View Full Version : Introduction - Emily's Health - Taking Off Emily's Clothes

08-13-2007, 02:13 PM
Allow me to introduce myself. I am a 65 year old retired executive formerly with the City of NY. I currently teach English at an incredible HS in Columbia, SC.

Have been a Dickinson fan for years. If Austen fans can be Janeites, we certainly should be entitled to be called Emilyites.

I would like additional information (preferably free) on the psychological and physiological conditions The Belle of Amherst might have had. Primary source documents would also be helpful if they are accessible. I am having a major discussion with a Prof. at UNC. Any help would be appreciated.

Presuming all of you have not seen the poem Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes I paste it here for your (amusement?):

First, her tippet made of tulle,
easily lifted off her shoulders and laid
on the back of a wooden chair.

And her bonnet,
the bow undone with a light forward pull.

Then the long white dress, a more
complicated matter with mother-of-pearl
buttons down the back,
so tiny and numerous that it takes forever
before my hands can part the fabric,
like a swimmer's dividing water,
and slip inside.

You will want to know
that she was standing
by an open window in an upstairs bedroom,
motionless, a little wide-eyed,
looking out at the orchard below,
the white dress puddled at her feet
on the wide-board, hardwood floor.

The complexity of women's undergarments
in nineteenth-century America
is not to be waved off,
and I proceeded like a polar explorer
through clips, clasps, and moorings,
catches, straps, and whalebone stays,
sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.

Later, I wrote in a notebook
it was like riding a swan into the night,
but, of course, I cannot tell you everything -
the way she closed her eyes to the orchard,
how her hair tumbled free of its pins,
how there were sudden dashes
whenever we spoke.

What I can tell you is
it was terribly quiet in Amherst
that Sabbath afternoon,
nothing but a carriage passing the house,
a fly buzzing in a windowpane.

So I could plainly hear her inhale
when I undid the very top
hook-and-eye fastener of her corset

and I could hear her sigh when finally it was unloosed,
the way some readers sigh when they realize
that Hope has feathers,
that reason is a plank,
that life is a loaded gun
that looks right at you with a yellow eye.

Billy Collins

Alvin S.