“Are You Too Deeply Occupied….Day 4

emilyto say if my Verse is alive?” wrote Emily Dickinson in 1862 to Thomas Higginson, the author and editor who would soon become her literary mentor. Today’s journey was primarily centered around this young poetess whose work (along with that of Walt Whitman) would launch the modern poetry movement.

Starting off in Amherst, we visited the Homestead, the site of the Emily Dickinson Museum, which was the first brick house in Amherst and also the place of her birth and death. In spite of her chronic illnesses, she produced an astounding amount of poetry (nearly 2,000 poems) known for its depth of emotion and unusual punctuation.

homesteadAmazingly, we had the same tour guide, Marianne, who led us through the house 3 years ago on a previous visit. Today’s visit was as instructive as before, when we learned that Emily’s white house dress, what she was known for wearing most of the time, was the modern-day equivalent of a sweatshirt and sweatpants. Jen was thrilled to hear this tidbit: “I live for things like this!” The tour also included a visit to The Evergreens, the house of her brother and sister-in-law. The later part of Emily’s life was marked by grief at the death of her beloved nephew, whose little suit is displayed in The Evergreens.

Marianne concluded our tour with a reading (This is My Letter to the World) in the garden, which was also dear to Emily. Here she spent many afternoons musing about nature accompanied by her Newfoundland Carlo.

emily grave







I Have Drunk the Wine of Life at Last – Day 3

Today we journeyed to Lenox, MA, to The Mount, the home of writer Edith Wharton. Just like Millay, she defied social expectations for a woman of her time and pursued her intellectual ambitions to the highest degree.

Although most of her relationships with men (including her husband Teddy, whom she later divorced) were unsatisfying, she did have a few brief moments of happiness. As the quote in the title of this blog implies, she reveled in the good times. She cherished her friendship with ex-patriate writer Henry James, with whom she enjoyed a true marriage of the minds. They possessed “a sense of humor and irony in exactly the same key.”

Having only read Ethan Frome (Ann and I) and The House of Mirth (Jen), we were amazed to learn that Edith penned 40 books in 40 years!


Her first book was actually on interior decorating but she penned many other non-fiction books in addition to countless novels such as The Reef, Summer, and The Age of Innocence, which earned her a Pulitzer Prize.

Edith’s philosophy and intellect are reflected throughout The Mount, which made the visit all that more interesting. In contrast with other mansions of the Gilded Age (think Biltmore), The Mount was full of intimate spaces and natural light. We adored our tour guide, Cecily, who was charming, funny and smart. Cecily encouraged us all to read The Age of Innocence, claiming it was Wharton’s most accessible novel.

During the tour, we learned that “Edith liked her tables round, her lighting low, and the conversation sparkling.” Being dog lovers (Edith considered cats “snakes with fur”), we were thrilled to see that dogs played an integral role in her life. Her dogs slept on cushions under the table and dined from bowls of Chinese porcelain by the fireplace.

french gardens






Her gardens were equally impressive, with French- (above) and Italian-inspired designs. Not surprisingly, she even had a pet cemetery where several of her little darlings now rest in peace. Unfortunately, our visit did not conclude with a view of her grave, as she is buried in France where she spent the latter years of her life.

We next went to the nearby homestead of William Cullen Bryant, a writer and naturalist who was most famous for penning Thanatopsis, a mediation on death. While his home is now a National Historic Landmark, unfortunately for us, it was not open today. But we did peek inside the picturesque barn, which still had the individual house stalls and troughs.







Our tour for the day concluded in Northampton, where we strolled the grounds of Smith College, which prides itself on building generations of independent young females. Seeing a young woman seated by the Mill River Dam, where she laughed to herself as she leafed through a book, Jen quipped: “Now there’s a young woman who thinks for herself.”

And on that subject, tomorrow we’ll go to Amherst, the home of the notoriously independent-minded Emily Dickinson. It will be quite different from The Mount, as Emily never reached the fame of Edith in her lifetime, but given her talents, we expect to be equally delighted.

Happy National Poetry Month!

As if we needed a reason to celebrate Emily Dickinson or William Blake, did you know that April is National Poetry Month? The occasion has inspired me to re-read some of my favorites. This includes classics such as “She Walks in Beauty” (Byron), “Ode to A Nightingale” (Keats), “Song” by Christina Rossetti, and lesser-known but equally poignant pieces such as To be A Slave to Intensity” (Kabir) and “Nothing” by James Fenton.

As a favor to my dear friend and writing colleague Michele Berger, I even agreed to draft a poem myself for consideration for her excellent blog, The Practice of Creativity. I am definitely no poet but she is a true friend, and in that spirit, she kindly published it. Rather brilliantly, she is celebrating this month by posting a series of poems by guest poets (who are much more talented than me, I will add!). Although I adore poetry, I find this sparest of literary forms to be more than a little intimidating. But there’s a definite connection between poetry and prose, and as we’ve discussed in my writing group, any prose writer (especially me) would benefit from entering and fully exploring this medium.

Lately, I’ve been concentrating my limited literary energies on writing short stories, which will always be my first love. And last week I was honored to learn that a recent story, “Once in a Blue Moon,” was named first honorable mention in the 2013 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Contest sponsored by the N.C. Writers’ Network. This is a victory I share with all of you who have encouraged me as well as the five wonderful women or “belles-des-lettres” in my writing group. Michele herself just scooped up third place in Carolina Woman’s Annual Writing Contest for her speculative short story titled “Urban Wendy” which is published in the April issue! Go Pittsboro writers!