Poet as Gardener - Emily Dickinson's Night Gardening

I seem to be wanting more of  Emily Dickinson's words, "A lunatic on bulbs," and gardening skills lately. I didn't know that she liked to garden at night until I read the New York Times article excerpted below. The poet Deborah Digges also gardened at night. This summer I plan to try it, too. So far, all I've done at night is kill slugs and snails.

This year, Mark Doty was in Seattle as part of the Seattle Arts and Lectures Poetry Series and he spoke about visiting Walt Whitman's grave as well as places Whitman lived. I like the idea of paying respect to the poets that have inspired me in this same way. Instead of a religious pilgrimage to Lourdes, I went to the Lake District and broke into Wordsworth's garden (many years ago). I'm interested in seeing places Elizabeth Bishop lived - Key West, Brazil, Worcester, MA. I used to love to visit the houses of famous writers when I was younger (Mark Twain's house in Connecticut, for example) but it's been years. I'd love to hear of poetry pilgrimages others have gone on. Is it cheesy or inspiring? My sense is that I would want to go to pay my respects more than anything else. Or maybe to get another glass of lemonade in Emily's garden.

We now suspect that one reason Dickinson preferred night gardening was because of vision problems: for several years in her early middle age, sunlight stung her eyes. But no such explanations are needed to justify the indoor-outdoor format of “Emily Dickinson’s Garden: The Poetry of Flowers,” an ambitious, multipart show, opening Friday at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, that considers Dickinson equally as a horticulturalist and a poet, and forges links between the two.

To read the rest of the article click here


  1. I have always loved the idea of gardening. Wanted to garden as though it would be the magical ingredient to make me a wonderful poet.

  2. Pilgrimages seem entirely bound to whatever weight the traveler brings with him/her. I think, if it is a true pilgrimage, it is impossible for it to be cheesy.

    Our garden is looking pretty lush right now, but I have yet to work it at night.

  3. I find it meaningful to go to writers' houses, even if the house belonged to a writer whose work doesn't particularly move me. I've gone to Hemingway's house in Key West because my dad really wanted to go and was willing to pay my admission fee. I didn't particularly care about going because I never really liked Hemingway's work. I was really glad we did it after we took the tour. There's just something wonderful about being in the physical place where a writer did work or even simply where a writer lived, even if the writer's best work had been done elsewhere.

    Of course, I've always loved historical places, so maybe I'm just weird that way.

  4. Dickinson may have gardened at night to avoid people and summer heat. But surely there were mosquitoes in Amherst. A while back I wrote a guidebook to writers' homes in New England after I had seen Hawthorne's tiny desk in Concord. I mean tiny, a shelf really, tacked to a wall.

    Cheers for the new look of your site!

  5. Kristin, I too love visiting writers' houses. Somehow this was an easier thing to do when I lived in New England. I've just made it a quest to find writers' homes in Washington State. I have found Elizabeth Bishop's apartment building where she stayed for six months when teaching at UW.

  6. Hi Mimi,
    Yes -- the bugs! I wonder if mosquitoes were as bad in her time? What other houses did you write about? That is such a wonderful project. And for some reason I seem to be in need of a writer's house at the moment.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts