Book Review: “Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief” by Roger Lundin

Emily Dickinson and the Art of BeliefEmily Dickinson and the Art of Belief by Roger Lundin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I knew nothing about Emily Dickinson before reading this book. Now I feel like I have a good running start. As the title suggests, Roger Lundin sets the book against the backdrop of the religious, political and social events of the times and the extraordinary changes that took place in all those areas throughout the 19th century. Despite the fact that Dickinson was an avowed recluse, she was profoundly affected. Despite seeing people on very rare occasions, she read voraciously, kept up with current events and most importantly, carried on many intimate correspondences by letters with dear friends over years, both men and women. Considered an enigma by many, she left behind an incredible legacy of words through her poetry and letters.

Admittedly I am completely dense when it comes to poetry. Despite the fact that I have written song lyrics, I just don’t understand poetry. And here I choose the most difficult of them all to read! But Emily Dickinson is also considered one of the greatest.

Lundin’s book was a page turner for me. I knew I was hooked the moment I whipped out my pencil and started my customary conversation with this book. Many underscores and notes later, I am sad that my read is over.

As I had hoped, he devoted a chapter to examining some of the poetry she wrote during her most prolific period which aided greatly in my understanding. Against the backdrop of the Civil War for which she had little first-hand contact save the death of friends and neighbors who fought, she fought her own war within herself, a great turmoil that produced her most brilliant work.

I was most fascinated by her seclusion and how many in her own family accepted it as normal to her character. Her sister-in-law Susan wrote in her obituary the following which I think sums it up perfectly:

“Like a magician she caught the shadowy apparitions of her brain and tossed them in startling picturesqueness to her friends … who fretted that she had so easily made palpable the tantalizing fancies forever eluding their bungling, fettered grasp.” (pg. 265)

From Lundin’s description of Dickinson I got the impression that she fashioned her life exactly as she wanted it. She saw her limited options as a mid-19th century woman and made her choices. She was indeed fortunately to have family members, especially Lavinia (“Vinnie”) protecting that choice and allowing her to live it even if they did not begin to comprehend Emily’s genius.

I can’t say that I can now go and read Dickinson’s poetry and “get it.” But I can certainly try. I can also visit her home in Amherst which is only an hour or so away from me.

How I do love living in New England!

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Lincoln’s melancholy – guest post from the Holy Rover

I’m sure many of you have already seen Steven Speilberg’s acclaimed “Lincoln.” I am eager to see it myself. My favorite part of American history is from the Civil War to the present, mainly because it is captured in photographs.

from http://www.spiritualtravels.info/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/061221225103_abraham_lincoln_lg1.jpg

Abraham Lincoln is a most compelling and thoughtful man. Lori, in her post, describes how his tendency towards depression from his melancholy nature created the man of character we so admire.

For much of my life I too was deposed towards melancholy fueled by an artist’s temperament. It took me many years to figure out the cause (and therapy, much of it useless) and now having that knowledge, I can say that my life is much calmer. The roller coaster ride has smoothed out into floating downstream.

Here’s a teaser to Lori’s post with a link to the rest. And let me know if you’ve seen “Lincoln” and what you think of it. Can’t wait to go myself!

You probably already know a quite a bit about Lincoln, but one aspect of his story may not be familiar to you. In particular, I want to tell you about a gift that Lincoln possessed, the gift of melancholy. Melancholy—which is related to what we would call depression—was both a blessing and a curse to Lincoln. I think the story of how he bore that affliction, and of how it deepened his character and faith, holds some lessons for us today.

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