Emily Dickinson Scrawled Her Poems on These Tiny Scraps of Paper

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Jan. 15 2013 10:00 AM

Emily Dickinson Scrawled Her Poems on These Tiny Scraps of Paper

The Vault is Slate's new history blog. Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter @slatevault; find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

These scraps of paper, carrying shards of poems and prose, give us glimpses of Emily Dickinson’s creative process during the latter years of her life. Amherst College holds many of what Dickinson scholars call “fragments.” (Their collection, which contains of letters and manuscript drafts alongside these fragments, has recently been digitized and is fully accessible to the public. Log in as “Guest.”)

Dickinson’s editor Millicent Todd Bingham described Dickinson’s manuscripts:

Advertisement

A jumble of words on odds and ends of paper, some of it crumpled or torn … There are pink scraps, blue and yellow scraps … all … written in pencil and all in the late handwriting … The strokes are sometimes faint and the lines often overlap so that the words overtake one another as if written in the dark.

The Amherst digital collection shows how visually diverse these fragments are, scrawled on backs of envelopes, thin strips of paper, and sheets that seem to have been crumpled and then smoothed out.

Some of these bits of manuscript, like the piece of envelope holding a fragment that reads “was never/Frigate a/like,” are recognizable parts of familiar Dickinson poems (There is no Frigate like a Book/To take us Lands away”).

Others were never published. Seeing them in their fragmentary form seems to elevate their poignancy, as with the long, skinny fragment of paper that reads:

Pompeii
All it’s (the occupations
crystallized – Everybody
gone away

Or the partial envelope flap on which Dickinson wrote, then crossed out in an emphatic hand:

Which – has the
wisest men
undone –
Doubt has
the
wisest

Thanks to Peter Nelson of Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Marta L. Werner of the Radical Scatters database project, and Martha Nell Smith of the Dickinson Electronic Archives.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.