetry, and she chose to sacrifice everything else for that. Allen Tate said: "All pity for Miss Dickinson's 'starved life' is misdirected. Her life was one of the richest and deepest ever lived on this continent."

I've blogged about her before, here, but I continue to imagine what it would be like to see the natural world through her eyes, wondering what she might make of trail running, and the physical and mental boundaries that it expands. 

Her attention to the details of nature--plants, animals, inanimate objects--as revealed in her poetry is quite remarkable.  She certainly knew the motivating forces that compel many of us to head to and love the backcountry.


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