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Coda: Natural Messages and Aesthetic Pleasure in Emily Dickinson’s Nature Writing by Grace Mei-shu Chen

Among American poets attentive to nature, Emily Dickinson is both representative and idiosyncratic. Through her early education and her reading, Dickinson was exposed to new ideas, diverse philosophies and various perspectives about nature. She not only “climb[ed] the ‘Hill of Science’” to “‘view the Landscape o’er’” but witnessed there a “transcendental prospect / I ne’er beheld before! –” (Fr. 2[A]).[1] While her writings reflect the cultural influences of romanticism, natural theology, and Emersonian transcendentalism, Dickinson did not remain a passive receiver or advocate of these influences; rather, she balanced assimilation with interrogation, skepticism, disruption, and exploration. Consequently, her writings on nature, including those reflecting and questioning romantic, theological, transcendental, and scientific ideas, exemplify some contributions 19th-century poetry can make to ecological consciousness and sustainability in the 21st century.[2]

By drawing on the work of Daniel J. Philippon in “Sustainability and the Humanities: An Extensive Pleasure,” we can witness Dickinson’s writings not only interrogating nature by “defining and questioning definitions” (164), “theorizing and questioning theories,” “imagining and questioning the products of that imagining,” and “specifying and questioning specificity” (165), but also by revealing the complex interrelations of natural elements within the larger ecosystem. Her poems thus enable readers to “understand sequence and transitions, to see influence over time,” and, possibly, to “trace causes and consequences” (166). By exploring the ways in which Dickinson’s writings imagine and portray natural creatures, natural phenomena, the environment, and their interaction, I argue, Dickinson pays attention not only to enchantment and divinity in nature but also to such ecological concerns as respect for nature and nonhuman life forms, and to diverse perspectives on the changeable natural world, especially nonconformist ones unchained from theology. Skeptical of the human capacity to decipher the natural world, Dickinson’s works, particularly those showing both the knowledge and the aesthetic pleasure that natural species can offer, provide new grounds for opposing the exploitation and destruction of our biosphere.

Living on her father’s estate, a fourteen-acre property with a barn, perennial gardens, an orchard, a conservatory, a vegetable garden, field, and woods, Dickinson enjoyed proximity to a variety of habitats and the creatures they sheltered. Her library offered another kind of nearness to the natural world: along with her early study of geology and botany, the writings of contemporaries William Cullen Bryant, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Edward Hitchcock, Henry David Thoreau, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow encouraged her to appreciate the diversity of nature and what was behind its appearances through many lenses.

Fig. 1. Orra White Hitchcock’s pen and ink drawing on linen (31 x 52 cm.) of strata across Massachusetts.

This is one of 61 drawings done by the artist for use in Professor Edward Hitchcock's classes on geology and natural history.

Courtesy of the Amherst College Library, Archives & Special Collections.

 

Sometimes, Dickinson displays what she sees and feels about natural elements by anthropomorphizing them. In “Answer July” (Fr. 667A), for example, she dramatizes a conversation between natural creatures and seasons that suggests their interrelation. Her anthropomorphic imagination as well as her powers of observation find expression, too, in her delineation of sunset and sunrise in “The Day undressed – Herself –” (Fr. 495B), where the sun is personified as a lady undressing herself before bed, and “The Fingers of the Light” (Fr. 1015A), where a bright irresistible guest of the town wakes up its creatures. In this anthropomorphic presentation of the sunlight, the poet emphasizes that the biological clock of creatures corresponds with the sun.

Dickinson often extols the beauty and benevolence of nature as most romantics and transcendentalists do in their writings. In some of her verse, nature is defined as the gentlest mother, who is impatient of no child (Fr. 741A) but consoles one who takes “the Royal names in vain –” (Fr. 745A) and whose harmony as well as simplicity can elicit a feeling of certainty (Fr. 721A, B).[3] Nature is portrayed as so hospitable as to lavishly offer food and beauty equally to beggars and bees (Fr. 1106A). Additionally, nature is depicted as a divine world that is “thrown wide open to” the poet (L 458) who partakes not only its “sacred emblems” but also its “consecrated bread” and “immortal wine –” (Fr. 122A). Spring especially is portrayed as a time none “stir[s] abroad” without “a cordial interview” with the deity (Fr. 948A). Like the natural theologians and philosophers who were her contemporaries, Dickinson’s early poems suggest that beauty and sublimity in nature can not only lead to one’s experience of divine existence but also reveal a philosophy of life through encounters with such natural elements/beings as “the little Stone” (Fr. 1570B, E, F), a squirrel (Fr. 1407A), a lark (Fr. 86A), a “Brave Black Berry” (Fr. 548A), and a jay (Fr. 1596A, B, C).[4]

Encouraged by Emerson as well as Hitchcock, who believed “that the heart which is alive to nature’s beauties is well prepared to love the God of nature, as well as the God of revelation” (“The Highest Use of Learning” 21), Dickinson meticulously observed nature and sometimes found the proof of God’s existence and His promise of rebirth in it: “When Flowers annually died and I was a child, I used to read Dr. Hitchcock’s Book on the Flowers of North America. This comforted their Absence – assuring me they lived” (L 488). Not confined, however, to a religiously-oriented perspective grounded in theology, she often questions the perception of divine truths and the development of a divine consciousness through nature, insinuating that she would not know “what the Sapphire Fellows” do in the “new-fashioned world” (Fr. 213A). As suggested in her depiction that “Fainter Leaves” would dumbly testify to further seasons while human beings possessing souls “Die oftener – Not so vitally – ” (Fr. 457B), natural laws emphasizing cyclical patterns of renewal conflict with the Judeo-Christian conception of existence in which each successive moment is qualitatively different from the one before, and they progress linearly from birth to death, from creation to judgment day. With this recognition, Dickinson suggests that the attempt of either transcendentalist or romantic writers to find symbols of divinity and philosophical truths in nature (the “sovreign People” “fond of signifying”) is “fallible” (Fr. 893A). Ultimately, the signs of heaven in nature leave us in doubt about the alleged but never quite visible paradise: “But how Ourself, shall be / Adorned, for a Superior Grace – / Not yet, our eyes can see –” (Fr. 544A). Just as the speaker in “The Lilac is an ancient Shrub” (Fr. 1261A) argues that the celestial and natural flora are beyond the scope of human analysis, so Dickinson implies that divine truths cannot really be derived from natural phenomena as the natural theologians or transcendentalists believe: “The Scientist of Faith / His research has but just begun – / Above his Synthesis / The Flora unimpeachable / To Time’s Analysis –.” Accordingly, Dickinson ends the verse by proposing, “let not Revelation / By Theses be detained –” (Fr. 1261A).

Dickinson’s education also boosted her scientific understanding of both the natural world and religious doctrines, which explains her occasional display of Hitchcock’s arguments in her verse. Such an application of scientific knowledge to her understanding of the natural world is demonstrated in a range of poems, including “’Sic transit gloria mundi’” (gravitation Fr. 2[A]), “The Mountains – grow unnoticed –” (knowledge in geology to orogeny Fr. 768A), “Ashes denote that Fire was –” (chemistry, in the decoding of fire and ashes Fr. 1097A), and “To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee” (the pollination process Fr. 1779[A]). Like Hitchcock, who claims that chemistry would show that “combustion only changes the form of substances, and cannot annihilate a particle,”[5] Dickinson suggests that her century’s shattered trust in the afterlife may be reconstructed by its turn to science, specifically to the “Chemical conviction” that nothing is lost (Fr. 1070A/MS AC 92-11/12). Not completely conforming to the explications of Hitchcock, who describes modern science as the ally of Christian belief and avers its contribution to shaping and confirming Christian faith in the existence of a rational and intelligent Deity,[6] she sometimes introduces different discoveries or conclusions by means of scientific theories, reflecting her disinheritance from Hitchcock’s theory.

Fig. 2. AC 92-11/12, “The Chemical con- / viction,” about 1865.

Courtesy of the Amherst College Library, Archives & Special Collections.

 

Unlike Hitchcock, who emphasizes divine design in the natural world, or Emerson, who highlights the beauty and benevolence of nature in his writings, Dickinson’s observations are sometimes more clearly aligned with Charles Darwin’s concept of chance: the chance of random extinction (“A Single Clover Plank / Was all that saved a Bee / . . . / From sinking in the sky –” Fr. 1297A), the random luck of meeting with the “most triumphant Bird” that “sang for nothing scrutable” but “intimate Delight” (Fr. 1285C/MS AC 413), and the random fatality when frost “beheads” “any happy Flower” in “accidental power” (Fr. 1668A).[7] Rather than laws and order in the evolution of creatures, Dickinson perceives randomness, just as a butterfly emerges from a cocoon in a summer afternoon without a “Design” that the speaker “could trace” (Fr. 610A). Moreover, witnessing the struggle for life among the animals and plants in her surroundings as demonstrated in Letter 184’s birds and plants, as well as poems on a mouse (Fr. 485A), a bee (Fr. 1297A), and a flower (Fr. 1668A), Dickinson presents cruelty and chance as forces arising in the natural world. In an early poem (1859) on her experience of struggling with the forces of nature, she interestingly expresses an attempt to “institute an ‘Action’,’’ “vindicate the law,” and choose the gardener “‘Shaw’” (who occasionally worked for the Dickinsons) to be her counsel to defend the garden, a territory which she “called mine [hers],” when the Creator invaded the pretty acre and his “rival claim” “disturbed these amities” (Fr. 101A). Here the poet suggests that natural forces often operate in a way that may nullify human planning.

Fig. 3. AC 413, “The most triumphant / Bird,” about 1873.

Courtesy of the Amherst College Library Archives & Special Collections.

 

On the other hand, Dickinson also highlights the limits inherent in the new sciences as well as the uncertain applicability of natural philosophy. The poet shows that the theory of Darwinian evolution is unable to completely resolve the mystery of the “Arctic flower” in Eden that wanders “down the Latitudes” (Fr. 177A). She further concludes that the scientific theory may only offer inference, stating, “What then? Why nothing, / Only, your inference therefrom!” (Fr. 177A). Like Emerson, Dickinson believes there is something that an intelligent understanding or “Science cannot overtake” but “Human Nature feels” (Fr. 962B/MS AC 86-13/14).[8] Accordingly, unable to truly identify with the attempt of scientists (such as Louis Agassiz) to “classify everything, include natural phenomena in a particular system, and discolor the aura of mystery in the universe by giving it a precise scientific term,” the poet composed “a dialogic mockery of science” for its interference in the enchantment of nature in another poem (Fr. 117).[9] In this verse, the speaker questions specificity, complaining that “‘Arcturus’ is his other name – / I’d rather call him ‘Star’! / It’s very mean of Science / To go and interfere” (Fr.117B). Here Dickinson suggests that the poetic and mystical (aesthetic) pleasure in nature is excluded by scientifically-oriented understanding. “What once was ‘Heaven’” is “Zenith now,” and where the speaker “proposed to go” when “Time’s brief masquerade was done” is “mapped” and “charted” by the scientist (“a monster with a glass”) so that she wonders, “Perhaps the ‘kingdom of Heaven’s’ changed” (Fr. 117B).

In addition to challenging scientific explanations of nature, Dickinson also expresses doubts about the theological application of scientific knowledge about nature. For instance, unlike many contemporary natural theologians who viewed the metamorphosis of caterpillar to butterfly as an emblem of resurrection and employed the biological idea of a butterfly’s release from a cocoon to instruct children to take death as a peaceful and beautiful transformation, Dickinson questions such an illustration, because the butterfly accomplishes its metamorphosis during its life, while a man is said to do so after death. She remarks, “Peasants like me, / Peasants like Thee, / Gaze perplexedly” when seeing “Many a Worm” leap “so Highland gay” from a cocoon (Fr. 110B). With the development of the sciences, “Savants” obtain more knowledge about the universe. However, Dickinson avers that savants will not truly be able to illuminate all the darkness of the unknown despite their attempt to discolor the mystery of the world and the inscrutable galaxies of the eternal. Instead, they sometimes give people limited light to follow, thus undermining poetic imagination, individual perception, and understanding, as articulated in the quasi-dialogic inquiry in “If the foolish, call them ‘flowers’ –”(Fr. 179A). Here, Dickinson alludes to the logocentric tendency of natural theologians to regard many “Sciences” not “pursued by learned Angels” in “scholastic skies” as “superfluous” while elevating those that can verify beliefs to privileged positions (Fr. 179A). Dickinson’s skepticism and interrogation liberates her poems from limited scientific applications by disrupting natural theologians’ attempts to achieve a “harmony” between revealed/natural religion and the new sciences, to effect a “regulation” of scientific applications to “illustrate the glory” of God’s wisdom (Jean-François Lyotard, The Inhuman: Reflections on Time 96).[10]

 

Fig. 4. AC 86-13/14, “A Light exists in Spring,” about 1865.

Courtesy of the Amherst College Library, Archives & Special Collections.

 

Contemporary scholars such as Hitchcock, Emerson, William Smellie, Darwin, and Agassiz tended to believe in the human ability and power to comprehend the natural world in terms of a scientific, anthropomorphic, or transcendental approach.[11] Nevertheless, Dickinson manifests that human beings’ most ambitious attempts to understand nature, which keeps its secrets and is “dainty of Publicity,” ultimately fail (Fr. 677A); she questions exclusively human-centered or science-centered views of nature. Although people wield scientific knowledge or human imagination to explain or decode natural phenomena and, further, God’s creation, the poet depicts nature as refusing definition, like the waning hue of the sky at sunset that “Defied to be defined –” (Fr. 1416C). Dickinson suggests the limitations of a single perspective or theory as well as the impossibility of completely achieving truth or knowledge, echoing Socrates’s words “I know I do not know.” Accordingly, the mystery of cyclical renewal in nature is portrayed as not entirely accessible to limited human vision. So is the transformation of creatures; the secret of a bulb growing is cunningly hidden away from “sagacious eyes” and the evolution of a caterpillar to a cocoon and then a butterfly makes peasants “Gaze perplexedly” (Fr. 110A, B). Observing the amazing flying capability of the hummingbird whose “spokes” make “a dizzy music,” she states that even the scientific evidence of ornithology cannot explain it (Fr. 370A). Accordingly, when such a “Fairy Gig” reels “in remoter atmospheres –,” the poet-persona finds herself and her dog perplexed, declaring that the bird is “the best Logician” to give the answer to the scientific riddle by its real performance (Fr. 370A).

Recognizing the inadequacy of human capacities to unravel the enigma of nature, Dickinson expresses sublime feelings aroused: “There are that resting, rise. / Can I expound the skies? / How still the Riddle lies!” (Fr. 68); she definitively concludes that amazing natural creation undoes human wisdom (Fr. 1414A). This realization impels Dickinson’s constant observations of the natural world, in Robin Peel’s words, “with the scrutiny encouraged by those engaged in making a scientific record” (91), and through diverse lenses, including a view unchained from theology and human-centered perceptions. In “Touch lightly Nature’s sweet Guitar” (Fr. 1403A), Dickinson suggests that the mystery of nature has to be prudently treated without the imposition of human notions lest man should be scolded by natural creatures (“Or every Bird will point at thee”) for appearing capable of knowing the “Tune.” She discerns that individual human perceptions of natural phenomena/creatures are subjective: relative and interpretative, not absolute. Such relativity is illustrated in the figure of the worm. While apparently useless to human beings (“A needless life, it seemed to me”) the worm is a precious food for a little bird (“Until a little Bird / As to a Hospitality / Advanced and breakfasted –” [Fr. 932A]). A creature viewed as a “needless life” by man is in reality an essential part of a shared ecosystem. Dickinson’s description of awakening to the value of the “little Kinsmen” (“I pondered, may have judged, / And left the little Angle Worm / With Modesties enlarged.”) invites readers to reassess their attitudes toward natural beings (Fr. 932A). In “Cocoon above! Cocoon below!” (Fr. 142A), Dickinson depicts natural creatures as wise enough to know the universe themselves without the need of a human “‘Surrogate’” to expound the secret of nature for them. The poet further asserts that human beings are “Unqualified to judge” the “peculiar calling” of creatures but should remand them to nature to “justify or scourge –” (Fr. 1393A). Moreover, she notices that the elements of nature need not signify “particular spiritual facts,” just as four trees “Maintain” on “a solitary Acre” without “Design,” “Order, or Apparent Action –,” but open to the visits of the sun and wind (Fr. 778A).[12] Those trees have “No nearer Neighbor” but God; rather, the “Acre” offers them a place to grow while they give “Him – Attention of Passer by – / Of Shadow, or of Squirrel, haply – / Or Boy –” (Fr. 778A). What deed is theirs “unto the General Nature –” or what plan “They severally – retard – or further –” is all unknown (Fr. 778A/MS H 56): they merely exist. In the poem, Dickinson suggests the presence of God in nature but does not describe the natural elements/scenes as emblems of the divine plan as Emerson presents them in “Nature” or “The Method of Nature.” Dickinson’s presentation of this geographical scene is ecologically significant, for it suggests that even an unspectacular landscape has a right to existence.[13] The landscape may be common, but the interactions of its natural elements are important to the ecosystem of that place. In Dickinson’s presentation, either the “little Angle Worm” or the plain landscape is capable of affecting other natural elements and thus has its ecological significance even though not “associated to human nature” or “applied to the illustration of a fact in intellectual philosophy” as proposed in Emerson’s “Nature.”[14]

Fig. 5. H 56, “Four Trees upon a Solitary / Acre,” about late 1863, in Fascicle 37. Courtesy of the Houghton Library, Harvard University.

 

When a natural philosopher and transcendentalist with logocentric presuppositions moves toward a system of thinking, nature becomes the ally of his philosophy, lending all its “pomp and riches” to his “religious sentiment.”[15] In other words, nature is “‘exploited’ by the mind according to a purposiveness that is not nature’s, not even the purposiveness without purpose implied in the pleasure of the beautiful” (Lyotard, The Inhuman: Reflections on Time 137). In contrast, not expounding nature simply in a human-centered view or in a scientifically-oriented perspective, nor seeing nature or science as the ally of her religion/philosophy, Dickinson exhibits her humble, creative and meticulous observations on nature and unveils its diverse traits and aspects without setting up systems or conforming to the philosophies learned and the conventional mission of a poet. Finding it “difficult not to be fictitious in so fair a place” (L 330), the poet adopts the stance of creative observer/presenter of nature. Her poetry not only reflects the multifarious phases of nature in Amherst through its close attention to the phenomena, environment, and ecological messages of this region but it also inspires refreshing (green) perceptions of the natural world by offering aesthetic pleasure.

For example, there are fascinating depictions of seasons, whose variations are displayed with different colors and creatures. In “New feet within my garden go –” (Fr. 79A/MS H2), Dickinson charts the visible and audible evidence of the seasonal cycle. Noting the new feet going within the garden, the new fingers stirring the sod, the single troubadour upon the elm betraying its solitude, the new children playing upon the green, and the unseen creatures hibernating (“New Weary sleep below”), the poet highlights that spring still returns and so does winter (“the punctual snow” [Fr. 79A]). According to Dickinson’s description, “Spring is a happiness so beautiful, so unique, so unexpected” that the poet once declared not knowing what to do with her heart (L 389). The return of spring in Amherst, which is signified by the appearance of robins, phoebes, daffodils, grass, bees, birdsongs, and blossoms (Fr. 347A), the growth of the dandelion (its pallid tube, bud, and then shouting flower [Fr. 1565A]), and the array of the earth in green and “then a frock of all colors” “laced up with blossoms and grass” (L 86), will never fail regardless of human grief and suffering (Fr. 347A). Summer is delineated as a season composed of rainbows, a vision of semi-tropical gardens (“the World of Cashmere”), a peacock’s purple train, the butterfly’s resuming the whir of “last year’s sundered tune,” baronial bees marching on in “murmuring platoon” from “some old Fortress[es] on the sun,” a flock of robins standing (“as thick today / As flakes of snow stood yesterday –”) on fence, roof, and twig, the orchis revisiting the bog binding her feather on for the sun, and the countless forest creatures (“The Regiments of Wood and Hill”) standing in “bright detachment” autonomously (“Without Commander” Fr. 162B). Additionally, summer is the time to “tint the pallid landscape –”; the lilacs “bending many a year” will “sway with purple load,” the bees will hum, the wild rose redden in the bog, the aster set its “everlasting fashion” on the hill, and gentians frill till the end of the season (Fr. 374B). These two poems on summer reveal the ecological messages of some creatures in Amherst. Such creatures as butterflies, bees, robins, and phoebes flourish in summer. Many plants reappear in their habitats, such as the orchis and the wild rose in the bog. Toward the end of summer, peacocks finish shaping their tail feathers, and their stunning plumage gradually falls off. These messages can be helpful in tracing the seasonal and recurring changes in Amherst.

Fig. 6. H 2, “New feet within my garden go –,” about spring 1859, in Fascicle 3. Courtesy of the Houghton Library, Harvard University.

 

Dickinson suggests nothing can compete with the natural beauty of autumn in Amherst,[16] arrayed in cardinal hues. When summer “lapsed away” imperceptibly, and there were few flowers left on the hill, the maple decorated the road, making the somber place wear a single color (“Invested somber place – / As suddenly be worn / By sober Individual / A Homogeneous Gown –”), and the cricket inherited the land (“the Floor”) as birds migrated south. Day became shorter (“The Dusk drew earlier in –”), cool wind got closer and closer, and “A Quietness distilled –” in the evening (“As Twilight long begun –”); all these vividly present the scenes of early autumn (“Our Summer made Her light Escape / Unto the Beautiful –” [Fr. 935B]). In contrast, in her presentation of winter, Amherst is covered in white: austere snows hide the ground and the creatures hibernate deep below it (Fr. 921A). Winter can be so cold that rivers freeze (“Twice – a Winter’s Silver Fracture / On the Rivers been –”), so harsh that there is not a berry for a “wandering Bird” (Fr. 950A) and all the cattle starve (Fr. 532A).[17] In these writings where the distinct features of four seasons in Amherst are vividly pictured, nature is both benevolent and severe. Nature and the life of humans as well as other creatures change with seasons.

Along with her attention to the shift in seasons, Dickinson attends to the singular existences of natural creatures. Her education in botany and geography and experience of being an amateur botanist cultivate not only her acute observation of natural phenomena and their interrelation but also her ecological thinking.[18] She sometimes sounds like an environmentalist advocating for the preservation of the natural environment and respect for natural creatures. “Where bells no more affright the morn –” (Fr. 114A) suggests a nostalgia for the natural landscape before the interruption of “Factories.” “Who robbed the Woods –” (Fr. 57B) impeaches deforestation. In “His Bill is clasped–”(Fr. 1126A) as well as in “Split the Lark – and you’ll find the Music –” (Fr. 905A), the poet protests respectively against hunting for and dissecting birds. As Joseph Campbell says in the 1988 PBS documentary Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth: “If you want to change the world, you have to change the metaphor,” and Christopher Uhl argues that humans should change their perceptions about Earth (Nature) seeing it “with new eyes—the eyes of interdependence” (206);[19] ecological consciousness requires our changed attitudes toward nature and our awareness of the significance of natural elements. Dickinson’s nature poetry suggests that every natural creature has its right to life and intrinsic value.

Fig. 7. MS Am. 1118.11. A page from Emily Dickinson’s herbarium, assembled by the poet at age 14. Courtesy of the Houghton Library, Harvard University.

 

Dickinson implies that men take too much advantage of nature, thereby destroying the environment (“Who robbed the Woods / The trusting Woods? / The unsuspecting Trees –”) by deforesting, bearing away something attractively curious, and removing species which men think useless (“Brought out their Burs and Mosses –”). Some ecologically conscious people in the 21st century try to give legal rights to forests and rivers. Dickinson, a 19 th-century American poet, ends the verse by raising a question: “What will the solemn Hemlock – / What will the Fir tree – say?” (Fr. 57B), which invites readers to attend to the rights of trees and to rethink the consequences of our destructive intrusion into the forest. Highlighting the vitality and importance of trees in nature, the poet insists that as long as trees are not eradicated, their vitality can be so powerful that they will persist (“they do not die”) even though nature “scalps” or “sears a Sapling” (Fr. 457A, B). Such a description of how trees remain productive over time suggests the sustainability of trees. In addition, as in “Four Trees – upon a solitary Acre –” (Fr. 778A) where the interactions of the natural elements in the plain landscape are depicted as ecologically significant, in “A Lady red, amid the Hill” (Fr. 137B) Dickinson observes that there is constant resurrection witnessed by and related to trees though the landscape appears still (“And yet, how still the Landscape stands!”), and the woods and trees (“the Hedge”) remain “nonchalant” as if the “‘Resurrection’” were “nothing very strange” (Fr. 137B). Suzanne Simard, a 21st-century forest ecologist at the University of British Columbia, has discovered that trees and plants communicate and interact with each other via an underground web of fungi. Dickinson reveals that trees and many creatures communicate and interact with one another and the sun through their biological/ecological rhythms and natural cycles. The activity of trees as well as the sun activate other creatures:

The Trees like Tassels – hit – and swung –

There seemed to rise a Tune

From Miniature Creatures

Accompany the Sun – (Fr. 523A/MS H 158)

The “Sun shone whole at intervals, –” then half, or then utterly hid as if it “were optional” and “had Estates of Cloud.” While the “Estates of Cloud” are sufficient to conceal the sun eternally from view, “a whim” of the sun could nonetheless “let the Orchards grow –,” creating a habitat for forest creatures and a canopy of light and shade for the flowers. Here Dickinson proposes the significant role of trees: along with the sun, their growth helps the development and maintenance of an ecosystem. “An Antiquated Tree” (Fr. 1544A, B) further suggests even an ancient tree has its significance in nature. Being unable to provide shelter, the less luxuriant old tree is not a favorable perch for venerable birds; however, the crow often perches on a barren (old or dead) tree where it can see around clearly and thus avoid being attacked.

 

Fig. 8. H 158, “The Trees like Tassels – hit – / and swung –,” about spring 1863, in Fascicle 24. Courtesy of the Houghton Library, Harvard University.

 

In addition to trees, Dickinson argues that even the weed despised by men has its ecological significance and its place in the world, a place derided by humans but that the weed considers home. Unaware of its “station low” or “ignominy’s Name,” the weed lives the length of summer protected—“shield[ed]”—by its “fameless[ness]” (Fr. 1617A). Likewise, the poet insists that although the “smallest Housewife in the grass”—a wildflower—is ignored, superfluously blown and unnoticed “as a single dew”, its presence “made ExistenceHome –” (Fr. 173A). Dickinson’s intuition that the presence of a wildflower (Fr. 173A) as well as the weed exist on their own terms even though they are considered to be superfluous anticipates what Edward O. Wilson advocates in The Future of Life—the value of each species:

Each species offers an endless bounty of knowledge and aesthetic pleasure. The creature at your feet dismissed as a bug or a weed is a creation in and of itself. It has a name, a million-year history, and a place in the world. . . . The ethical value substantiated by close examination of its biology is that the life forms around us are too old, too complex, and potentially too useful to be carelessly discarded. (131)[20]

As suggested in “We should not mind so small a flower –” (Fr. 82A), though being unspectacular, the small flower vitalizes the garden in spring, playing a significant role in the ecosystem. It intoxicates the bees and makes them reel because of its nectar. Whoever sees the little flower may behold the “Bobolinks around the throne / And Dandelions gold” (Fr. 82A). In “Bloom – is Result – to meet a Flower” (Fr. 1038A), the poet particularly expresses that to be a flower is not easy. In order to bloom (to survive), the flower has to “pack the Bud,” “oppose the Worm,” obtain its “right of Dew,” “Adjust the Heat,” “elude the Wind,” and “Escape the prowling Bee” (Fr. 1038A). 

Recognizing that all creatures, both high and low forms of life, are subject to death, the poet rejects the Great Chain of Being (the reputed hierarchy in nature) and argues for animal rights:

Death is the Common Right

Of Toads and Men –

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The privilege –

Why swagger, then?

The Gnat’s supremacy is large as Thine – (Fr. 419A)

In a verse on a rat, a creature most men hate, she makes a claim for its legal residence, suggesting the legitimacy of its being an integral part of nature:

The Rat is the concisest Tenant.

He pays no Rent.

Repudiates the Obligation –

On Schemes intent

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Neither Decree prohibit him –

Lawful as Equilibrium. (Fr. 1369B) 

She even pleads to “Papa above” to reserve within his kingdom a mansion for the rat which is “O’erpowered by the Cat” and “Snug[s] in seraphic Cupboards / To nibble all the day, / While unsuspecting Cycles / Wheel solemnly away!” (Fr. 151B).[21]

Of all the animals, Dickinson focuses especially on the life of birds, many of which her living environment sheltered. According to Higginson in “The Life of Birds,” an essay in Outdoor Papers (1863) that Dickinson refers to in L 458, birds in New England had an unusually strong “roving habit.” Many species encamped for a month or two and then vanished, and “the daily existence of every bird is [was] a remote and bewitching mystery”; Dickinson, fascinated by the impenetrable creatures, observed them closely and recorded their songs, habits, and characteristics as her preceptor Higginson did. Significantly, according to Jo Miles Schuman and Joanna Bailey Hodgman, some of the species depicted in Dickinson’s writings are now seldom found around homes in New England, such as bobolinks (Fr. 22, 54, 63, 82, 88, 204, 236, 266, 721, 766, 1348, 1620), whippoorwills (Fr. 7, 208, 333), meadowlarks (Fr. 44, 86, 262, 754, 905), bluebirds (Fr. 1194, 1383, 1545), and cuckoos (Fr. 256), which lost their natural habitats when large developments replaced fields and orchards. According to Dickinson’s descriptions, bobolinks were there in the spring and summer time. “We should not mind so small a flower –” (Fr. 82A) alludes to their habits of foraging on or near the ground and to their breeding habitats, usually open, grassy fields (“That whoso sees this little flower / By faith may clear behold / The Bobolinks around the throne” [Fr82]). They began to sing when the sun rose, and their songs were commonly heard and cherished by Dickinson (“Nature is what we hear – / The Bobolink – the Sea –” [Fr. 721A]). Their notes are depicted as a sweet “Anodyne” (Fr. 766A) or as songs of a chorister (Fr. 236A, B, C). The poet emphasizes the bobolink’s jaunty, exhilarating song, declaring that the way to know it from other birds is “Joy of him” and concluding that the meadow will be “nullified” when the “Bird of Birds is gone” and the “Sorcerer withdrawn” (Fr. 1348A). In “No Bobolink – reverse His Singing” (Fr. 766A), Dickinson expresses that the Bobolink struggles for life and keeps on singing even though its home is taken away (destroyed) by a farmer (“When the only Tree / Ever He minded occupying / By the farmer be – // Clove to the Root [Core] –”), which suggests the cause of its disappearance in the region. At the end of the poem, the poet exclaims, “Brave Bobolink – / Whose Music be His / Only Anodyne –” (Fr. 766A).

Questioning human supremacy, human-centered perspectives, and scientifically-oriented attitudes toward natural creatures, Dickinson argues for birds’ right to life. According to Schuman and Hodgman, the shooting of birds by the thousands to obtain their feathers, in great demand for decorating women’s hats in the late 1890s, threatened some birds with extinction (A Spicing of Birds: Poems by Emily Dickinson xx). Anticipating many environmentalists, Dickinson objected to this massacre and expressed her indignation at the cruel scene of a murdered bird, deprived of its joyful tunes and life:

Assassin of a Bird

Resembles to my outraged mind

The firing in Heaven,

On Angels – squandering for you

Their Miracles of Tune –  (Fr. 1126A)

In describing the shooting of live birds and the scientific dissection of their bodies (“Split the Lark – and you’ll find the Music”), Dickinson concludes these practices to be “Scarlet Experiment” and argues that the lark dying a bloody death will not experience a revival:

Loose the Flood – you shall find it patent –

Gush after Gush, reserved for you –

Scarlet Experiment! Sceptic Thomas!

Now, do you doubt that your Bird was true? (Fr. 905A/ MS AC 87-3/4)

Fig. 9. AC 87-3/4, “Split the Lark – and / you’ll find the Music –,” about early 1865. Courtesy of the Amherst College Library, Archives & Special Collections.

 

In recording her scrutiny of common creatures and phenomena, Dickinson exhibits “an extraordinary vividness of descriptive and imaginative power” (Higginson, “Preface to Poems by Emily Dickinson” 11) as well as a keenness of observation of specific features of natural creatures, but little of the poet’s purposive projection or theologically-oriented interpretation. Conceiving of natural creatures “with new eyes,” Dickinson rectifies the image of not only eccentric (the bat) but also reputedly evil creatures (snakes) in her poems. The poet portrays the bat (its particulars) in vivid and figurative language, spotlighting its habit of sleeping in dark corners hanging upside down with wings tucked in, its imperceptible sound, its acoustic acuity, and its special wings (like an umbrella “quaintly halved,” describing an arc “inscrutable”). She especially asserts that its reputed “eccentricities” are “Beneficent” (L 22l; Fr. 1408A) in this creative depiction, which offers both aesthetic pleasure and knowledge of the bat’s characteristics.

In a letter to Susan Gilbert Dickinson, Dickinson reveals the culturally rooted impression of snakes in her description of an encounter with the “narrow Fellow in the Grass” occasionally passing by; its notice is “instant,” it divides the grass as “with a Comb” as it moves, and it likes a “Boggy Acre – / A Floor too cool for Corn –” (L 378; Fr. 1096C). Sensing that most people who are preoccupied with the stereotypical concept of a snake never meet it (either “Attended or alone”) without feelings of anxiety and terror (“Without a tighter Breathing / And Zero at the Bone” (Fr. 1096C/MS AC 88-13/14)), the poet presents the reptile in a distinct way in two poems (Fr. 1096 and 1519), unchaining her verse from the received impressions or symbolic meanings of a snake, often defined as evil as in Emerson’s “Nature.”[22] In both poems, the creature is no longer wicked or terrible. Instead, it becomes a frightened narrow fellow in the grass, who wrinkled and fled (Fr. 1096) or who came to beg “for the life” (Fr. 1519A). Embodying Emerson’s suggestion that an ideal poet should release readers from an inherited interpretation instead of imposing conceptions on them, Dickinson admits her readers “to a new scene” (“The Poet”) of the snake.[23] In addition, ecologically significant is her introduction of the snake’s habitat in Amherst, a grassy, boggy, and cool acre that is so unfit for human cultivation as to remain untapped.[24] Like her presentation of “the little Angle Worm” (Fr. 932A), these nonconformist depictions invite disruption of one’s received perceptions and dispose one to new ideas of natural creatures and their significance.

Fig. 10. AC 88-13/14, “A narrow Fellow in / the Grass,” about late 1865.

Courtesy of the Amherst College Library, Archives & Special Collections.

 

Although the poet cannot unriddle the enigma of nature, her delineation does animate one’s imagination as well as offer aesthetic pleasure while unveiling the biology/ecology of some creatures in Amherst. This is further exemplified in her portrait of a mushroom, in which she seems to be a botanical bard different from most contemporary botanists (Fr. 1350 C, F).[25] In L 479 as well as L 769, Dickinson reveals her fascination with the mystery of the Indian pipe, which “seems almost supernatural” (L 769) and usually pops up in Amherst in late summer and early autumn. In Dickinson’s description, the fungus is “the Elf of Plants” independent of the usual cycles of nature; it stops upon a spot in “a Truffled Hut” suddenly in the morning as if “it tarried always,” while its “whole Career” is “shorter than a Snake’s Delay” and “fleeter than a Tare –” (Fr. 1350C, F). Its growth seems like a trick of a magician who plays with nature without exposing its secrets, like a bubble rising to the surface of water and then vanishing without a trace. Accordingly, the mushroom is defined as “Vegetation’s Juggler,” the “Germ of Alibi” (Fr. 1350C, F / MS AC 417). What Dickinson performs in the verse on the mushroom embodies her impression of a poet, who distills amazing sense from “Ordinary Meanings” and “Attar” (aesthetic pleasure) “so immense” from “the familiar species” that “perished by the Door –,” and who unfolds pictures instead of inculcating or imposing concepts (Fr. 446A). Animating ordinary things and thus inspiring readers to imagine them creatively, Dickinson brings beauty and value to the words inscribed. In such poetic presentation with an introduction of their biological/ecological characteristics, these ordinary species indeed offer a “bounty of knowledge and aesthetic pleasure” (Wilson 131). Potentially Dickinson’s poetic lines effect a refreshing impression and thereby a change in readers’ attitudes toward common creatures.

Fig. 11. AC 417, “The Mushroom / is the Elf / of Plants,” about 1874.

Courtesy of Amherst College Library, Archives & Special Collections.

 

On the whole, Dickinson’s works introduce, question, and disrupt the theories and explanations of nature offered by natural theology, the new sciences, and transcendentalism. Refusing to settle on a definite teleology, philosophy, theology, or theory or to become a divine revealer “whose eye can integrate all the parts” (Emerson “Nature”), Dickinson unfolds her own experience in nature and provides multifarious imaginations, observations, and perceptions of the natural world. Unlike Hitchcock or Emerson, Dickinson does not regard science or nature as an ally of her religious/romantic sentiment although she explores the natural world through the lenses of natural theology, new sciences, romanticism or Emersonian transcendentalism. Consequently, nature as well as science is not exploited by the mind; instead, the mind is inspired and enlightened by both. Her writings suggest that a nature that defies to be defined is not simply where the poet studies the works of God (divine design) or witnesses beauty, sublimity or imaginative power. It is also where she experiences the inscrutable, the changeable, the indefinable, the positive and the negative, and where she engages biodiversity, birth and death, mystery, the limits of science, the reassessment of logocentric presuppositions, randomness, evolution, aesthetic pleasure, and knowledge. Some writers, who presuppose that “every natural process is a version of a moral sentence,” that there is a “moral law” lying “at the center of nature” and radiating “to the circumference” (Emerson, “Nature”), and that a poet is a divine revealer, in effect establish, present, and thus confine themselves as well as their readers within a subjective conceptual judgment of nature. In contrast, Dickinson examines and sometimes questions such a poetic identity. Through her instinctive, humble, exploring, experimental, and creative thinking, keen observation, and creativity Dickinson’s writings inspire readers’ imaginations, contemplations, and perceptions of diverse phases of nature. In terms of ecological significance, her poetic writings recording various natural processes, phenomena, and beings help illuminate the ecological conditions of Amherst in the later half of the nineteenth century, when it was the natural habitat of diverse creatures that was undergoing development and deforestation. More significantly, such works, which create new images of natural elements and show respect for biodiversity, provide a bounty of biological/ecological knowledge as well as aesthetic pleasure, which potentially effects a refreshing change in one’s mental eye and attitudes toward nature. As Uhl as well as Campbell argues, ecological consciousness and sustainability require “new eyes,” inner transformation and green attitudes toward nature. Reflecting diverse perspectives of nature and natural messages as well as concerns about the environment, Dickinson’s works invite readers to examine and reassess their attitudes toward nature. They encourage as awareness and respect for nature, thus demonstrating the contribution 19th-century literary works can make to ecological consciousness and sustainability in the 21st century.

 

Grace Mei-shu Chen,
Kaohsiung Medical University and Shih Chien University, Taiwan  


Notes

[1] “Fr.” refers to The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Variorum Edition. ed. R.W. Franklin. 3 vols. Cmabridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998. Citation by poem number. "L” refers to The Letters of Emily Dickinson. eds. Thomas H. Johnson and Theodora Ward. 3 vols. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1958. Citation by letter number.

[2] See, for example, Daniel J. Philippon,“Sustainability and the Humanities: An Extensive Pleasure.”

[3] In a letter to Mrs. Samuel Bowles, Dickinson observes, “Nature is our eldest mother, she will do no harm. Let the phantom love that enrolls the sparrow shield you softer than a child” (L 609).

[4] These poems are similar to Bryant’s “To a Waterfowl” and “The Yellow Violet” in which philosophical insights learned from natural creatures are highlighted.

[5] Edward Hitchcock, The Highest Use of Learning: An Address Delivered at His Inauguration to the Presidency of Amherst College, 35.

[6] Hitchcock states, “This science also discloses to us many new views of the vast plans of the Deity, and thus enlarges our conceptions of his wisdom and knowledge. In this field we must allow ourselves to wander in search of the golden fruit” (The Religion of Geology and Its Connected Sciences 27).

[7] Aaron Shackelford also talks about some of these examples in “Dickinson’s Animals and Anthropomorphism.”

[8] All quotations from Emerson’s essays are from Essays, Lectures, & Poetry in American Transcendentalism Web. Emerson believes that man’s application of science to nature (with his understanding) alone is not enough. He suggests that the “problem of restoring to the world original and eternal beauty” may be “solved by the redemption of the soul” and that man see the world “in the light of thought” and “kindle science with the fire of the holiest affections” so that God will “go forth anew into the creation” (“Nature”).

[9] Please see my dissertation “The Subjective, Dynamical, and Liberatory Sublime in Emily Dickinson,” 230. 

[10] This disruption, according to Lyotard’s argument in The Inhuman: Reflections on Time, effects the sublime, the subversive and liberatory sublime.

[11] William Smellie is the author of The Philosophy of Natural Science. According to Jack L. Capps in Emily Dickinson’s Reading: 1836-1886, it is a textbook included in the class catalogue when Dickinson attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (189). 

[12] Emerson argues that “Particular natural facts are signs of particular spiritual facts” (“Nature”) and that man “draw from nature the lesson of an intimate divinity” (“The Method of Nature”).

[13] Christine Gerhardt also discusses this idea in “‘Often seen - but seldom felt’: Emily Dickinson's Reluctant Ecology of Place” (63).

[14] In “Nature,” Emerson emphasizes a human-centered view of nature: “All the facts in natural history taken by themselves, have no value, but are barren, like a single sex. But marry it to human history, and it is full of life. . . . the most trivial of these facts, the habit of a plant, the organs, or work, or noise of an insect, applied to the illustration of a fact in intellectual philosophy, or, in any way associated to human nature, affects us in the most lively and agreeable manner. . . . The instincts of the ant are very unimportant, considered as the ant’s; but the moment a ray of relation is seen to extend from it to man, and the little drudge is seen to be a monitor, a little body with a mighty heart, then all its habits, even that said to be recently observed, that it never sleeps, become sublime.”

[15] Emerson describes nature as the ally of one’s “religious sentiment” in “Nature.”

[16] In a letter to her brother, Dickinson states, “I admit now, Austin, that autumn is most beautiful” (L 57).

[17] Such a description of rigorous winter also appears in a letter Dickinson composed to Elizabeth Holland:

       This austere Afternoon is more to becoming a Patriot than to one whose Friend is it’s only Land.        

No event of Wind or Bird breaks the Spell of Steel.

Nature squanders Rigor – now – where she squandered Love.

Chastening – it may be the Lass that she receiveth.

My House is a House of Snow – true – sadly – of few. (L 432)

[18] Elizabeth A. Petrino states that the botanical writings “offered models of scientific analysis” and instructed Dickinson “in the means to select and preserve flowers” for her herbarium (“Late Bloomer: The Gentian as Sign or Symbol in the Work of Dickinson and Her Contemporaries” 105-6).

[19] See Christopher Uhl’s Developing Ecological Consciousness: The End of Separation, 206. 

[20] Gerhardt also applies Wilson’s perspective in “‘Often seen – but seldom felt’: Emily Dickinson's Reluctant Ecology of Place” (73). Here I enlarge on such an application by focusing on the ecological knowledge and aesthetic pleasure of natural species presented by Dickinson.

[21] Here Dickinson anticipates the idea of Theodore Parker, a “poison” writer she claims her preference for in L213, that the smallest creature is not overlooked: “Father, we think thee for thy loving kindness and thy tender mercy that thou watchest over every little fly spreading his wings in this morning’s sun” (Prayers 19).  

[22] Emerson states, “this origin of all words that convey a spiritual import,-- so conspicuous a fact in the history of language, . . . Every appearance in nature corresponds to some state of the mind, . . . a snake is subtle spite. . .”

[23] Emerson proposes in “Nature” that man “look at the world with new eyes” and states in “The Poet,” “. . . we love the poet, the inventor, who in any form, whether in an ode, or in an action, or in looks and behavior, has yielded us a new thought. He unlocks our chains, and admits us to a new scene.”

As a poet, Dickinson observes nature with “new eyes,” but not necessarily for the “kingdom of man over nature” (“Nature”) or “Divine ideas below” (“The Poet”) as Emerson advocates, and thereby inspires new perceptions.

[24] In “Literary Ecology and the Ethics of Texts,” Hubert Zapf points this out and describes “the presence of a snake as a special creature in a certain natural environment” (858). 

[25] Dickinson’s botanical education at Amherst Academy and Mount Holyoke Seminary encouraged her close observations of plants as well as the construction of her herbarium. However, like natural theologians, contemporary botanists tended to apply botanic knowledge to the illustration of God’s perfect creation or Christian beliefs as demonstrated in Almira H. Lincoln Pheleps’s Familiar Lectures on Botany (1815), “Dickinson’s botanical textbook at Amherst Academy” (Judith Farr, The Gardens of Emily Dickinson 84). 

 

Works Cited

Campbell, Joseph and Bill Moyers. Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth. Public Broadcasting Series, 1988.

Capps, Jack L. Emily Dickinson’s Reading: 1836-1886. Harvard UP, 1966.

Chen, Mei-shu. “The Subjective, Dynamical, and Liberatory Sublime in Emily Dickinson.” Ph.D Dissertation. National Sun Yat-sen University, 1999.

Emerson, R. W. Essays, Lectures, & Poetry. American Transcendentalism Web. http://archive.vcu.edu/english/engweb/transcendentalism.

Farr, Judith. The Gardens of Emily Dickinson. Harvard UP, 2004.

Gerhardt, Christine “‘Often seen – but seldom felt’: Emily Dickinson’s Reluctant Ecology of Place.” The Emily Dickinson Journal, vol. 15, no. 1, 2006, pp. 56-78.

Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. Out-door Papers. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1863.

---. “Preface to Poems by Emily Dickinson.” Poems by Emily Dickinson: First Series. Edited by Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1890.

Hitchcock, Edward. The Highest Use of Learning: An Address Delivered at His Inauguration to the Presidency of Amherst College. Amherst: J.S. & C. Adams, 1845.

---. The Religion of Geology and Its Connected Sciences. Boston: Phillips, Sampson, and Company, 1851.

Lyotard, Jean-François. The Inhuman: Reflections on Time. Stanford UP, 1992.

Parker, Theodore. “Sermons—Prayers.” The Collected Works of Theodore Parker. Vol. 2. Edited by Frances Power Cobbe. London: Trübner & Co.,1879.

Petrino, Elizabeth. “Late Bloomer: The Gentian as Sign or Symbol in the Work of Dickinson and Her Contemporaries.” The Emily Dickinson Journal, vol. 14, no. 1, 2005, pp. 104-125.

Philippon, Daniel J. “Sustainability and the Humanities: An Extensive Pleasure,” American Literary History, vol. 24, no. 1, 2012, pp. 163-179.

Schuman, Jo Miles and Joanna Bailey Hodgman, A Spicing of Birds: Poems by Emily Dickinson. Wesleyan UP, 2010.

Shackelford, Aaron. “Dickinson’s Animals and Anthropomorphism,” The Emily Dickinson Journal, vol. 19, no. 2, 2010, pp. 47-66.  

Simard, Suzanne and Peter Wohlleben. Intelligent Trees: The Documentary. Directed by Julia Dordel and Guido Tölke. Dorcon Film, 2016.

Uhl, Christopher. Developing Ecological Consciousness: The End of Separation. 2nd edition, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2013.

Wilson, Edward O. The Future of Life. Knopf, 2002.

Zapf, Hubert. “Literary Ecology and the Ethics of Texts.” New Literary History, vol. 39, no. 4, Autumn 2008, pp. 847-68.

 


Image Credits 

Fig. 1. Cook, R. Seascape with Fog. Oil on canvas. Frame: 36 1/2 in x 33 1/2 in x 4 1/2 in; 92.7 cm x 85.1 cm x 11.4 cm; Sight: 23 1/2 in x 20 1/2 in; 59.7 cm x 52.1 cm.  AC EDM 2003.216. Collection of the Emily Dickinson Museum, Transfer from Martha Dickinson Bianchi Trust. For link, see: http://museums.fivecolleges.edu/detail.php?museum=&t=objects&type=ext&f=&s=&record=133&id_number=Ac+edm&op-earliest_year=%3E%3D&op-latest_year=%3C%3D

Fig. 2. Emily Dickinson, “The Chemical con- / viction,” about 1865. AC 92-11/12. Courtesy of the Amherst College Library, Archives & Special Collections. For a link to the digital surrogate, see https://acdc.amherst.edu/view/asc:14120/asc:14125

Fig. 3. Emily Dickinson, “The most triumphant / Bird,” about 1873. AC 413. Courtesy of the Amherst College Library Archives & Special Collections. For a link to the digital surrogate, see https://acdc.amherst.edu/view/asc:12265

Fig. 4. Emily Dickinson, “A Light exists in Spring,” about 1865. AC 86-13/14. Courtesy of the Amherst College Library, Archives & Special Collections. For links to the digital surrogate, see https://acdc.amherst.edu/view/asc:5792/asc:5799https://acdc.amherst.edu/view/asc:5792/asc:5800

Fig. 5. Emily Dickinson, “Four Trees upon a Solitary / Acre,” about late 1863, in Fascicle 37. H 56. Courtesy of the Houghton Library, Harvard University. For links to the digital surrogate, see http://www.edickinson.org/editions/2/image_sets/75483http://www.edickinson.org/editions/2/image_sets/75484

Fig. 6. Emily Dickinson, “New feet within my garden go –,” about spring 1859, in Fascicle 3. H 2. Courtesy of the Houghton Library, Harvard University. For a link to the digital surrogate, see http://www.edickinson.org/editions/1/image_sets/235323

Fig. 7. A page from Emily Dickinson’s herbarium, assembled by the poet at age 14. MS Am. 1118.11. Courtesy of the Houghton Library, Harvard University. For a link to the image, see https://iiif.lib.harvard.edu/manifests/view/drs:4184689$14i

Fig. 8. Emily Dickinson, “The Trees like Tassels – hit – / and swung –,” about spring 1863, in Fascicle 24. H 158. Courtesy of the Houghton Library, Harvard University. For a link to the digital surrogate, see http://www.edickinson.org/editions/1/image_sets/235796

Fig. 9. Emily Dickinson, “Split the Lark – and / you’ll find the Music –,” about early 1865. AC 87-3/4. Courtesy of the Amherst College Library, Archives & Special Collections. For a link to the digital surrogate, see https://acdc.amherst.edu/view/asc:2831/asc:2842

Fig. 10. Emily Dickinson, “A narrow Fellow in / the Grass,” about late 1865. AC 88-13/14. Courtesy of the Amherst College Library, Archives & Special Collections. For links to the digital surrogate, see https://acdc.amherst.edu/view/asc:3075/asc:3081https://acdc.amherst.edu/view/asc:3075/asc:3082

Fig. 11. Emily Dickinson, “The Mushroom / is the Elf / of Plants,” about 1874. AC 417. Courtesy of Amherst College Library, Archives & Special Collections. For links to the digital surrogate, see https://acdc.amherst.edu/view/asc:13184https://acdc.amherst.edu/view/asc:13184/asc:13188