July 29th, 2017

Dickinson on the Mass Pike

I stopped to eat my sandwich at a rest stop on the western Massachusetts Turnpike one recent weekend.

It was a lovely day and the Berkshires a fine place for my little picnic, although I didn’t have time to leave the Pike for an even more scenic vista than what was available at the rest stop. When I got to the picnic table, this is the surprise that greeted me:

The letters were huge. Here’s the text of the poem:

Opinion is a flitting thing,
But Truth, outlasts the Sun—
If then we cannot own them both—
Possess the oldest one—

Not a bad thing to be reminded of, for bloggers and pundits and all of us.

The accompanying picnic bench looked like this:

Dickinson lived her life in Amherst, Massachusetts, which is about 30 miles north of today’s Massachusetts Turnpike and considerably to the east of where I was (I don’t remember the name of the rest stop, alas). What Emily might have thought of this particular picnic table and bench in this particular setting I cannot quite imagine, but perhaps she would have liked them more than one might think. After all, she’s the person who penned the following poem:

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,–
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!

A blog is a sort of letter to the world, too. But with the internet it’s easier to get at least a small part of the world to write back. That means you, folks.

21 Responses to “Dickinson on the Mass Pike”

  1. NCC Says:

    They didn’t pick the poem about Death stopping by?

  2. Molly NH Says:

    That’s nice stuff, neo !

  3. neo-neocon Says:


    Fortunately, no.

    See Number 1 here.

  4. Mike K Says:

    I have always been fond of Elizabeth Barrett and her defiance of her parents who wanted to keep her an invalid.

  5. Gringo Says:

    The picnic table with a poem engraved in it is a nice touch. I wager that some who had never read an Emily Dickinson poem will read that poem at the picnic table.

    The topic of picnic tables in New England reminds me of a recent experience. A book I read in Book Club made mention of a Famous Person born in my NE hometown- a person who made his fame out of state.

    I had a childhood memory of a “Famous Person Memorial Park” in my hometown- a park which consisted of a picnic table by the side of the road and a very plain, small sign. I e-mailed an old friend in the hometown to check up on my memory. It turns out that at the location I remembered, there is now a plaque in a rock commemorating the Famous Person, but no more picnic table. Nor is there any sign about “Famous Person Memorial Park.”

    The plaque is an improvement, as it is larger than the old sign, more permanent, and at least tells something about what made the Famous Person famous.

  6. NCC Says:

    Neo, your list is good. But it doesn’t have the one about the Purple Cow.


  7. Frog Says:

    Truth is the key element of Christianity.

  8. Ralph Kinney Bennett Says:

    Neo, I don’t write back enough, but every day I deeply appreciate the truth and beauty, the reason and whimsy, of the gal that sat at that picnic table with her sandwich.

  9. Dunque Says:

    How could this dreck possibly be labeled as “poetry?” It has rhyming, meter…what are those things?:)

  10. Donkeyhoti Says:

    Neo, I read you so much however I comment so little. On behalf of the quiet ones, I applaud your work.

  11. huxley Says:

    Poet William Stafford was once asked if Emily Dickinson was one of our best women poets. He replied that she was one of our best poets period.

    Amen to that.

    Unlike the recent McEnroe moment regarding women tennis players, critical acceptance of Dickinson has only grown since her death. Critic Harold Bloom has assessed Dickinson as one of twenty-six writers central to Western Civilization.

  12. huxley Says:

    Some years ago I read the thick Alfred Habegger biography of Emily Dickinson, “My Wars Are Laid Away in Books,” which debunked the myth that the reclusive Dickinson created her poetry in secret.

    It’s true she published only a handful of poems during her life. However it turns out she did not lock her poems away in a drawer, as many imagine, only to be discovered after her death In fact she mailed out hundreds of her poems to friends and family, to be read by the recipients who relayed the poems further to their social circles.

    So Dickinson did in fact have a community of appreciative readers. Habegger ascribes Dickinson’s not making her work fully public to the sense of appropriate feminine decorum within her family and to an idea common to conservative nineteenth-century Americans that “the best sort of writing circulates in private.”

  13. Ed Bonderenka Says:

    When did she carve that in there?

  14. huxley Says:

    What Emily might have thought of this particular picnic table and bench in this particular setting I cannot quite imagine, but perhaps she would have liked them more than one might think.

    neo: I doubt she would have minded. That’s what I was trying to say in my previous comment.

    Of course if she had to man the picnic table for meet-and-greets she would have fled in horror.

  15. huxley Says:

    After my aunt died I ended up with a couple spiral notebooks of her handwritten poems — all in the style of Emily Dickinson. Unfortunately my aunt lacked Emily Dickinson’s expansive spirit and, needless to say, her remarkable facility with words.

    Dickinson’s poems look simple because they read clearly, but try writing one without sounding trite or childish. At the rhyme and meter level they are also quite sophisticated.

    People used to read Emily Dickinson. I’m not sure they do anymore other than a token poem or two in lit classes.

  16. Ymar Sakar Says:

    When the Christians started telling me that the poets were the prophets, and that somehow included Lord of the Rings author… that was when I had to give up poetry entirely. What little I had in it.

  17. huxley Says:

    Emily Dickinson was devoted to Jesus Christ and the Gospels. Many of her poems are addressed to Christ or deal directly with the Gospels. She is one of the great Christian poets, though we ordinarily don’t think of her as such.

    Even her non-devotional poems reflect her Christianity. Here’s one poem I meditated upon and memorized, then carried around in my wallet for years.

    It’s basically about Dickinson’s preference of poetry over prose, but it does deeper. The last two lines are in part a Christ image.

    I dwell in Possibility –
    A fairer House than Prose –
    More numerous of Windows –
    Superior – for Doors –

    Of Chambers as the Cedars –
    Impregnable of eye –
    And for an everlasting Roof
    The Gambrels of the Sky –

    Of Visitors – the fairest –
    For Occupation – This –
    The spreading wide my narrow Hands
    To gather Paradise –

  18. ELC Says:

    Dickinson is my favorite poet. I wrote a review of the most recent complete edition of her poetry, comparing it with other editions.

    Best Complete Edition Yet

  19. huxley Says:

    ELC: Great review!

    Clearly you know her poetry better than I do. Any poems you might recommend beyond the usual?

  20. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    The rest area would be Lee or Blandford, probably Lee, as I’ve been to Blandford and don’t remember any such table. That was year’s ago, however, and things change.

    My grandmother and her sisters were fans of poetry in general, as was more common in their day. They, including the two who were published themselves, did especially like Dickinson.

  21. Gringo Says:

    The 10 Best Emily Dickinson Poems.

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About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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