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Anxiety of Influence


Emily Dickinson

Some key characteristics to consider as you read Dickinson's poetry:

A Great Link to notes concerning Dickinson's poetry written by Galway Kinnel in Salon.

Click on Emily's Archive to find additional Dickinson Poems. 

Field Trip: April 2001

Poet's Walking Tour of Amherst: Spirit of Place (Genius Loci)


Amherst Walking Tour Sites


1) Dickinson Homestead Tour 2) Evergreens: Austin's and Susan's House

3) Third site of the First 4) West Cemetery

Congregational Church


5) Jones Library; Frost & Dickinson 6) Site of the First Amherst Academy

Room is on the second floor.


7) Town Hall 8) Lord Jeffry Inn


9) Collage Hall today; third site 10) Frost Library; Archive room of the First Congregational Church and exhibits in the basement


11) Town Common 12) Robert Frost House


13) Helen Hunt Jackson House 14) Prof. Edward Hitchcock's house. (Influential geologist and botanist whose work influenced Dickinson).


1) Emily Dickinson Homestead 280 Main Street (1813)

The Homestead is registered with the U.S. Department of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark. Emily Dickinson was born here in 1830. Although she and her family moved to another house in 1840, they returned to the Main Street residence in 1855, and the poet lived there until her death in 1886.


Samuel Fowler Dickinson, the poet's grandfather and one of the founders of Amherst College, built the house in 1813. Emily Dickinson's father, Edward, was a treasurer of the college, a member of the Massachusetts legislature, and, for a term, a member of Congress. It was in this house that Emily Dickinson gradually withdrew from society and nearly all of her friends, producing the work that now places her among the most important poets of all time.

986 1333

A NARROW fellow in the grass A LITTLE madness in the Spring

Occasionally rides - Is wholesome even for the King,

You may have met Him - did you not But God be with the Clown,

His notice sudden is - Who ponders this tremendous scene&emdash;

This whole experiment of green,         5

The Grass divides as with a Comb -         5 As if it were his own!

A spotted shaft is seen -

And then it closes at your feet

And opens further on -


He likes a Boggy Acre

A Floor too cool for Corn.         10

Yet when a Boy, and barefoot -

I more than once at Noon

Have passed, I thought, a Whip-lash

Unbraiding in the Sun

When stooping to secure it         15

It wrinkled, and was gone -


Several of Nature's People

I know, and they know me -

I feel for them a transport

Of cordiality -         20


But never met this Fellow

Attended, or alone

Without a tighter breathing

And Zero at the Bone -



I TASTE a liquor never brewed -

From Tankards scooped in Pearl -

Not all the Vats upon the Rhine

Yield such an Alcohol!



Inebriate of air - am I -         5

And Debauchee of Dew -

Reeling - through endless summer days -

From inns of Molten Blue -


When "Landlords" turn the drunken Bee

Out of the Foxglove's door -         10

When Butterflies - renounce their "drams" -

I shall but drink the more!


Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats,

And Saints - to windows run -

To see the little Tippler         15

Leaning against the - Sun -



THERE'S a certain Slant of light,

On Winter Afternoons -

That oppresses, like the Heft

Of Cathedral Tunes -


Heavenly Hurt, it gives us -         5

We can find no scar,

But internal difference,

Where the meanings, are -


None may teach it - Any -

'T is the Seal Despair -         10

An imperial affliction

Sent us of the air -


When it comes, the Landscape listens -

Shadows - hold their breath -

When it goes, 't is like the Distance         15

On the look of death -


SUCCESS is counted sweetest

By those who ne'er succeed.

To comprehend a nectar

Requires sorest need.


Not one of all the purple Host         5

Who took the Flag to-day

Can tell the definition,

So clear of Victory


As he defeated - dying -

On whose forbidden ear         10

The distant strains of triumph

Break agonized and clear.




I HEARD a fly buzz - when I died -

The stillness round my form

Was like the Stillness in the Air

Between the Heaves of Storm.


The Eyes around - had wrung them dry -         5

And Breaths were gathering firm

For that last Onset, when the King

Be witnessed in the Room -


I willed my Keepsakes - Signed away

What portion of me be           10

Assignable - and then it was

There interposed a Fly -


With Blue - uncertain stumbling Buzz -

Between the light - and me -

And then the Windows failed - and then         15

I could not see to see.


2) The Evergreens 214 Main Street (1856;1700's)

Home of Emily's brother William Austin and his wife Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson. Austin, a lawyer, succeeded his father as treasurer of Amherst College in 1874, a post that he held until his death in 1895. He was involved in many town projects, perhaps his chief contributions were the building of the new First Congregational Church in 1867, the founding of the Water Company in 1880 and the Gas Company in 1877, and the laying out of Wildwood Cemetery, as well as improvements to the Common and Amherst College in consultation with Frederick Law Olmsted in 1888.


In November 1885 a gang of thieves struck houses in Amherst, including those of the Hills and of Austin Dickinson. Robbers entered the house while the family ate dinner. Emily Dickinson later sent a brief note to her brother's son, Ned: "Burglaries have become so frequent, is it quite safe to leave the Golden Rule out overnight?" Through the unique terms of the will, the house has not been altered since the death of Austin's daughter Martha Dickinson Bianchi in 1943.


3) First Church 165 Main Street (1867)

This is the third site for the First Congregational Church, which was founded in 1739, when Amherst was known as the Third Precinct of Hadley. An institution that was integrally tied to the early history and founding of Amherst, First Church was the original site for town meetings, and, in fact, town revenues supported its ministers until 1833. Early sites for three different church buildings now house the Octagon and College Hall on the Amherst College Campus. The Pelham granite construction was completed by the Amherst contractor C.W. Lessey. Over the years, many architectural additions and deletions have occurred, while the interior has been redecorated numerous times.

4) West Cemetery (behind the Mobil gas station (Pegasus?): Once on the extreme outer boundary of the community, this historic cemetery contains the graves of Emily Dickinson, her parents, and her sister Lavinia and is the site for an informal ceremony, held each year on the anniversary of the poet's birth. A monument to unknown African American Union soldiers is in the southwest corner of the cemetery. Many of Amherst's earliest settlers and their descendants are buried here, as is educator William S. Clark.




I FELT a Funeral, in my Brain,

And Mourners to and fro

Kept treading - treading - till it seemed

That sense was breaking through-


And when they all were seated,         5

A service, like a Drum-

Kept beating - beating - till I thought

My Mind was going numb-


And then I heard them lift a Box,

And creak across my Soul         10

With those same Boots of Lead, again.

Then Space - began to toll,


As all the Heavens were a Bell,

And Being, but an Ear,

And I, and silence, some strange Race,         15

Wrecked, solitary, here-


And then a Plank in Reason, broke,

And I dropped down, and down-

And hit a World, at every plunge,

And Finished knowing - then -



I DIED for Beauty - but was scarce

Adjusted in the Tomb,

When One who died for Truth, was lain

In an adjoining room -


He questioned softly why I failed?         5

"For beauty," I replied -

"And - I for truth, - the two are one -

We Brethren are," He said.


And so, as Kinsmen met a Night -

We talked between the Rooms -         10

Until the moss had reached our lips -

And covered up - our names -



SAFE in their alabaster chambers -

Untouched by Morning and untouched by Noon,

Sleep the meek members of the resurrection -

Rafter of satin, and roof of stone.


Light laughs the breeze in her Castle above them -         5

Babbles the Bee in a stolid Ear,

Pipe the Sweet Birds in ignorant cadence,&emdash;

Ah, what sagacity perished here!


Grand go the years - in the Crescent - above them -

Worlds scoop their arcs - and firmaments row -         10

Diadems drop and Doges - surrender -

Soundless as dots - on a Disc of snow.




5) Jones Library (1926-28; renovations 1992-93)

Incorporated in 1919, the Library is named for its benefactor Samuel Minot Jones, an Amherst native who made his fortune in the Midwest. Constructed from Pelham field stone, the chief stone mason was Anthony Rufo, who along with his crew of Italian craftsmen selected stone of the right color and texture for the library's walls. For his artistry, Tony Rufo was nicknamed Michaelangelo. Recently renovated, the Jones Library contains Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Robert Francis exhibits and a wealth of historical information about Amherst.


6) Amherst Academy Site (1814 - 1868)

This site contained the three story brick preparatory school of Amherst poet Emily Dickinson (who attended school here from 1840-46), novelist Helen Hunt Jackson, and Mary Lyons, the founder of Mt. Holyoke College. Among the more eccentric students of Amherst Academy was Sylvester Graham. Known as "The Philosopher of Sawdust Pudding" he was an early advocate of vegetarianism and the man for whom the Graham Cracker was named.


Established in 1814, the school was the most prominent educational institution in this part of the state and was very influential in the founding of Amherst College in 1821. By the 1860s, the dilapidated structure served as the locus for a number of African American community meetings, including religious services and an appearance by the legendary orator Frederic Douglass. After the original building's demolition, the Amity Street Public School was build on this site in 1869.


7) Town Hall (1889-90)

The present Town Hall was constructed on the site of the Palmer Block, a large brick building named after leading citizen Dwight Palmer which burned at the height of the blizzard on March 11, 1888. Since Palmer Hall was already the location for town meetings, the Town immediately purchased the block and constructed a sturdy, fireproof Town Hall. The popular Richardson Romanesque Style was designed by H.S. McKay of Boston and built for a total of $58,000! This building, now cherished by the town, caused so much controversy and dissent as it was being constructed that the Amherst Record had this comment in 1890: "We should bear in mind the fact that the architect of the Cathedral at Milan, backed by the wealth of the universe, could not have designed a village horse-shed that would meet with universal favor at the hands of the citizens of Amherst."


8) The Lord Jeffery Inn

Built by alumni and friends of Amherst College and owned by Amherst College, the "Lord Jeff" is the setting for summer outdoor performances in addition to its high quality lodging and restaurant functions. This became Frost's second home as he would visit Amherst college often in his latter half of his life.

Frost Poems:


Mending Wall Nothing Gold Can Stay


SOMETHING there is that doesn't love a wall, Nature's first green is gold, 

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, Her hardest hue to hold.

And spills the upper boulders in the sun; Her early leaf's a flower;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast. But only so an hour.  

The work of hunters is another thing:           5 Then leaf subsides to leaf.

I have come after them and made repair So Eden sank to grief,

Where they have left not one stone on a stone, So dawn goes down to day.

But they would have the rabbit out of hiding, Nothing gold can stay.

To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,  

No one has seen them made or heard them made,   10

But at spring mending-time we find them there.  

I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;  

And on a day we meet to walk the line  

And set the wall between us once again.  

We keep the wall between us as we go.    15

To each the boulders that have fallen to each.  

And some are loaves and some so nearly balls  

We have to use a spell to make them balance:  

"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"  

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.   20

Oh, just another kind of out-door game,  

One on a side. It comes to little more:  

There where it is we do not need the wall:  

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.  

My apple trees will never get across    25

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.  

He only says, "Good fences make good neighbours."  

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder  

If I could put a notion in his head:  

"Why do they make good neighbours? Isn't it    30

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.  

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know  

What I was walling in or walling out,  

And to whom I was like to give offence.  

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,    35

That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,  

But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather  

He said it for himself. I see him there  

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top  

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.    40

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,  

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.  

He will not go behind his father's saying,  

And he likes having thought of it so well  

He says again, "Good fences make good neighbours."   45



9) College Hall South Pleasant Street (1828-29)

Warren Slade Howland, architect, remodeled (1905) by William R. Mead of McKim, Mead, and White. This was the third building of the First Congregational Church, Emily Dickinson's family church. The first two meeting houses stood across the street where the octagon building now stands. In 1867, when the parish built its present granite church on Main Street, Amherst College bought this building, which it now uses for administrative offices.


11) The Common

Originally extending south to the bike path and set aside for "public or particular use" in the 1750s, the common area was used in the 19th century as a parade ground with pasture land draining into a large frog pond. During Amherst College commencement (in early August), the common was filled with vendors and peddlers as the entire Town celebrated the event. Cattle shows were held here, sponsored annually by the Hampshire Agricultural Society. By 1858, the Amherst ornamental Tree Association (founded in 1857) took control of the Common and, in consultation with the noted architect Frederick Law Olmsted, proceeded to redesign and replant the area in 1874. The Town now oversees the planting and maintenance of The Common, with the assistance of the Amherst Garden Club.


Often overlooked on the Common, is the unique drinking fountain for dogs. In 1904 the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Young Woman's Christian Temperance Union (Do you remember the King and Duke fund raise in their name and later drink off the charitable donations?) dedicated a drinking fountain for humans over the old town well. The purpose was to encourage people to drink water rather than liquor. On the back of this fountain can be found a granite drinking basin for dogs put there at the suggestion of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.




BECAUSE I could not stop for Death -

He kindly stopped for me -

The Carriage held but just Ourselves -

And Immortality.


We slowly drove - He knew no haste -         5

And I had put away

My labor and my leisure too,

For His Civility.


We passed the School where Children strove

At Recess - in the Ring -          10

We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain -

We passed the Setting Sun.


Or rather - He passed Us -

The Dews drew quivering and chill -

For only Gossamer, my Gown -

My Tippet - only Tulle


We paused before a House that seemed

A Swelling of the Ground;

The Roof was scarcely visible,         15

The Cornice - in the Ground.


Since then - 't is Centuries - and yet

Feels shorter than the Day

I first surmised the Horses' Heads

Were toward Eternity -          20


12) Robert Frost House 43 Sunset Avenue (1875)

Known as the Frost House, this house was originally built for Massachusetts Agricultural College president Henry Goodell. The local papers noted that this Stick Style home was the more modern of houses in 1875 with hot and cold running water and a furnace. Robert Frost and his family lived here from 1931-38. Frost lived here from 1923 to 1938. This house was the setting for many happy evenings in Amherst, and also for deep family tragedy. In November of 1934, Frost's wife Elenor, his closest friend and advisor, suffered a severe heart attack and was cared for by Dr. Nelson Haskell. Here in 1937 the Frosts learned that Elenor needed immediate surgery for cancer. After her death in 1938 Robert Frost sold their Amherst home, though he returned to Amherst for two months each year from 1946 until the late 1950's as special lecturer. The 1965 library at Amherst College is named in honor of Robert Frost.


13) Helen Hunt Jackson House 249 South Pleasant Street (1830)

This was the childhood home of Helen Hunt Jackson, a contemporary of Emily Dickinson. A notable author, Miss Jackson is best known for her novel Ramona about the plight of Native Americans. In her later years, she corresponded with Emily Dickinson encouraging her to publish her poetry. Both are in the Jones Library's Emily Dickinson Collection. In early 1883, Emily Dickinson sent pressed flowers to Helen Hunt Jackson with this cryptic note: "To be remembered what? Worthy to be forgot is their own renown -"


14) Edward Hitchcock House

272 South Pleasant Street Octagon addition (1836) (1828)

This Greek Revivial house was first the home of architect, Warren Slade Howland. Its most remembered occupant was Amherst College President Edward Hitchcock, known especially for his early geology work in the valley as well as his teaching and administration at the college. The octagon was built to house his geology collections, including dinosaur footprints.



HOPE is the thing with feathers-

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words-

And never stops - at all -


And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard;         5

And sore must be the storm -

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm -


I 've heard it in the chillest land -

And on the strangest Sea -         10

Yet, never, in Extremity -

It asked a crumb - of Me.



Emily Dickinson Leaves a Message to

the World, Now That Her Homestead in

Amherst Has an Answering Machine

by X. J. Kennedy (editor of our anthology)


Because I could not stop for Breath

Past Altitudes -- of Earth --

Upon a reel of Tape I leave

Directions to my Hearth --


For All who will not let me lie

Unruffled in escape --

Speak quickly -- or I'll intercept

Your Message with -- a Beep.


Though often I had dialed and rung

The Bastion of the Bee --

The Answer I had hungered for

Was seldom Home -- to me --



Most of the information was copied from the Amherst town web page. For more information on the official walking tour of Amherst: