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  • Emily Dickinson Abroad:The Paradox of Seclusion
  • Chanthana Chaichit (bio)

Emily Dickinson secluded herself from ordinary human associations, especially during the last years of her life (from approximately 1865-1886). The topic: "Emily Dickinson Abroad," with the usual meaning of "to go abroad"1 implying that Dickinson was far away from home in foreign lands, is ironic in view of what we know about the poet's life. The attempt to explain that Emily Dickinson was or is in fact abroad, then, has to deal with her life and work in three different ways: first, Dickinson was abroad in her imagination, as revealed in her poems of travel or poems of adventure; thus, she was imaginatively abroad. Second, Dickinson is now truly abroad, since she has been internationally recognized through her poetic works and letters. Third, the fact that Dickinson is abroad, imaginatively or internationally, is a paradoxical twist to her conscious decision to withdraw from the world.

Evidence appearing in critical works on Emily Dickinson since 1890 supports the idea that, deliberately or not, Emily Dickinson withdrew from the normal world. However, despite her physical confinement, the poet used her fantastic imagination, sometimes alone but often with someone, to create adventures through levels of spiritual experiences. As the outlet for her explosive genius, many poems such as "I went to Heaven—" (P374), "I started Early—Took my Dog—" (P520), etc., can be seen as an indication of her psychic communication with the world outside her private refuge. One of these poems," I never saw a Moor—" (P1052) confirms the poet's inexperienced life and at the same time reveals her imaginative ability to see "How the Heather looks."

In Dickinson's poems concerning travel or the poems of adventure of the mind, the first way to look at "Emily Dickinson Abroad" lies in her [End Page 162] artistic technique plus her imaginative passion in creating an inner world as a way to journey abroad. This technique covers three significant dimensions: the movement from consciousness to unconsciousness, from reality to fantasy, and from Amherst to the whole universe: heaven, death, eternity and immortality. The presumption is based on her belief that she dwells "in Possibility—;" that in spreading her "narrow Hands" she could "gather Paradise—" (P657). That Emily Dickinson is truly abroad, then, is closely associated with those three movements of her mind.

To sum up, through her imagination Emily Dickinson moves wherever she wants, as we can see in many poems such as "I took my Power in my Hand—" (P540) and "The Brain—is wider than the Sky—" (P632). Driven by her fanciful imagination, Dickinson travels back and forth between two levels of experience, with at least two subconscious motives: to display her poetic genius and to calm her psychological turmoil.

The second way in which Emily Dickinson has travelled is posthumously. Though she never set foot outside her father's home after 1865, she has now "arrived" in countries whose names she might not even have recognized. In Emily Dickinson: An Annotated Bibliography. Writings, Scholarship, and Criticism, 1850-1968 published in 1970, Willis J. Buckingham, the editor, gathered a detailed collection of published materials relating to Emily Dickinson.2

Covering more than a hundred years of Dickinson's bibliographies, Buckingham's collection presents fairly comprehensive information on the poet's recognition in foreign countries,3 showing that Dickinson's works are appreciated not only in democratic societies but also in former socialistic ones, including Hungary, Romania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Croatia, and Russia. In Asia, Japan was the first country to play an important role in the study of Dickinson's life and works, starting particularly in the 1950's.4

Although Buckingham supplies a great deal of useful information, the editor did not cite any translations or critical works from China, India, or Switzerland, despite the interest in those countries in Dickinson. Moreover, Buckingham does not include the work of Dickinson scholars in Austria in the list.5

Besides Buckingham's collection, I would like to mention as particularly important the following compendiums:

  1. 1. Emily Dickinson: A Bibliography 1850-1966 (1968) by Sheila T. Clendenning;

  2. 2. Dickinson Scholarship: An Annotated Bibliography 1969-1985 (1988) by Karen Dandurand. [End...


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