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Poetry and Botany

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I remember the herbarium I had to do when I was a teenager at school. The purchase of the special leaves, the collection, the pages of newspapers in which the collected specimens had to be dried, the encyclopedias making pressure to dry them, the identification of the plants and the infinite frustration when, despite the care and the mime, the flowers broke, the petals were lost and the stamens disintegrated. Where’s my herbarium? What little I know about plants I learned by doing / suffering that herbarium.

The Harvard University Library has posted on the web the complete herbarium that poet Emily Dickinson made between the years 1839-1846. Thanks to the digitisation of this precious green cover booklet, this document is accessible to all the public. Until recently, even investigators could not consult it because the integrity of the materials and the notebook itself was seriously threatened.

Dickinson is one of the most important and influential poets of the 20th century. His life has been the subject of biographies, studies, books and even films like last year’s story of a passion.

Emily Dickinson spent her entire life in Amherst, in the family home, and most of her friends were correspondence. She didn’t like to leave the house, she wasn’t a friend of parties or social commitments, and at the end of her life she didn’t even leave her room. He wrote poems all his life that were not published until after his death. Her fame and prestige came to her much later and, today, she is considered one of the most influential writers of her time.

When he was nine years old he began to study botany and with twelve he helped his mother in the garden, but it was not until he was already a teenager he attended the Mount Holyoke women’s seminary when he began to take an interest in Botany as a science.

The founder of the school, Mary Lyon, was a great botanist and encouraged all girls to collect, study and collect local flowers and plants preserving them in an herbarium. Dickinson collected 424 flowers from the Amherst region and placed them in his herbarium with great sensitivity, showing a delicate sense of composition, each with a label with its name.

Dickinson’s herbarium is fragile, delicate, precious and exciting. It is touching to be able to contemplate the meticulous work of a girl, of a young woman, almost two hundred years ago. Botany is science, it is knowledge of nature and, at the same time, it is delicacy and beauty, two qualities that Dickinson’s poetry possesses.

It’s so little grass work.,
that sphere of simple green:
only raise butterflies
and entertain bees.

All day dancing to the rhythm of the beautiful tonadas that the breezes bring and receive the sun in your lap and all in all say yes, leaning. Spread the dew –like pearls– all night.

And emperifollarse more elegantly than a duchess. And, dying, getting rid of fragrance divine, like Humble spices falling asleep or like dying narrows. And then dwell in sovereign trojes and dream for the rest of the days. It’s so little weed work. I’d like to be hay.

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