Emily Dickinson: Herbarium (1846)

Emily Dickinson is widely recognized as one of America’s most important and influential poets. Her unique style, characterized by unconventional syntax, spare language, and themes of death, nature, and spirituality, continues to inspire and captivate readers today. But there is more to Dickinson’s life and work than just her poetry.

Dickinson was also an avid botanist and lover of nature, and her passion for the natural world played a significant role in shaping her poetic voice. Throughout her life, she collected and pressed plants, creating an extensive herbarium collection that showcases the botanical diversity of her native Amherst, Massachusetts. Her botanical interests also found expression in her poetry, which often draws on botanical imagery and explores themes of growth, decay, and the beauty of the natural world.

In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at Dickinson’s botanical legacy and explore the fascinating intersection between science and art in her remarkable life. We’ll examine her herbarium collection, examine the botanical themes in her poetry, and learn more about her love of nature and the role it played in her life and work. So join us on a journey into the world of Emily Dickinson, and discover the botanical beauty of one of America’s most beloved poets.

Emily Dickinson, 1848. Photo: Public Domain, Courtesy of Yale University Manuscripts and Archives Digital Images Database, via Wikimedia Commons

Emily Dickinson’s herbarium is a remarkable testament to her love of plants and the natural world. Over the course of her life, she collected and pressed over 400 plant specimens from the Amherst area, carefully arranging and labeling each one in a large album. The herbarium contains a wide variety of plants, including ferns, grasses, and wildflowers, and it provides a unique snapshot of the botanical diversity of the region in the mid-19th century.

Dickinson’s herbarium is now housed at Harvard University’s Houghton Library, where it is carefully preserved and studied by scholars and botanists. In recent years, researchers have used the herbarium to gain insights into Dickinson’s life and work, exploring the ways in which her botanical interests influenced her poetry and shaped her understanding of the natural world.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Dickinson’s herbarium is the care and attention she paid to each specimen. Unlike some collectors, who might press plants haphazardly and without much thought, Dickinson was meticulous in her approach, taking care to preserve each plant in a way that would showcase its unique beauty and character. She carefully labeled each specimen with its scientific name, date, and location, and she even used tiny strips of paper to create delicate borders and designs around some of the plants.

In addition to being a testament to Dickinson’s botanical interests, her herbarium is also a remarkable work of art. The careful arrangements of plants, the delicate borders and designs, and the precision of her labeling all demonstrate her eye for beauty and her love of aesthetics. Dickinson’s herbarium is a testament to the ways in which science and art can intersect, and it serves as a reminder of the many ways in which the natural world can inspire and captivate us.

Pages from Emily Dickinson’s herbarium (Houghton Library, Harvard University)

In conclusion, Emily Dickinson’s herbarium collection is a testament to her love of nature, her keen eye for beauty, and her fascination with the natural world. Through her careful collection and preservation of plants, Dickinson created a lasting legacy that continues to inspire and captivate us today.

Moreover, her herbarium is a reminder of the many ways in which science and art can intersect, and how botanical specimens can tell us a story about the past and the natural world. By carefully examining her herbarium, scholars and botanists can gain insights into Dickinson’s life and work, and explore the ways in which her botanical interests influenced her poetry and her understanding of the world.

Emily Dickinson’s herbarium is not just a collection of dried plants, but a work of art and a testament to the power of curiosity, observation, and wonder. As we continue to study and appreciate her life and work, we can draw inspiration from her passion for the natural world and the many ways in which she found beauty and meaning in the world around her.