Not too long ago, on my way to Brattleboro, VT, I pulled off the highway so I could stop at Emily Dickinson's house. I had never been there before. It was a beautiful late-spring day, and as I drove into Amherst I was hearing the children's children's children's children of the birds Emily might have heard, seeing the branches' branches' branches of the branches Emily sat under for shade.
The museum had just opened and the volunteer at the ticket desk was very kind. She recommended a tour, and I signed up. The docent who was assigned to the small group who had assembled that morning was knowledgable, so knowledgable! But oh, she did not fit with my expectations of what my pilgrimage to Emily's house would be!
Thankfully, I had already told our host that I might have to leave early, so after the first half hour -- spent in the sitting room, narrated with a history of the Dickinson family -- I excused myself, and spirited away.
A very young woman, with a straight backbone and a plain and friendly face, was seated at the base of the stairs to Emily's bedroom. She offered to lead me up to the second floor. Quietly, we climbed the stairs together. Then she walked down the hall, said "This is where Emily wrote," and led me to the open door. There was the small bed, with Emily's own shawl draped over it. There was the tiny, tiny, modest writing desk. And there were two photographs of women over the dresser. Emily's own heroes, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and George Eliot.
The silent guide left me alone to weep on the threshold. I mean it -- tears poured down my face. (They're welling up now, even.) It was the two other writers' faces that did it to me. The continuum of women writers. The idea that Emily had her own idols. That she didn't know she would prove to be an idol of so many writers herself. That she couldn't be sure.
After a couple of minutes I took a breath and said, "Is everyone overwhelmed when they come in here?" And my lovely guide said, "I am, every time."
Wild Nights -- Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
Futile -- the Winds --
To a Heart in port --
Done with the Compass --
Done with the Chart!
Rowing in Eden --
Ah, the Sea!
Might I but moor -- Tonight --