5. The Homestead: Main Street and The Meadow

A black and white, historic photograph depicting a newly mowed hay field. The hay is raked into dozens of gentle mounds. In the distance there is a tall brick building with several smokestacks.

The road in front of you is Main Street. Main Street of the Dickinsons’ day was a major thoroughfare that connected Amherst with Boston, some 90 miles to the east. It was dusty in dry weather and muddy in wet. There were ruts and potholes. The typical traffic included riders on horseback, cattle being driven to pasture, drivers with carts, yokes of oxen, carriagesand, in the winter, sleighs. 

[Sound of horse hooves; the creaking of wagons.]

Landscapes change over time. If you turn to your left, you’ll see a low, flat area of land. The town pound was located in this area when Emily’s grandfather bought the land in the early 19th century. Loose or unruly livestock would have been penned up there. During Emily Dickinson’s time, this area may have been the location of the family’s extensive vegetable garden. You might have come across one of the Dickinson’s hired hands weeding or harvesting the vegetables. Later owners, the Parke family, installed a tennis court on the southeast corner.

Now look back toward Main Street. Across the street was the eleven acre Dickinson meadow. In your mind, erase the houses and trees from the other side of Main Street. Picture instead a sunny open field of meadow grass and wildflowers, with a brook at the bottom of the slope. Bees and butterflies collect nectar from the flowers, and birds pause to gather seeds. The hired men cut the meadow grass at least twice a year to make hay for the livestock.

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Here’s a poem that may have been inspired by Dickinson’s imaginings in the meadow:

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,

One clover, and a bee,

And revery.

The revery alone will do,

If bees are few.


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