Emily’s White Dress

Photo: Jerome Liebling, Mt. Holyoke Art Museum

Your dress hangs
At the top of the stair
A ghost
Without a soul
So we can compare
Your pleats and stitches
To the dress of the day
With its bunches and bulges
And know your every day
Was your own


In the next room
The docent locks the door
With an imaginary key,
“Ah, Maddie—“
She recites,
“Freedom is here!”
Then she points
To the bare table,
The made bed,
The empty basket,
The Franklin stove
Pulled from the wall.


Making my excuses,
I slip
Through the door and stare
At the place
Where you aren’t
I want to grab
Your gown
Run to the garden
Let it fly—
But in my mind
I find it
Hooked on a branch
Floating, going
I stuff my ticket stub and the nub
Of an old pencil
In your pocket
Before going


In December while visiting friends in Amherst, I went on a tour of the Emily Dickinson Museum. Our guide was lovely and incorporated Dickinson’s poetry into her description of the home and Dickinson’s life and times. The contrast between the living woman and the lifeless house was disconcerting, yet it seemed somehow resonant with the poet’s feelings of being most free within the confines of her home, her room, her words.
If you’re ever in Amherst, I highly recommend the Museum and the tour.


For more Poetry Friday, visit Renee at No Water River.

(c) 2013 Elizabeth Ehrenfest Steinglass, all rights reserved

12 replies
  1. Robyn Hood Black
    Robyn Hood Black says:

    Ooohhh – love your poem and I’d love to tour the museum! The black and white photo suits your post perfectly – deceptively simple, ghostlike… (And the surprise of your last stanza is wonderful.)

  2. Liz Steinglass
    Liz Steinglass says:

    I’m so glad you like it. The tour was a great experience. It was just me and my daughter, my friend and her son on the tour. We got to ask all our questions. I actually want to go again.

  3. Carrie Finison
    Carrie Finison says:

    Very nice, Liz. I like how you gave her a pencil in the last stanza — after all, I’m sure she would never have been far from some writing implement while she was alive!

  4. jama
    jama says:

    I think Emily might be smiling down on you today, Liz — fine poem! I’ve been to the Dickinson home before but want to go again now that I’ve read your post.

  5. Liz Steinglass
    Liz Steinglass says:

    Thanks. Yes, apparently she wrote on scraps of paper, the back of envelopes, anything, wherever she happened to be, the kitchen, the garden, etc.

    Thanks! I really enjoyed learning more about her.

    Gosh, I hope so. I want to go again too.


  6. skanny17
    skanny17 says:

    I love your last stanza. When I work with kids on their poems, I talk about the “suprise” ending and putting “heart” into a poem. Yours tugged at mine and the sweet suprise of thinking Emily might find the pencil and jot a few new poems made me smile. I definitely want to visit her house. Maybe this summer! Thanks for this.
    Janet F.

  7. Linda at teacherdance
    Linda at teacherdance says:

    I think all might have already been said. I too love the surprise, & even wondered if it could have happened. It’s nice to think it might. Your poem has such a voice to me, as if you are really telling of having that pleasant & supportive conversation with Emily. What a treasure it would be to visit there.

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