Mighty Red Pen

November 2, 2008

WWED? (What Would Emily Do?)

Filed under: Lit review,Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 2:21 pm
Tags: , ,

Directly on the heels of recent news suggesting that climate change is killing off the flora at Walden Pond (scientists are using Thoreau’s own notes to document that something like 27 percent of the plants and flowers that Henry D. saw there can no longer be found there) comes this little piece: folks are a-twitter about the hemlocks at the Emily Dickinson Museum and Homestead.

At issue are about 200 hemlocks that would have made a nice little hedge during Dickinson’s time. Rather, um, predictably, the hemlocks at Dickinson’s home in Amherst, Mass., have grown a bit in the last hundred or so years and are now quite tall. According to one article in the Boston Globe:

Officials at the Dickinson museum and Amherst College, which owns the homestead, have determined what the poet would have seen from her window: a low-lying hemlock hedge. She also saw a hayfield and the Holyoke mountain range from her window perch, but that view has been obliterated by a large apartment complex built across the street from her house.

As for the hedge, after Dickinson’s death in 1886, it was no longer pruned regularly and grew out of control. Today, the hemlock shrubs are swaying, 25-foot-tall trees.

Jane Wald, executive director of the museum, said plans call for cutting down nearly all the hemlocks along the front of the homestead and replacing them with a “historically accurate” hedge. She offered up multiple photos of the Dickinson homestead as the poet would have known it, all with a hedge.

People with too much time on their hands? Maybe that’s not for MRP to judge (and after all, it’s possible that some of the trees are diseased, which would make this a different matter). Would Emily Dickinson want 200 trees torn down to create some sort of timeless tribute, or would she have understood that trees do, in fact, grow?



  1. I had the same response, and wrote about it yesterday. I think it gets back to the way that we think about Emily Dickinson – it’s like, we’ve ceased to actually think of her as a person, and started treating her as a pseudo-legendary creature of American History. Like all those signs for ‘George Washington slept here’. Noone wants to UNDERSTAND George Washington, they just want to worship him, we need something to worship in this country. Unfortunately, as several thousand years of history show, worship doesn’t always keep us faithful to the core values of the worshipped. Emily Dickinson wouldn’t, probably be too thrilled about thousands of people climbinginto her bedroom to see what she saw all those days – she would want them to climb into her bedroom and see what THEY saw. IMHO.

    Comment by Jason Gignac — November 3, 2008 @ 9:10 am | Reply

  2. Emily’s poetry is mostly written in something called “hymnal meter.” This has the amusing side-effect of making it possible to sing almost all of her work to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” Having discovered this, perhaps her fans will wish for the return of the trees so as to provide for an easy, curative quaff.

    You know, if they will not stop for death, perhaps a nice cup of hemlock while they are waiting for death to stop for them?

    Comment by David — November 6, 2008 @ 11:57 am | Reply

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