April 29, 2010

It seemed to me I should die too

Sophia Holland was 15 years old when she died on April 29, 1844. Her cousin, who was only slightly younger, had helped keep watch while Holland was on her deathbed. When she finally died, this cousin, whose name was Emily Dickinson, was devastated. Two years later, she wrote: "it seemed to me I should die too if I could not be permitted to watch over her or even look at her face."

Young Emily was depressed enough that her family sent her to Boston to recover before returning to Amherst Academy. "I told no one the cause of my grief," she wrote, "though it was gnawing at my very heart strings. I was not well & I went to Boston & stayed a month & my health improved so that my spirits were better."

The death which hit so close to home has been credited (by some) as one of the sources for Dickinson's ongoing fascination with morbid topics. Others have suggested that the early death of such a close friend turned her away from formal religion (though her poetry is riddled with a fair mix of both religious and morbid themes). "She was too lovely for earth," Dickinson had written, "& she was transplanted from earth to heaven." The following poem is not necessarily written for Sophia Holland (this is a 1901 version, labeled XXII):

The bustle in a house
The morning after death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon earth, —
The sweeping up the heart,
And putting love away
We shall not want to use again
Until eternity.

*The above portrait of Dickinson dates to about 1846 or 1847. For a time, it was the only authenticated photo of the reclusive poet. One other exists, though its authenticity is disputed.


  1. This is lovely. Thank you.

  2. One of my favourite Dickinson poems. Thanks for another great post.