While living in the Clampitt House, I was able to visit, for the first time, Emily Dickinson’s Homestead, Herman Melville’s Arrowhead farm, and Edith Wharton’s Mount. It was wonderful to be able to see these places.
My husband had come for a visit, and we began with Dickinson’s Homestead. We were the only ones in the house at the beginning of the tour, and it was nice to have a bit of a private experience. After seeing the living rooms, we climbed the stairs to be met with the breathtaking image of a white dress (a replica) in a glass box, filled out by a headless mannequin. This image begins “Evergreen,” one of the poems in The Children. It was a little unreal to stand in Emily’s bedroom, to see how small her writing desk was, and how small her bed seemed.
One of the strange pleasures of the tour was that the guide had poems on hand, and we were invited to each read a Dickinson poem aloud while standing in a room adjacent to her bedroom. I did it, but not without a bit of trepidation. Her spirit still feels so strong in the house. Afterward, we walked to her grave and sat for a while. Before her death, she had requested that her body be carried through the field of buttercups behind her house to the cemetery. This arresting image found its way into “Evergreen.”
We made the short drive from the spare hominess of the Homestead to the chilly isolation of Melville’s farm. The house was closed at the time, but we poked around the outside of the barn; saw a plough rusted in the grass; and gazed out on Mt. Greylock, the mountain that is said to have been the inspiration of the character of the whale in Moby-Dick. A poem from this experience is called “Greylock” and is included in The Children.
I’ve tried to write poems about Wharton and The Mount, but none have worked. I was most struck by her desk, kept behind a velvet rope, her annotated copy of Leaves of Grass, the luxurious wallpaper in some of the rooms, and the overall grandeur of the mansion. I do, though, keep a postcard of her on a bookshelf in my office. In the photograph, she’s dressed to the nines, with two of her beloved dogs, one perched on each of her shoulders. I think I love this memento more than any poem I could write for her.
Paula is also a guest blogger at Orion, you can read another post by her here.