Up until now we’ve had only one photo of that famous recluse Emily Dickinson, in which she does look somewhat unformed and even mouselike. (Think of Robert Burns’s ode to that small rodent: “Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie, O what a panic’s in thy breastie!”) She looks timorous and wee if not cowering. She also looks like you could blow her clean over by exhaling sharply in her presence.
She was recovering from an illness at the time, family members said later. It’s why she was so thin in this 1847 daguerreotype of her, made when she was just 16.
Now suddenly news has broken of a new picture of Emily which Amherst College believes is the poet for sure. (They keep all her archives – she lived in Amherst Massachusetts all her life and her dad was associated with the school.) Emily is the one on the left, sitting with her friend Kate Scott Turner.
Amherst College worked with Dr. Susan Pepin, Director of Neuro-Ophthalmology at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. She compared the two images one to one using scientific measurements. She says this is Emily all right, sitting with her recently widowed friend. She is 29.
And here is the image made by a Vermont Firm called North 100, proving the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. Watch the video to see the 16-year-old change into the 20-year-old and back again:
They are the ones who produced this living emergence of the wan girl into robust adult womanhood. They tell the story here , and within this link you can find a second link to the report by Dr. Pepin, who sees more clearly than the rest of us ever could about skin folds and eye size and even the shape of a person’s cornea who has been dead since the 1880s. She notes the way light shines in a certain way off that right eye of hers; you can see it as clear as day. That is an astigmatism. Dr. Pepin says, and it is identical in both pictures.
So yes we have a resurrected Emily, that poet who wrote such wonderful things I practically keep a list of them by my bedside. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to see her in full health with that almost-mischievous smile playing about her lips.
She made so many sly cracks about organized religion, and love, and time, and yet she herself worshipped at the altar Nature, and knew what love felt like even if it was love at a distance, and sensed the ever-approaching End. Here is what she wrote once to the handsome John Long Graves who became a special friend in his years at Amherst and then, like all the others, moved away from the little village:
“Much that is gay I have to show if you were with me John, upon this April grass! Then there are sadder features, here and there, wings gone to dust that fluttered so last year – a moudering plume, an empty house in which a bird resided…. Where last year’s flies, their errands ran, and last year’s crickets fell! We too are flying , fading, John, and the song “here lies” soon upon lips that love us now will have hummed, and ended.”
This passage has always brought me near tears, and it does that again today as I type it, especially as I attend the late summer sound of the acorns outside my window, dropping like small bombs on roof and sidewalk.
‘We too are flying, fading, John.’ But not altogether, if we capture our thoughts in ink, or pigment, or musical note. Not altogether if we leave behind some sign of how it was for us when we were here.
Look at that little smile. She was no mouse! She was a lioness!