9. The Homestead: Emily Dickinson

A photograph of a purple hyacinth resting in a windowsill in a glazed terracotta pot. The stalk leans towards the camera.

Here on the west side of the Homestead, Emily Dickinson’s bedroom windows are the two on the far right of the second floor.  When the poet looked out of her bedroom windows on this side of the Homestead, she had wonderful views of her brother’s home, The Evergreens, and of the sunsets that grace Amherst. 


On a winter day, the window sill might be filled with pots of flowering bulbs. Emily forced bulbs, coaxing them into flower in the off season. Most hardy bulbs like crocus and hyacinth need a cold period in order to set flower buds. Although the conservatory provided a perfect location for forcing, with its cool nights and bright, sunny days, Dickinson brought hyacinths up to her bedroom windows when they were about to bloom. 


I have made a permanent Rainbow by filling a Window with Hyacinths, which Science will be glad to know, and have a Cargo of Carnations, worthy of Ceylon. (L882)


In addition to gardening, Emily enjoyed collecting and pressing flowers. After the specimens were dry, she arranged them artfully on scrapbook pages, attaching them with small strips of paper and glue, and labeling them with proper botanical names and numbers. This type of collection is called an herbarium, and making one was a popular hobby in her time. She collected blooms from her garden. With her large brown dog, Carlo, she roamed the surrounding fields and woods, gathering wildflowers. She exchanged pressed flowers with friends, often enclosing them in her letters.  

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Dickinson’s knowledge of plants was fostered both at home and at school. At the Amherst Academy, Emily Dickinson studied the science of growing and classifying plants. Mrs. Almira Lincoln, the author of Emily’s botany textbook, had this to say about the virtues of studying botany:


“The study of Botany seems peculiarly adapted to females; the objects of its investigation are beautiful and delicate; its pursuit leading to exercise in the open air is conducive to health and cheerfulness.”


Here is a poem inspired by Dickinson’s wildflower walks:


I hav'nt told my garden yet - 

Lest that should conquer me. 

I hav'nt quite the strength now 

To break it to the Bee - 


I will not name it in the street 

For shops w'd stare at me - 

That one so shy - so ignorant 

Should have the face to die. 


The hillsides must not know it - 

Where I have rambled so - 

Nor tell the loving forests 

The day that I shall go - 


Nor lisp it at the table - 

Nor heedless by the way 

Hint that within the Riddle 

One will walk today - 


(F40)

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