poetry giveaway: emily dickinson, solitary gardener

ANEW FRIEND REMINDED ME THAT EMILY DICKINSON lived “right at the intersection of solitude, poetry, and gardening,” a place that sounds like a happy home to me at this life phase. So before April, which is National Poetry Month, slips away, why don’t we celebrate with poems, a book giveaway, and a look at the incredible herbarium, or volume of pressed plant specimens like the one at left, that Dickinson compiled as a teenager?

I’ve purchased two hardcover copies of “The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson” to share; details how to enter are down at the bottom of this post. My sister, Marion, who celebrates Emily’s December birthday every year with a proper party, reminds me that our parents gave this wonderful book to her in 1976, when it was published; Marion’s copy is very worn from near-daily use. Yours will be new if you are a winner!

DICKINSON (1830-1886), who sometimes used the nickname Daisy, “lived in almost total physical isolation from the outside world,” says Poets.org, which organizes National Poetry Month. It brings to mind a favorite Dickinson line of mine:

The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —

A third of Dickinson’s nearly 2,000 poems take inspiration from her intimate connection to nature—50 are about bees alone!—and no wonder: Even before she wrote poems at all, she gardened alongside her mother, says Judith Farr, author of “The Gardens of Emily Dickinson.”

My sister suggests this one, Number 1035, as just right for mid-April:

Bee! I’m expecting you!
Was saying Yesterday
To Somebody you know That you were due –-
The Frogs got Home last Week –-
Are settled, and at work –-
Birds, mostly back –-
The Clover warm and thick —
You’ll get my Letter by The seventeenth;
Reply Or better, be with me –-
Yours, Fly.

As an adolescent, Emily went “botanizing” as young women of her day were allowed to do, pressing more than 400 plant specimens she collected on her walks into a herbarium. This important volume has long been in the collection of the Houghton Library at Harvard, but it was so delicate it could not easily be shown in public. These days, you can page through it online in a top-quality digital incarnation—highly recommended—or purchase a facsimile edition that is breathtakingly original-looking. In either format, you can almost see the pollen, speaking of which:

A sepal, petal, and a thorn
Upon a common summer’s morn—
A flask of Dew—A Bee or two—
A Breeze—a caper in the trees—
And I’m a Rose!

Happy Poetry Month, and may your spring be abuzz with bees and blooms–and poems, perhaps, as well?

How to Win Dickinson’s Poems

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE POET who perhaps touches on the natural world in his or her work? Tell us who! That’s what to write below in the comments to enter to win one of two hardcover copies of “The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson” that I bought for this event.

Feeling shy? Just say, “I want to win,” or “Count me in” and I will consider it an entry, but if you have a poet to recommend, all the better.  You know me, I’d say Yeats. I even named my latest book for him.

I’ll pick two winners at random after entries close Monday night, April 25, at midnight. Good luck!

More Emily

Emily’s herbarium, in the Harvard digital archive
Emily’s herbarium for sale in facsimile
Emily on Poets.org, including selected poems
Emily as a gardener, a short bio by Judith Farr
All the plants she collected: a list

  1. Holly Unterberger says:

    Please enter me in the drawing.
    And lately I’ve been drawn to Rumi and Neruda.
    Love poems.
    It’s Spring. Or trying hard to be.

  2. TexasDeb says:

    My (current) favorite (it changes every 5-6 years) is Billy Collins. Something about his narrative voice is so familiar. If not careful I can confuse his poetry with the voices in my own head, though his thoughts always feel better organized and more articulate.

    And though his work is not obviously ABOUT the natural world, once read, the situations he invites us to enter couldn’t be considered anything but about nature. The world outside our doors and how it intersects with the world inside our heads – it is all there.

  3. Wendy says:

    Robert Frost has always been a favorite, but I’d love to make a new friend in Emily.

    I’ve been “aware” of her, but not “intimate” so to speak. Although, I’ve always loved “Hope is the thing without wings that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”

    So definitely count me in!!

  4. Tish Molloy says:

    distant thoughts, sadness lingers
    April rains focus inward. lighter days
    ignite a glimmer – hope blooms!

    many favorites, not a single best.
    Mr. Wordsworth passes this test….


    I wandered lonely as a cloud
    That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
    When all at once I saw a crowd,
    A host, of golden daffodils;
    Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
    Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

    Continuous as the stars that shine
    And twinkle on the milky way,
    They stretched in never-ending line
    Along the margin of a bay:
    Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
    Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

    The waves beside them danced; but they
    Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
    A poet could not but be gay,
    In such a jocund company:
    I gazed–and gazed–but little thought
    What wealth the show to me had brought:

    For oft, when on my couch I lie
    In vacant or in pensive mood,
    They flash upon that inward eye
    Which is the bliss of solitude;
    And then my heart with pleasure fills,
    And dances with the daffodils.

    William Wordsworth

  5. Sandra Christensen says:

    Well, I like Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Poem, Renascence– Starts out, “All I could see from where I stood was three long mountains and a wood.” but my favorite part is when “infinity comes down and settles over me” as she lies on her back and muses that the sky is not so tall. Spring is the time of rebirth and that is what this poem means to me. I would love to win this book!

    I just got Margaret’s new book, the signed version, which is precious to me.
    Thanks, Margaret.

  6. Beth says:

    Years ago as an English major I had little appreciation for William Carlos Williams, ugh, but simple lines of his pop into my mind from time to time, and I’m secretly liking them. But it’s Robert Frost that speaks to me….

  7. Carole Clarin says:

    From a delightful little book, In and Out of the Garden by Sara Midda, here’s a poem by William Lawson-
    “What was Paradise?
    but a garden,
    an orchard of trees
    and herbs, full of
    pleasure, and nothing
    there but delights.”
    How wonderful it would be to have such a treasured poetry book of Emily Dickinson’s!

    Although I think I’ve mentioned this on a past message, I truly loved reading your new memoir-a book I will surely read again!

  8. marla coggins says:

    “Live in the woods,” as you. Always surround yourself with beauty no matter where the place on earth we live. Poetry also needs to be in your life. I love Rumi of course but there are so many others including Emily of course. Would love to win the book. Blessings to you, also. Peace

  9. Candace says:

    Trees by Joyce Kilmer, which is the first poem I had to recite in my 6th grade class. It is a lovely poem and perfect for Earth Day.

  10. Terry says:

    I would love to win the book! Enjoyed your feature about Emily Dickinson. Good reminder that I should seek her poems out once again. Thanks!

    Enjoy your website; keeps me inspired and delighted!

  11. Terrie Jackson says:

    Sometimes when I open the gate to my garden a bunny will run out from under a plant. I always think of Peter Rabbit and the Flopsy Bunnies. I do hope that I am not as scary as Mr. McGregor! If Beatrix Potter is considered a poet then she is one of my favorite with Elizabeth Barrett Browing right next to her, but then again she’s all about love….love of gardening?? Hope I win!

  12. Iris says:

    I’ve always felt Longfellow to be particularly appealing… I should surely swoon if I were to win your prized Dickinson verses…

  13. Bev says:

    Is it so small a thing, To have enjoyed the sun,
    To have lived light in the Spring,
    To have thought, to have done;
    To have advanced true friends, and beat down baffling foes –
    Matthew Arnold
    From Empodecles of Etna (1852)

    I would love to win a copy of the poems of Emily Dickinson!

    Thank you for sharing your gardening experiences with all of us.

  14. Sharon says:

    Fireflies by Robert Wrigley

    Now there are no fireflies. Once
    there were, and we caught them,
    our white sweaters glinting
    in the dusk, chasing after children.
    They were like that, like children
    or the very old, doddering in slow flight.
    We’d charge any flash and wait
    at arm’s length for another. And always,
    there was. Once we kept them
    in an unwashed honey jar, two dozen
    snagged and flickering on the oozy sides.
    Carefully we plucked them away and wrote
    with the smears of their phosphorescence
    our names on a stone wall,
    then afterwards licked our fingers,
    and they were sweet and golden.

  15. Doris Dotson-Francis says:

    I love Emily, Hope is a feather that perches in the soul and sings the words and doesen’t stop at all

  16. Mary Jane says:

    I’m thinking of Henry James who said two of the most beautiful words in the English language (together) were “summer lawn.” It is lovely, yes?
    Sounding and inner-seeing.

    And then Joni Mitchell expanded on this, and brought us into modern suburban American garden life with sprinklers — “the hissing of summer lawns.”

    Would love this volume of Emily Dickinson.

    Best wishes with your book, always.

  17. Diantha says:

    What fun! I’m enjoying all the posts and seeing many of my favorites. I don’t have one. Frost comes close (Directive). But then there’s Eliot and Stevens (Sunday Morning, The Snow Man…). Here’s a shorter one to share from Randall Jarrell:

    Well Water

    What a girl called “the dailiness of life”
    (Adding an errand to your errand. Saying,
    “Since you’re up . . .” Making you a means to
    A means to a means to) is well water
    Pumped from an old well at the bottom of the world.
    The pump you pump the water from is rusty
    And hard to move and absurd, a squirrel-wheel
    A sick squirrel turns slowly, through the sunny
    Inexorable hours. And yet sometimes
    The wheel turns of its own weight, the rusty
    Pump pumps over your sweating face the clear
    Water, cold, so cold! you cup your hands
    And gulp from them the dailiness of life.

  18. Catherine Horgan says:

    I learned Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem ‘Home Thoughts from Abroad’ when I was about ten. It starts ‘Oh, to be in England, now that April’s there’. Being a transplanted Brit, I think of her lovely words often, and yes, if I didn’t have so much to do in my garden here, I’d love to go and see spring in England.

  19. Cathy in Seattle says:

    I would have also said Emily Dickinson, whom I read and enjoyed very much as a 45-year-old empty-nester going to college for the first time. My favorite teacher taught American Poetry, and she and I would read the poems together. Now I work at the college, my favorite teacher is now my friend, but whenever I read Dickinson, I think back on how two middle-aged women found friendship over poetry.

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