Emily Dickinson's Lyrical...

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Editors' Note

I did not deem that Planetary forces annulled – but suffered an Exchange of Territory, or World –

– Emily Dickinson to T. W. Higginson (1863) 

“When life, when writing, has begun, we find ourselves unable to draw a thin, rigid line around it. Ecology thinks a limitless system with no center or edge, devoid of intrinsic essence (no ‘Nature’): calligraphy as biology. So does poetry.”

– Timothy Morton, “Ecology as Text, Text as Ecology” (2010) 


Initially composed for two related MLA panels sponsored by the Emily Dickinson International Society in 2016, then lightly revised for publication, the six essays gathered here serve as “trials,” serious but preliminary testings of ideas concerning Dickinson’s textual, material, and cultural ecologies. They explore her immersion in and translation of natural and engineered soundscapes; her interrogation of anthropomorphism; her stakes in human-non-human crossings; her questioning of the prevailing notion of singular, sovereign and temporally enduring identity; and her imagination of a post- or non-human “world without us.”[1] Rather than attempting to forge a cohesive account of Dickinson’s view of the conflicting claims of science and theology, or of her sense-experience of nature and technology, these essays recognize the value inherent in reading with a compound eye that clarifies even as it complicates our understanding of the “flickering, shimmering field of forces”[2] that compose (and decompose) the environments in which she lived and wrote. In addition to offering incisive readings of Dickinson’s poems through new lenses, the essays also bear witness to many possible points of convergence between ecological processes and her poetic methods, e.g., the dynamics between structural complexity and environmental integrity, the function of natural disturbance regimes, and the role of non-linearity in ecological and textual systems.

While the essays may be read in any order—indeed, readers are encouraged to traverse them according to their own desires—our editorial arrangement aims at drawing attention to the figures, images, and ideas that link them, if only ever fugitively. Here, the opening, most fully elaborated essay, a searching, sometimes melancholy, often joyful reflection on the political and ultimately ethical demands of a poetry that seeks to reimagine our ties to nonhuman beings in the dark light of ecological crisis, is followed by briefer, break-away essays offering acute meditations on Dickinson’s “ether road,” her “lyric soundtopes,” her “humanimal poetics,” and her “relocation [of the] the center of her poetry outside human wishes and desires” in the depths of the sea. A coda to the issue offers a richly layered account of Dickinson’s unfolding poetic responses to her earthly environment and to prevailing ecological ideas of the mid- and late-19thcentury. Throughout this gathering of essays, the “Dickinson” imagined almost always strikes a pose of reserve with regard to ontology as the elect manner of seeing the world, while the lyric poem, whose very structure expresses a striving between experience and knowledge, is itself newly proposed as always already embodied and immersed in the material world that summons it and to which it also continually responds.


Marta Werner & Eliza Richards


[1] Alan Weisman, The World Without Us. Picador, 2007.

[2] Timothy Morton, “Ecology as Text, Text as Ecology.” The Oxford Literary Review. vol. 31, no. 1 (2010): p. 9.