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This is poetry and the American produced and recorded by radio station KPFA in Berkeley California under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. Several of the programs in this series on poetry in the American are devoted to the work of a single poet. And today's is one of those. The importance of the poet under consideration may be judged by the recent appearance of an anthology called the major poets in which the editor selected what he took to be the greatest poets to write in the English language from Chaucer to the present time. There was not of the thirty four poets selected only one woman and that woman was an American. Emily Dickinson. Today we are to hear a program on the poetry of Emily Dickinson written and presented by Miriam Ostroff. Here is Mrs. Ostrov. Before I got my eye put out I liked as well to see his other creatures that have eyes and know no other way. But Warren told me today
that I might have the sky for mine. I tell you that my heart would split the size of me. The Meadow was mine the mountains mine all forests stand the stars as much of noon as I could take between my finite eyes. The motions of the dipping birds the lightnings jointer growed for mind to look at when I liked the news would strike me dead so. So I guess with just my soul upon the window pane where other creatures put their eyes in cautious of the sun. In considering Emily Dickinson one must first remark that she is perhaps the finest woman poet ever to have lived. She is among the great talents the United States has produced a contemporary of Emerson in the row. She was artistically their superior.
What manner of woman was this spinster of Amherst who styled herself Empress of Calvary and wrote within the confines of her father's ground lines which make one feel the top of one's head is coming off her own description of how she knows when she is reading poetry. Let us consider first. Emily Dickinson's background. The robins my criterion of June because I grow where robins do but where I could google and I'd swear by him the old familiar rules of themone. The buttercups my whim for Bloom because we are orchards. But what I've written below on danger you spurn and I'm but the not Doc tober. It's because through dropping it the seasons fly time taught without the snows Tablo winter were lied
to me because I see New England play. The queen discerns like me provincially. Emily Dickinson was a product of New England and Squire Dickinson's daughter she was raised in a comfortable home and enjoyed an education suitable to a young woman in her position. Family ties were strong. She adored her father who dominated the household. When father is asleep on the lounge the house is full she wrote a friend. He buys me many books but begs me not to read them because he fears they joggle in mind. Emily was devoted to her brother Austin and to her sister Lavinia. It was due to Lavinia's persistence and faith in Emily that her poetry was ever brought to the attention of the public. Emily's mother did not seem to have great influence. Emily wrote that she never had a mother and again that her mother did not care
for thought only in the last years of her mother's life when she was dependent on Emily's care. Did Emily grow to feel intimate with her. The Dickinson family was prominent in Amherst Massachusetts. Emily's grandfather was one of the founders of Amherst College. Her father was also civic minded and for many years was treasurer of the college and he was prominent in state politics and even served a term in the Congress of the United States. The Dickinsons were a close family but the atmosphere was somewhat austere. Certainly the Puritan tradition was strong. Emily's inability to accept the prevalent religious dogma caused her much disquiet. But she could never quite commit herself. Faith is a fine invention for gentlemen who see but microscopes are
prudent in an emergency. And she remarked others hesitancy to relinquish this world for the better one. Drowning is not so pitiful is the attempt to rise three times to set a sinking man comes up to face the skies and then declines forever to that and hold abode where hope and he part company for he has grasped of God. The maker's cordial visage however good to see is shunned. We must admit it like an adversity. Theology of the time was too austere for Emilie. She wrote in a humanistic vein. Who has not found the heaven below will fail of it above God's residence is next to mine. His furniture is love and in a truly a buoyant mood.
Some keep the Sabbath going to church. I keep it staying at home with a babbling for a chorister and an orchard for a dome. Some keep the Sabbath in surplus. I just wear my wings and instead of tolling the bell for church our little Sexton sings. God preaches a noted clergyman and the sermon is never long. So instead of getting to heaven at last I'm going all along. Despite these ringing sentiments which sound on perplexed. Emily was deeply troubled all her life by religious questions. She was constantly seeking assurances but was never completely satisfied and never indeed could bring herself to formally join the church. This was exceptional for her time and circumstance and caused her real anguish. Her letters make clear her concern with religious problems and her regret that she could not accept the pat answers which
seem to give others peace all through our life Emily was occupied with the question of life after death and a great many of her poems deal with death. Her interest is so extreme it might be interpreted as morbid but out of it has come a number of brilliant poems. Before considering much of Emily's poetry however it may be interesting to learn a little more of Emily herself. We have noted that she came from a highly respectable even distinguished family. She was suitably educated. She attended Mount Holyoke female seminary and Amherst College for a while. Her school friends remembered her wit and apparently she participated happily in the activities of her young associates. Her letters written quite at school are full of warm friendship and adulation for various of her teachers. And as I have already mentioned her uneasiness over religious questions she wrote that her conscience
whispers but that it is hard to give up the world. Ironically that is just what Emily Dickinson did do. She did not give up the world to join the church but sometime after she left college she began to withdraw from the everyday world and by the time she was 32 years old she lived in almost complete seclusion. Naturally speculation has run rife as to the cause for her withdrawal. Her poetry indicates a tragic love affair and numerous objects for her affection have been provided by zealous biographers. No doubt the cause of her withdraw was multiple. Emily Dickinson must have been an extraordinarily complex human being. One friend wrote that the intensity of a brief visit with her left him feeling utterly drained and he was glad he could not make many such visits. Interesting as the experience was and Emily herself found the strain of face to face
contact almost unbearable even close friends she would ask to talk with from an adjoining room out of sight. It is quite possible that Emilie wanted more from her friends than most of them could even fathom. She complained I had men say to me and when asked about her shunning men and women she remarked they talk of hallowed things aloud and embarrass my dog. She was a rare intellect as well as a respite. It is not easy to live with genius and Emily's attachments may have been agonizing. Certainly she was devoted to her friends. She referred to them as her state. She was a prolific and enchanting letter writer in her later years. Her associations were practically limited to letters. Often her prose fell automatically and diverse. One biographer notes only
a sentence or two and she was singing and he offers a convincing example. This is a letter sweet Nellie blossoms and cakes and memory choosey which she will so I say the memory blossoms when runaway cakes rain but a day but memory like melody is pink eternally. Emilie. Another letter is somewhat more conventional in style darts from one subject to another. Did children. I think the Blue Birds do their work exactly like me. They got around just so with little dodging feet and look so agitated. I really feel for them they seem to be so tried the mud is very deep up to the wagon stomachs aboutus making pink clothes and everything along
live. Even the hens are touched with the things of bourbon and make Republicans like me feel strangely out of seeing mother went rambling and came in with a burdock on a shawl. So we know that the snow is perished from the air. No I would have liked mother. Pussy has a daughter in the shavings barrel. Father steps like crumble when he gets the kindlings. The letter continues but from this excerpt one can picture the recipient gasping and perhaps groping for a response from these letters and the few poems I have read I think we have a sense of Emily Dickinson's spirit. What can we say about her person and her personality. She was a slight woman with red hair and plain features. She referred to herself as the only kangaroo among the beauty. Emilie described her
hair as bold like a chestnut burr and her eyes is like the sherry in the glass that the guest leaves. But even with the sherry colored eyes and the two smooth bands of auburn hair and the clear pale skin and pretty teeth. Emily was not a pretty girl. Austin Emily's brother felt that Emily knew how plain she was and suffered more badly because of it. The only reference I have come across which refers to her as beauty is in the account of a literary friend who wrote in his diary of her funeral he remarked the piece on that beautiful brow. But if one were to meet Emily Dickinson probably one thing would impress more than any other and it would not be her parents. It would be the intensity with which she addressed life. Her
poetry tells of great suffering and implies some single injury from which she was never to recover. In her letters to intimate she was to refer to that all male in my breast. The very sensitivity which caused her to suffer so acutely. No doubt enabled her to write so arresting Lee. There is no doubt her anguish was agonizing. I measure every grief I meet with analytic eyes. I wonder if it weighs like mine or has an easier size. I wonder if they bore it long or did it just begin. I could not tell a date of mine. It feels so old dipping. I wonder if it hurts to live. And if they have to try and weather could they choose between that they would not rather die. I wonder if when years have piled some thousands on the cause of early hurt.
If such a lapse could give them any pause or would they go on aching still through centuries above and light to a larger pain by contrast with love. The grief are many. I'm told the reason deeper lies. Death is but one and then comes but once and only nailed beyond as there's grief of want and grief of cold a sort they call despair. There is banishment from native eyes inside of native air and that I may not guess the kind correctly yet. To me a piercing comfort it affords in passing Calvary to know the fashions of the cross. Of those that stand alone still fascinated to presume that some are like my own.
Another cry of pain. The heart asks pleasure first and then excuse from pain and then those little anodynes the dead and suffering and then to go to sleep. And then if it should be the will of its Inquisitor or the liberty to die. Emily scoffed at the idea that pain dissipates. They say that time is wages. Time never did assuage and actual suffering strengthens as sinews do with age. Time is the test of trouble. But not a remedy if such it prove it prove 2 there was no malady. Naturally as Emily with grew more and more from the everyday world that world came to regard her as eccentric. Her life of seclusion which continued until her death for more than 20 years is fantastic to imagine. She was a prolific letter writer and she was a
considerate if removed friend and neighbor. She often sent a verse with a flower to commemorate a special occasion. She loved the children who played in her father's garden and gave them cakes and an occasional story and she performed her share of the domestic chores. Her bread won a prize at a local fair and her father refused to eat any other and she was an expert. God no flowers thrived under her care. But she never left her father's grounds and she refused to appear in the parlor when guests were visiting. She was a wispy figure always in the background and always dressed in white. She was almost a complete recluse. Seeing only her family and very occasionally a favored friend. To say Emily Dickenson was a non-conformist is a tremendous understatement. Even had she been able to face the world on its terms and live what might pass for a normal life she was an individual as to could never have been termed conventional.
She has something to say on the subject. Much madness is divine just sense to a designing eye much sense the stockist madness. It is the majority in this as all prevails as then and you are saying demur. Your straight way dangerous and handled with a chain. Certainly the majority even in its most compassionate kindest mood regarded Emily as eccentric. Banking gardening letter writing hardly feel alive. Yet there was another element in Amman existence she wrote poetry she wrote prolifically she wrote masterfully. She was an uncompromising artist. After she had been writing for a long time and felt at last some confidence she wrote to a literary critic wanting to know if her verse breathed Mr. Higginson was kind but unappreciative of the stature of his correspondent.
He asked for more conventional rhyme. Emily was polite even humble but she never changed a line to suit his taste. One feels she was a purist demanding the utmost from myself and somehow hoping for the best from the rest of the world. Naturally there was this illusion. It dropped so low in my regard I heard it hit the ground and go to pieces on the stones at the bottom of my mind yet blamed the fate that factored less than I reviled myself for entertaining play did weigh as upon my silver shelf. Probably Emily's reticence and the discouragement she received from others. She refused to limit her genius. We never know how high we are till we are called to rise. And then if we have to plan our statures touch the skies the heroism we recite
would be a daily thing did not ourselves the cubits walk for fear to be a king. Emily was not afraid to be a queen even though the world at large during her lifetime was unaware for she was completely unknown. Her friends knew she wrote verse and they enjoyed occasional poems honoring special events. There was no doubt pleasure for her in their praise. But there is evidence that Emilie would have enjoyed publication. She was not really so modest as some of her comments indicate. Her experience with critics and publishers however was disastrous. A few poems were published and always with alt. rhymes were made more standard in grammar took precedence over inspiration. None of the few authorities who saw her poems with the possible exception of Helen Hunt Jackson recognize that Emily Dickinson's technique was ahead of the day. Rather they thought her undisciplined and lacking in technique.
Emily accepted their judgement philosophically. She could laugh. I'm nobody who are you are you nobody too. Then there's a pair of us. Don't tell they banish us you know how dreary to be somebody how public like a frog to tell you name the live long day to an admiring bog. But one suspects that the true sentiments of the young woman who once expressed the wish that someday a long time off she might make her family proud. I bet I stated in another poem. Success is counted sweetest by those who marry or succeed. To comprehend a nectar requires sorest need not one of all the purple host who took the flag today. I can tell the definition so clear
victory as he defeated dying on whose forbidden ear the distant strains of triumph break agonized and clear. But if Emily Dickinson regretted living and writing in Oblivion she was not enamored of glory. She was much too aware of the impermanence of favor and of life itself. Glory is that right tragic thing that for an instant means Dominion warm some poor name that never felt the sun gently replacing in oblivion. She regarded as preposterous any pretense of personal prestige. A little madness in the spring is wholesome even for the king. But God be with the Crown who ponders this tremendous scene.
This whole experiment of green as if it were his own death was always imminent. This quiet dust was Gentlemen and ladies and lads and girls it was laughter and ability and sighing and frocks and curls. This passive place was Somers a nimble mansion where bloom and be nice fulfill their already gentle circuit. Then see just like that. Emily Dickinson Empress of Calvary recluse poet of Amherst died at the age of 56 years her sister Lavinia was amazed to discover a huge number of poems carefully package did.
Perhaps Emily was well aware of the genius that was hers. Lavinia was dedicated to her task and the first edition of Emily's poems was published about four years after the author's death with appropriate apologies from the aforementioned Mr. Higginson. The first volume was met with some scathing criticism but the poems gradually won their place. In Bath Emily Dickinson achieved that a claim which seemed so remote during her lifetime as remarked earlier Emily Dickinson had a great deal to say about there. Her finest poems probably more deal with this subject than with any other. One dignity delays for all. One might afternoon. None can avoid this parable. None evade this crown. Call it insurers and footmen. Chamber and state and federal. WELD also in the villages we ride grand along. What
dignified attendance. What service when we pause our lives putting their hundred hats they raise our pops a passing urine when simple you and I present our Mika scutcheon and claim the right to die. And another poem on the subject of death. 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 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 until the moss had reached our lips and covered up our names.
And another 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 and I had put away my labor and my leisure too for his civility. We passed the school where children played at wrestling in a ring. We passed the field of gazing grain. We passed the setting sun. We paused before a house that seemed a swelling of the ground. The roof was scarcely visible. The corners but a mound since then to centuries. But each field shorter than the day I first saw my eyes the horses heads were toward eternity. Emily Dickinson. Very early surmised the horses heads were towards eternity and her own gaze was much in that direction. I'd like to close this discussion of her and her work with the
reading of one last poem on day one I find among her very finest. Say that on a bass to change I'm touched by morning and I'm touched by no sleep to make members of the resurrection rafter satin and roof of stone like glass the grease in a cast of sunshine babbles the bee in a stolid ear pipe this week birds an ignorant cadence. All what sagacity perished here. Grand Daughter years in the Crescent above then. Well scoop there are seven firmaments rock that Adam's drop and don't just surrender soundless as dots on that dish of snow.
We've heard a profile of Emily Dickinson seen primarily through a reading of some of her poems. The program was presented by Miriam last wrote poetry in the American was produced and recorded by radio station KPFA in Berkeley California under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center and distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is the energy B Radio Network.
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Poetry and the American
Readings of Emily Dickinson
Producing Organization
pacifica radio
KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
A lecture-recital by Miriam Ostroff, poetry reader and lecturer, on the works of Emily Dickinson.
Series Description
Twenty half-hour programs designed to further the enjoyment of poetry.
Broadcast Date
Media type
Producing Organization: pacifica radio
Producing Organization: KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
Speaker: Ostroff, Miriam Virginia
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 59-12-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:14
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Chicago: “Poetry and the American; Readings of Emily Dickinson,” 1959-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 29, 2024,
MLA: “Poetry and the American; Readings of Emily Dickinson.” 1959-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 29, 2024. <>.
APA: Poetry and the American; Readings of Emily Dickinson. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from