Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

“…A Riddle Wrapped In A Mystery Inside An Enigma.”

That quote in the title comes from Winston Churchill—“Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

But, this post isn’t about Churchill or Russia

It’s about a new archive site of the writings of Emily Dickinson.

In many ways, Emily, in her life and in her poetry, was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

I’ve been reading her poetry for many years and my well-used edition of her poems, though well-bound, has loose pages

Some of her poetry infuses me with immediate Light—some has been slowly dawning in meaning—some remains impenetrable

I’ll include two of my favorite poems at the end of this post.

From the Emily Dickinson Museum site:

“Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst at the Homestead on December 10, 1830. Her quiet life was infused with a creative energy that produced almost 1800 poems and a profusion of vibrant letters.

“Her lively Childhood and Youth were filled with schooling, reading, explorations of nature, religious activities, significant friendships, and several key encounters with poetry. Her most intense Writing Years consumed the decade of her late 20s and early 30s; during that time she composed almost 1100 poems. She made few attempts to publish her work, choosing instead to share them privately with family and friends. In her Later Years Dickinson increasingly withdrew from public life. Her garden, her family (especially her brother’s family at The Evergreens) and close friends, and health concerns occupied her.

“With a few exceptions, her poetry remained virtually unpublished until after she died on May 15, 1886. After her death, her poems and life story were brought to the attention of the wider world through the competing efforts of family members and intimates.”

The “virtually unpublished” nature of her poetry means there were only 13 pieces of her writing published in her lifetime

And, all the early publications of her work saw editors changing punctuation and even words to make her work conform to their expectations of what poetry should be

From the new Emily Dickinson Archive:

“Emily Dickinson Archive (EDA) provides high-resolution images of manuscripts of Dickinson’s poetry, along with transcriptions and annotations from selected historical and scholarly editions. This first release focuses on gathering images of those poems included in The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Variorum Edition, edited by R. W. Franklin These manuscripts vary from ‘scraps’ written on envelope flaps and pieces of wrapping paper; to drafts; to finished poems sent to friends or copied into the manuscript books called ‘fascicles’.”

A few of the nicest features of the site are the ability to keep a notes page for yourself, create your own reading list of poems, and download the images of Emily’s manuscripts.

The archive site links out to the Emily Dickinson Lexicon.

From that site:

“The Emily Dickinson Lexicon (EDL) is a comprehensive dictionary of over 9,275 words and variants found in the collected poems. Visitors to the website may search the lexicon to view alphabetical entries that consist of a headword with its inflected forms, part of speech, etymology, webplay, and definitions

“Her ‘loved Philology’ presents a close-knit diction that she crafted with allusions, ambiguity, antithesis, circumlocution, definitions, figures, idioms, kennings, metaphors, neologisms, polysemy, puns, symbols, and synonymy.”

That site also has the complete Noah Webster 1844 American Dictionary of the English Language.

N.B.: None of Emily’s works bore her signature

Here are two of my favorite poems by this astonishing individual:

While it is alive
Until Death touches it
While it and I lap one Air
Dwell in one Blood
Under one Sacrament
Show me Division can split or pare—

Love is like Life—merely longer
Love is like Death, during the Grave
Love is the Fellow of the Resurrection
Scooping up the Dust and chanting “Live”!


There is a solitude of space
A solitude of sea
A solitude of death, but these
Society shall be
Compared with that profounder site
That polar privacy
A soul admitted to itself —
Finite infinity.

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4 responses to ““…A Riddle Wrapped In A Mystery Inside An Enigma.”

  1. libraryassociate October 24, 2013 at 9:59 am

    “In her Later Years Dickinson increasingly withdrew from public life. Her garden, her family (especially her brother’s family at The Evergreens) and close friends, and health concerns occupied her.”

    I’ve always said if I could financially afford such an existance as above I would love it Even the damn anxiety what an evil villian it can be. I seldom attend anything outside of work and since my Father has passed I don’t see many trips back to Pittsburgh for me if it wasn’t for work I’d choose to be home often. I pray that perhaps she did have more joy than sadness in her quiet life minus the anxiety stricken days which I call underwater days. I honestly believe a reclusive life is sometimes quite pleasurable. I have printed this and I’ll share the blog entry with many others today.


    • Alexander M Zoltai October 24, 2013 at 11:46 am

      Thank you for sharing the post

      I’ve spent the last five years, thanks to a government pension, in relative solitude—except for my virtual existence—yet, with the government in disarray, I’ve been spooked

      Still, there is an angel watching over me and whispering melodies that quell the fear


      • libraryassociate October 24, 2013 at 1:15 pm

        An inmate I gave your blog post, one of my clerks who has been incarcerated for seven years responded by commenting on language. He made this comment after reading Emily Dickinson’s work aloud to another man who was visiting the library and said the words were ‘deep.’
        “There is an understanding. Human language is composed of many languages, sub-languages and only now in my life after many mistakes can I decipher what is underneath language I call it Subtext. Subtext writers and speakers themselves may not even realize. She reminds me of hidden languages.”


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