The magnificent spring of 1850 seemed to inspire love for everyone, except Walt. When I found him pulling leaves of grass from the lawn and talking to them, I knew he needed a lady. My sister’s friend’s cousin Emily was visiting from Boston, and though he was ten years older than her, we decided it would be perfect.
Walt took a bath and trimmed his beard before setting off to visit Emily in Connecticut. Having left just before dawn, Walt was tired from the hours-long ride from Brooklyn when he arrived, but the site of a dainty waif emerging through the door renewed his vigor. He doffed his hat and said with a smile, “Greetings! Miss Dickinson, I presume?”
“I’m Nobody! Who are you?” she asked in a nervous, diminutive voice. “Are you nobody too?” (“I’m nobody! Who are you?” 1-2).
“Walt Whitman am I, a Kosmos, of mighty Manhattan the son” (“Walt Whitman,” 492), he said confidently. “I am definitely not nobody, and you, miss, appear to be somebody, too.”
“How dreary – to be somebody!” Emily exclaimed. “How public – like a Frog – to tell one’s name the livelong June (“I’m nobody!” 5-7). I am here and so are you, with our names or without. Names cannot change that.”
“Your every word is poetry,” Walt said. He then stepped closer to Emily, took her hand and said, “Whoever you are, now I place my hand upon you, that you be my poem” (“To You,” 7). Emily melted at his words; Walt asked, “Would you care to walk with me, Miss Dickinson?”
Emily was nervous, but she had faith that her cousin would not allow a questionable suitor, though his appearance was scruffier than she hoped. “Let me get my shawl,” she said running back into the house, returning moments later. “It’s all I have to bring today,” she said of the cottony shawl. “This, and my heart beside. This, and my heart, and all the fields, and all the meadows wide” (“It’s all I have to bring to-day,” 1-4).
The pair walked down to Jefferson Park, talking about life, nature, and their love of writing. This was only the second time Emily had left her parent’s house in Amherst and she spoke of her family a great deal (“Emily Dickinson”). Emily was fascinated by Walt’s stories of traveling from New York to New Orleans. He explained how seeing slavery encouraged him to move back to New York to start the Brooklyn Freeman (“Walt Whitman”). They reached a patch of wildflowers near a vast lawn. Walt reached down and picked a daisy.
“The runaway slave came to my house and stopt outside” (“Walt Whitman,” 182), he said. “I took him in, cleaned his wounds, ate dinner with him. He staid with me a week before he was recuperated and pass’d north (189). I aspire to help all those wishing escape from the cruel bondage inflicted by others. Or, afflicted upon themselves.” He gave the daisy to Emily.
“I never hear the word ‘escape’ without a quicker blood, a sudden expectation, a flying attitude” (“I never hear the word ‘escape’,” 1-4), confessed Emily. “I reason, earth is short, and anguish absolute. And many hurt; but what of that?” (“I reason earth is short,” 1-4).
“In this broad Earth of ours, amid the measureless grossness and the slag, enclosed and safe within its central heart, nestles the seed Perfection (“Song of the Universal,” 4-7),” said Walt. “Freedom, democracy, the brotherhood of man—these we will achieve together, or die in absolute misery, pain, and despair.”
“Let me not mar that perfect dream” (“Let me not mar that perfect dream,” 1), she said, as she placed the daisy in Walt’s lapel. She picked another one and put it behind her ear. “Dreams fuel love, and love, intellect.”
The pair walked for hours through the vast lawns of the park, along the foot trails that weaved through the woods. They realized that any potential love shared for each other would be lyrical not physical, and their spiritual differences ran deep. They finally made their way back to the house of Emily’s cousin, promised to correspond, and decided to part as friends.
“I hide myself within my flower, that wearing on your breast, you, unsuspecting, wear me too” (“I hide myself within my flower,” 1-3), said Emily from the front stoop.
“You inspire me, miss, and for this I thank you. Each meaningful word I write, I will take comfort knowing you will be somewhere doing likewise,” Walt bowed. “And now, I shall go forth, I shall traverse The States awhile—but I cannot tell whither or how long (“As the Time Draws Nigh,” 3-4). My words are yours, Miss Emily Dickson.”
Walt departed restored, ready to sing the splendors of life, love, and individual freedom. He needed not a girl, but inspiration, which he found in the young poetess. Emily went upstairs equally inspired and began to write about the day. They exchanged letters long after their lone meeting, but Walt and Emily never met again.
Dickinson, Emily. “I hide myself within my flower,” “I never hear the word ‘escape’,” “I reason
earth is short,” “I’m nobody! Who are you?”, “It’s all I have to bring to-day,” “Let me not mar that perfect dream.” The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Boston: Little, Brown, 1924; Bartleby.com, 2000. 7 January 2007 <www.bartleby.com/113/>.
“Emily Dickinson.” Poets.org from the Academy of American Poets. 2007. 7 January 2007
“Walt Whiman.” Poets.org from the Academy of American Poets. 2007. 7 January 2007
Whitman, Walt. “As the Time Draws Nigh,” “Song of the Universal,” “To You,” “Walt
Whitman,” Leaves of Grass. Philadelphia: David McKay, [c1900]; Bartleby.com, 1999. 7 January 2007 <www.bartleby.com/142/>.