Haunted by Emily…a play

Scene 5

A few years later…

(A brilliantly sunny day a few years later. A new house has been added between the two previous houses – back of the stage. We see only its porch where MABEL sits at an old-fashioned typewriter, wearing a green eyeshade, attended by DAVID. A couple sits in each of the houses – VINNIE and MAGGIE at the Homestead, AUSTIN and SUE at the Evergreens. MABEL and DAVID are reading letters. EMILY dances down the meadow)


Here’s a letter from Emily to appeal to you, May-bill. “Dearest of all Uncles – would you like to try a duel? Or is that too quiet to suit you? At any rate I shall kill you – you can take chloroform if you like and I will put you beyond the reach of pain in a twinkling.”


She was just nineteen when she wrote that!


It’s as funny as Twain, so it is.


Fame is a bee – it has a song – it has a sting – it has a wing!

(Pretends to fly away)

Butterflies’ aesthetics are far superior to mine.


Emily had a seeker’s heart. She sees the other world somehow. Listen to this one – “Won’t you please state the name of the boy that turned the faintest – I’d like to get such facts to set down in my journal. I don’t think deaths or murders can ever come amiss in a young woman’s journal.”

(Peals of laughter)


It is an extraordinary thing you have done to share this rare genius with the world, my sweet.


I feel we have climbed to a cloud, pulled it away and revealed a new star!

(They clasp hands)


Blame is just as dear as praise, and praise as mere as blame – as foreign from my thought as firmament from fin. Renown perceives itself and thus degrades the flower.


(reading the newspaper to MAGGIE)

Listen to this! It says Emily is at the forefront of American singers! It says – Can’t you stop cleaning for a moment?


(Scrubbing the grate)

Miss Emily used to say she preferred a house of pestilence to a house of cleaning.

(They both laugh uproariously)


(Wiping her eyes)

Oh, I miss her! So I do! I’d rather have her than a pile of books! But spring cleaning waits for none but Death.

(EMILY pats her head)


Housekeeping is a prickly art when winter becomes an infinite “alas.” The moderate drinker of delight does not deserve the spring.


“The work of Emily Dickinson make a distinctive addition to the literature of the world.”

(MAGGIE leans back on her heels and sighs approvingly. Meanwhile, back at the Evergreens – )


(Accepting a teacup)

I’d no idea she had so many poems in passably conventional form. “Poetry torn up by the roots,” said Mr. Higginson and Mr. Niles told us her defects “outshone” her abilities. He called her lacking in “poetical qualities”.


Poets’ thought undressed needs no umbrella. If the top of my head is taken off, then I know it’s poetry.


(Swishing around the room in anger)

I should have been told! It’s so humiliating to be kept in the dark! Two volumes of poetry and a book of letters! Vinnie says I refused to arrange the poems! Emily knows it isn’t true!


Vinnie did ask you first.


I thought I had more time! Everyone’s in such a rush!


And I have so many obligations.


(Ornamenting SUE with an invisible jewel)

I chose this star from out the night’s wide number, Sue! It’s all I have to bring today – this and my heart beside- and all the bees and all the fields and all the meadows wide! Be what you have ever been – infinity.

(Tries to grab her as she flashes past)

Oh, Sue, Sue, the realm of You!

(Her hands are empty)

Absence is condensed presence.


If only Vinnie had taste! She paid for the publication. She rushes into print even items of small consequence with crudities of workmanship.



Publication is the auction of the mind of man! We do not call the surgeon to commend the bone, but to set it!


I always said Emily had a crystal soul. It’s just that I’ve been ill so much latterly. There has been sorrow and


– our disgrace.

(AUSTIN shields himself with his newspaper)


Dreams a subtle dower, make us rich an hour! Opinion is a flitting thing but Truth outlasts the sun. If we cannot own them both then possess the oldest one. Oh, Sue, I had rather be loved than be a king on earth or a lord in heaven!


When I sent one of Emily’s poems to the Springfield Republican, Lavinia told everyone I violated her copyright!


(Reading loudly)

“They are barbed things, these poems; they strike and remain, unlike snowball poems that break and melt and are gone, leaving you cold.”


The incredible never surprises because it is the incredible.



“Illuminating Inner Life of a Recluse”


No prison be when liberty’s locked in. The police cannot suppress the mob within the heart.


I have a chest of poems and letters that she gave me! I will publish my own reminiscences when I choose and in my time!


(lowering his paper exasperatedly)

Dear, Emily sent you letters but that does not convey copyright, which belongs, by will, to her legal heir.


But an heir so foolish with her tempers and her vagaries! Vinnie isn’t sensible enough to “inherit” anything. She has as much knowledge of business as a Maltese pussycat.


Constancy with proviso, constancy abhors!


(He coughs)

Vinnie is whimsical, wayward and exasperating. Do write your memories, Susan, or what have we left? Those belong to you of course. Please do not mention –

Emily’s sickness.

(Increased coughing, grabbing at SUE’s sleeve)

People say Emily kept to her home because she was ill.

(He falls into a coughing fit. SUE turns away her head but EMILY is alarmed.)

Sue, Sue! Ward death away with your homeopathic glances!


Of course I shall! I shall write. I shall at least do that!


Ah, well. Life’s the hinge of death. Fame is the one that does not stay. Its occupant must die – insolvent thing – a “lightning in the germ”. Electrical the embryo but we demand the flame.

(Clomps away, chanting)

Could live – did live
Could die – did die.

(As she leaves, light follows her and darkens the Evergreens. EMILY wanders to the Homestead and peers in through the window.)


Mrs. Todd wants half my copyright but she shan’t have it.


(Shaking a collection of papers)

She keeps sending contracts over here. All of them she writes herself.


And I keep burning them! Throw them on the fire, Maggie! Just because she straightened out the poems! Why, any clark could have done it! I’d have done it if I could have stayed in school!

(Rustles her shawl angrily)

But you knew Father. He couldn’t bear to have us gone.


He would eat no bread but Emily’s.


Father was quite a hand at giving medicine, especially if it was undesirable to the patient. He put the belt around my life – I heard the buckle snap.


My parents addressed an Eclipse every morning and called it Father.


And then Mother – poor Mother –


There, there, then, Miss Vinnie. Have yourself a nice cup of tea.


That hussy can’t take my property! Those poems and letters are mine! They don’t belong to Sue. They’re not Austin’s to give away – they’re not anybody’s but mine! Mr. Hills says every poem Emily sent belongs to me by law, even ones I’ve never seen. Mabel’s just making copies, anyone with an educated hand can do that!

(Troubled because she’s basically unfamiliar with the magnitude of her sister’s work but feels a paranoid fear of theft)

I don’t think she gives half of them back. Wanting money. Wanting everything not hers.


My gifts were given me by the Gods when I was just a little girl. My difference made me bold.

(Croons to the flowers)

Only a bee will miss it, only a butterfly. Only a bird will wonder, only a breeze will sigh. Ah little rose how easy for such as thee to die!


And hasn’t she all the glory now, Her Busyness?

(Gestures to MABEL’s house)

That fine house and two men dancing attendance? I’d say she’s had reward enough.


It’s more men than that! Some say every man in town buzzes round her hive!

(They snigger. MABEL puts down her work, walks to the porch railing and starts to sing a florid version of, “Where the Bee Sucks, There Suck I”. DAVID listens reverentially. MAGGIE closes up the shutters)


Miss Emily used to say if that woman didn’t stop singing, she’d start weeping!


I said that about Vinnie!

(Shakes her head)

Hug her, Maggie! Hold her to your bosom!

(But MAGGIE clatters the tea tray, whisking crumbs. VINNIE tears paper into strips, officiously making spills. EMILY begins to dance)


God is indeed a jealous God if He cannot bear to see that we had rather not with him but with each other play!


I convinced Vinnie her dying cat was immortal and would find heaven. Did that assist you, Vinnie?

(AUSTIN’s coughing heard, then SUE.)

Help! Maggie! Ned, Mattie! Someone come quick!

(Excited, ineffective running about)

(Rushes to the Evergreens to cradle AUSTIN in her arms)

Death won’t hurt now Dollie’s here. A dimple in the tomb makes that ferocious room a home. My life closed twice before its close, but dying’s a wild night and a new road. Parting is all we know of heaven and all we need of hell.

(She strokes his forehead)

Heaven – how dim it sounds! Perhaps you’re going too – who knows? I’d harass God to let you in.

(Whispers in AUSTIN’s ear)

T’is life’s award to die. A deathblow’s a lifeblow to some.

(Lights out.)

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