The glory years: Aspects of the poet Emily Dickinson/ Stranger danger

Emily Dickinson enters the kitchen at the homestead in a happy mood. She hums under her breath, and lights the candles for the evening. Her brother is also there. Austin Dickinson is in airritable mood. He is moody and pensive, because his wife has just found out about his mistress.

“You’re misbehaving. You’re misbehaving, Emily. Go to your room. Write if you must. Your verses.”

“I’m humming. I’m singing. I’m happy. You should be happy for me. Seldom am I happy. All day long I have chores to do, the baking, then there is cooking, reading to Lavinia. Then there is our mother. That is a fulltime time occupation from the beginning of day, to the last possible moment at night, before the entire household retires. Who do you think sees to that? So that you can have your life, and father can be in Washington.”

“I am just tired, Emily. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to talk about my wife. My mistress is of no concern of yours. Those are matters that no longer concern you.”

“How you hurt me, brother. How you anger me?”

“Next you’ll be telling me, sister, eccentric sister that you make my life possible. The life of my mistress, wife. My life as treasurer of Amherst College.”

“No, Emily. It is I that makes your life possible.”

“Austin, I don’t think that you understand.”

“Emily, it is you who don’t understand.”

“And father, why do you think he left the homestead. Why do you think he is Washington, because he was elected to Congress? Then you’re even more than a fool than I thought.”

“I tolerate this. Father tolerates you, you Emily. You refuse to attend church with the rest of the family.Swan about in the garden. That is your church. Goodness knows, the butterflies, and the flowers are your church.”

“But you know they were my favourite subjects at the women’s seminary. How dare you throw that back in my face like that after everything that I have ever, ever done for you. Loved you, protected you. When we were both younger, I was your confidante.

You’re being impossible, Emily. Retire to your room. Leave my sight now. Or I will lose my temper in a minute.

Fine, then. To protect your sensibility, I will leave. I will go to my room.”

“Fine, then.”

“See if I care next time there is tension in your house between your wife and your mistress.”

“And for now, we will leave it right there. Emily, said I was warning you.”

Abigail George
Abigail George
Abigail George is a researcher and historian. Follow her on Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram @abigailgeorgepoet.