From book to film: and cinema discovered a different Emily Dickinson

The screen, large and small, privileged Emily Dickinson, the great American poet. The television series has been produced in recent years Dickinson (2019), the film A Quiet Passion (2016), finally Wild Nights with Emily Dickinson, still in theaters. Really a great attention for this lady born in 1803 in Ambers, Massachusetts. Still a student, she decides to leave college for not being Christian. From that moment on, she will live in her paternal house, reducing her frequentations with the outside world more and more and dedicating herself to writing and, in particular, to poetry. Unique escapes in the world, a trip to Washington and some stays in Boston and Philadelphia. The images that have come to us show a sad face without prospects, like a hopeless spinster. But they are lying images.

Hailee Steinfeld in the ‘Dickinson’ series. Photo: Apple TV +

Emily wrote of herself: “I have no recent portraits, but I am small like the wren, I have bold hair like a chestnut hedgehog and my eyes are the color of sherry that the guest leaves at the bottom of the glass.” Emily was a sad soul, complex and gifted with a particular grace, capable of reading the present and also the future of her country. She is considered the greatest American poet. Spending her life within the walls of her home, isolated, in contact only with her own creativity was for her a defense and an exploration. From her closed place she understood and told the intellectual and moral drama of America, anticipating history, thanks to a unique and innovative style in terms of metrics and lexicon. You have explored great themes such as love, death, nature that is not your friend, the encounter with an absent God.

He wrote 1775 poems of which only seven were published while he was alive. Publishing, he wrote, was as foreign to the thought of him as the firmament to a fish. But, immediately after his death, editions of his poems and letters followed one another with great success, disputed between the heirs. Dickinson is part of what is called the “American Renaissance”, his referents were called Emerson and Hawthorne, from which he took inspirations that he then developed through a vision all of him, powerful. A Dickinson’s lyric is like a tablet that you put in the water of a glass and after a few seconds it expands until it almost explodes. It was the way of telling about her, a metaphor, a synthesis that then had to be resolved by the reader.

The image of the poet who has spread and crystallized over the decades is therefore that of a prolific author but closed in on herself and indifferent to any sentimental relationship. But, in Wild Nights with Emily Dickinson, Madeleine Olnek director and Molly Shannon actress tell the writer in a decidedly different light. The focus is on the relationship that she had over the years with her friend Susan Gilbert, who later became her sister-in-law. Olnek certainly showed courage, offering the public an icon of poetry in a light that was certainly unexpected by most. Providing her with the material was a 1998 investigation of New York Times who discovered how Susan’s name, in letters written by Emily, had been forged. Special software allowed that name to reappear. The letters revealed an intense love relationship.

But the discovery of Madeleine Olnek changes little or nothing, and certainly does not compromise the universal charm that we owe to the lonely soul of Massachusetts. A lightning-fast synthesis, in her own style, Emily conceded by saying, “Consider me a domestic soul, how wild.” A few verses are due: “Water is taught by thirst / The earth, with crossed eyes / Joy, pain / Peace, tales of battles / Love, from an imprint of memory / Birds, from snow “.

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About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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