Emily Dickinson — Poet, Prolific and Reclusive

My childhood heroine was 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson. For a school project when I was around 10, I had to dress up as a literary figure (or maybe we just had to dress up as a famous person and I CHOSE a literary figure), and I opted for Dickinson. I can’t remember whether it was my mother or grandmother who first made the suggestion, but my grandmother gave me an old anthology of her collected works. My mother and I researched her famous white dress, which as a child I regarded as iconic of her “spinster” status and loved.

I loved (and still love) that Dickinson was a recluse in her later years (“the woman in white”) and found the details of her domestic existence during that period delightfully creepy. I wore the white dress for school, and my mother put baby powder in my hair to make me look old, and I memorized my favourite Dickinson poem (“Hope is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul…”) to recite in class. I don’t remember the presentation at all. (The time spent with my mother and grandmother in preparation is much more memorable.) What I do remember is wearing the dress — again, and again, and again.

The first Halloween after the project I think I actually told people I was dressed as Emily Dickinson, but after that, on at least one or two subsequent Halloweens, I was just a happy, poetry-loving ghost in increasingly ill-fitting garb…

-Stephanie Miller

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