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Emily Dickinson loves nature. No, seriously, she loves nature so much that she writes about it—a lot. "I taste a liquor never brewed" is one of many nature-themed poems in Dickinson's collection of works.
One thing that makes this one special is the naughtiness of the subject matter. When Dickinson was writing, it was not considered proper for a young lady to drink to excess. Sure—a tiny glass of sherry at a dinner party was fine, but it was more of an accessory than an actual beverage. In 1860, even if she did take a sip or two, a prim young lady (actually Em was pushing 30 when she wrote this poem) would never find herself inebriated, especially in public. We're clutching our pearls and fanning ourselves just at the thought of it! Thank heavens it's just a little ol' metaphor about the joys of nature.
Knowing what we know (and what we don't know) about Emily Dickinson—she was a bit of loner, she never married, her poems won't discovered until after her death—it can be easy to overlook the wit that infuses much of her poetry. It's wry and sometimes hard to catch at first glance, but it's there. We're not pulling your leg here, but Dickinson might be.
That isn't to say that the overall message she's trying to deliver isn't sincere, it's just that a little dash of cheeky humor certainly spices up what could otherwise be pretty bland fare.
We all need a reminder once in a while to just unplug and get out in the natural world. With all our fancy technology nowadays that keeps us inside, Emily Dickinson's poem may actually be more valid and important now than it was when she first wrote it. Dickinson wrote this poem at the height of the Victorian era. Victorian culture was all the rave and had made its way across the pond to inspire American culture too, especially in New England. The Victorians loved a good round of croquet on the lawn or taking tea by the lake. Well, they loved it as long as they could take all their furniture, awnings, umbrellas, blankets, china, servants—you get the idea.
Oh, and let's not forget that they had to be properly dressed for the occasion too with long sleeves, hats and parasols. In other words, they loved nature as long as it stayed at a comfortable distance.
Dickinson, though, was trying to lift the mosquito nets and let the sun shine in on the stuffy Victorian existence. Today, Dickinson might have been even more manic about the situation. In modern times, our experiences of nature are even more detached—lawns are for gnomes, not social sporting activities, and we can experience breathtaking views of anywhere on the planet in panoramic 3-D right down the road at our local movie theater.
Dickinson wants us to come out of the air conditioning and remember how glorious it feels to have the sun on our face (after applying SPF 30, of course). The intensity of the high described in the poem might be a little tongue-in-cheek, but there certainly is a certain buzz that you can get just from a nice breath of fresh air and some sunlight.
Poets Talking About Poets
Here's a collection of readings, lectures, and speeches from modern poets that focus on Emily Dickinson's influence on their work.
This is the House That Dickinson Built
Okay, she didn't actually build it, but her legacy and posthumous fame did create the foundation that now runs the museum housed in Dickinson's old family home in Amherst, MA.
Emily on Stage
Check out this stage production on Emily Dickinson's life, called "The Belle of Amherst" and starring Julie Harris.
The Story of the Worst Poetry Contest Judge Ever
Back in the early '80s, "The Facts of Life" was a super-popular show. Even though Emily Dickinson had been considered one of America's great poets for decades, somehow the English teacher at a boarding school didn't recognize one of her pieces and neither did the judge of a poetry contest.
Say Line 13 Three Times Fast
We just really like how Julie Harris says "debauchee."
Drinking and Singing
Here's a choir arrangement of the poem.
Have You Seen This Woman?
There is one very famous daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson, but in 2013 a collector discovered another daguerreotype that just may be an image of the poet at about 30 years old. It hasn't been verified yet, but a lot of people are pretty confident it's the one and only Belle of Amherst with her arm around a Miss Kate Scott Turner.
Here's how most of us know Emily's face.
Still Racy After All These Years
Some call him crazy, some call him a genius, and some call him blasphemous to Dickinson's memory, but Jerome Charyn wrote The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson: A Novel anyway.
It's a Montage!
Yep, someone actually put together a bunch of clips of movies where Emily Dickinson is mentioned or her poetry is read.