A death-blow is a life blow to someWho, till they died, did not alive become;Who, had they lived, had died, but whenThey died, vitality begun. --816, Emily Dickinson
I live a stone throw away from the final resting place of a reclusive poetess Emily Dickinson. I just stumbled across her grave while I was strolling a graveyard like a wandering teenage boy. If you look around, history and wonder are within your reach, waiting for a dialogue between you and the unexpected delight.
After living in Northampton for a few months, I moved to Amherst last year. Well, technically those two towns are next each other, so it was a small move.
After living in Cambridge for three years, I felt Northampton was such a small town.
Not quite. Amherst is much, much smaller. Anyone came to the area for school think Amherst must be bigger than Northampton. Amherst has UMass, Amherst College, and Hampshire College. Northampton has Smith College (and former Northampton State Hospital with regard to my interest). You'll guess the former is larger.
Amherst is such a lovely, small town. So compact that the town cemetery is tucked right off the main street.
The Dickinsons rest in the West Cemetery. Laid out in 1730, it was the only graveyard in town until 1817. This town cemetery is a final resting place for original settlers in like "Farmers, millworkers, servants, soldiers, and professors."* The Dickinsons and educator William Smith Clark are some of the notable residents of the town interred here.
*From cemetery signboard
Dr. Clark was a president of "Mass Aggie" (Massachusetts Agricultural College, now UMass Amherst) in the late nineteenth century. I assume he is more renowned in Japan; he was a president of the Sapporo Agricultural College (now Hokkaido University). He was one of the first Westerners went to Japan to spread their political, social, and cultural practices during the Meiji Restoration. His work in introducing American style agriculture left a lasting impact on the shared remembrance among Japanese.
Did I find Dr. Clark's grave? Nope. I guess he doesn't want to see me...yet.
Born Dec. 10, 1830
May 15, 1886
Surrounded by a black iron enclosure, finding the graves for Samuel (Emily's father), Edward (brother), Emily, and Lavinia (sister) wasn't a pure coincidence, but it was such a delight to find Emily Dickinson's grave without expectation. I didn't know she's here!
On top of her austere Puritan grave stone, anonymous visitors leave their trails. Those traces can be stones or random knickknacks. But for those who left their presence on her gravestone, it must have some meanings.Why did they leave those trinkets? What is the personal significance contained in those objects? Why did they pick certain objects to indicate their presence to Emily or other visitors?
Each time I visit the cemetery, I find new surprises. What if I chronicle those small offerings? What stories can I weave from those objects?
Emily Dickinson, Complete Poems, Bartleby.com: http://www.bartleby.com/113/4046.html
Cemeteries, Amherst, MA: http://www.amherstma.gov/index.aspx?nid=829
click pic to read