On Wings of Words


Emily Dickinson’s heightened sensitivities meant that she felt more intensely about her friends and family, particularly her brother, than most. Therefore, her sorrows and concerns ran deeper. When she could not find answers to the questions that troubled her from school, home or church, she turned to nature. She took delight in butterflies, the changing seasons and birds. Furthermore she wrote about what she saw and thought:- ‘In the name of the Bee-/ And of the Butterfly-/ And of the Breeze- Amen’. 

Gradually, Emily withdrew from the bustle of the world. It seems as though her inner monologue with nature and her thoughts became greater than any other part of her existence. It is as though she dwelled within an acute mindfulness. Emily Dickinson wrote her feelings down  because they gave her comfort and support. Furthermore, there was a ‘freedom of her imagination’ so that she ‘dwelt in a house of possibilities.’ 

Within broad landscapes, against Magritte close innerscapes, Becca Stadtlander imagines the story of Emily Dickinson told by Jennifer Berne. On Wings of Words is a glorious book that merits wide readership, discussion and consideration.

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On Wings of Words

The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson

by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander

(Chronicle Books)– hardback

Emily Dickinson lived On Wings of Words. While her brother, Austin, entranced her, her greatest love was for words. She read by candlelight into the night and stole the books that Austin hid in the piano. It seems that Emily’s feelings and sensitivities were acutely heightened. We realise this through her poetry that reveals her thoughts and impressions. Therefore she says of her school friends- ‘A warmth as near as if the Sun/ Were Shining in your Hand.‘ Yet while her joys and enthusiasms were vast and unbridled, Emily was overwhelmed by worries about the infections and diseases that brought despair to early 1800’s America. Somehow the places where she sought answers did not satisfy her; from school to church. Thereafter, she elected to make sense of life and death through observations of nature. It led to her religious Headteacher classing her as a ‘No-hoper. Yet, Emily Dickinson responded  thus. ‘Hope; is a thing with feathers-/ That perches in the soul-/ And sings the tune without the words-/ And never stops- at all’ 
The biography of Emily Dickinson is fascinating. I love the interplay of her life story alongside her poetry. Furthermore, the story and verse are amplified by the rich, broad-stroke, empathetic pictures from Becca Stadtlander. Bookwagon recommends On Wings of Words to readers who enjoy biographies and poetry. Furthermore, as with 16 Words, books such as these give us a glimpse into how the words we know and live by have been formed.


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