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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Learning life lessons from those fiesty hummingbirds

I loved this post that my husband sent me yesterday!

It is written by author Anne Strieber, well known for her thrillers An Invisible Woman and Little Town Lies.

She is married to Whitley Strieber,  best known for his horror novels The Wolfen and The Hunger and for Communion, a non-fiction account of his perceived experiences with non-human entities.

In this post, Anne draws an analogy between hummingbirds who love to pick a fight, and people of the same ilk. It proves yet again how much we can learn by drawing upon and make connections.

John Donne in 1624 said it so well in his famous poem,
“No Man is an Island:”

No Man Is An Island
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

He speaks of the need for human connectedness. Anne extends that connectedness to the entire natural world.

Here is a teaser from her post:

” … I’ll see a hummer [aka, hummingbird]  land on our feeder, take a sip of sugar water, then immediately put his head up and look around, searching for a rival. I used to think this had something to do with guarding the food source, but now I’ve realized it’s because hummingbirds really ENJOY a good fight.

Soon two (or three) hummers are buzzing around, darting at each other, feinting and threatening, sometimes even telling each other off with that little “cht, cht” sound they make.

I’ve written before about why we humans are designed to make love, not war (even though we seem to be starting a new battle, somewhere, almost every day). But SOME people are more like hummingbirds–they relish a good fight and actively look for one … ”

Click here to read the rest of this intriguing post (from the Unknown Country website)

All the lessons we need to learn are out there.

We just need the senses for perceive and a heart and head that will listen.

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