Emily Dickinson’s Desk: A Lockdown Revisit!

Emily's desk

Emily’s Desk

How might the little rooms of our lockdown become the ‘mighty rooms’ of the imagination? Well, if anyone can help us with that, it’s Emily Dickinson! So I thought I’d repost this tribute to the great poet and her little room, and share again the poem I wrote about her desk.

This poem is now collected in my book After Prayer published by Canterbury Press

Whilst I was speaking at a CS Lewis conference in Amherst I had the opportunity to visit Emily Dickinson’s house, now beautifully preserved as the Emily Dickinson Museum. And so I came to stand in that ‘mighty room’ where all the poems were written, and there, plain and simple and strangely, paradoxically, small was her little desk: a small square writing table.  I was filled with wonder at how much had flowed from so small a space, but then I thought about Dickinson’s characteristically concentrated and terse verse forms; those compact and concentrated little quatrains with the emphatic dashes linking and yet binding in the energy of her phrases, and it seemed to me the smallness of the desk was itself part of the form of the poetry, part of her gift.

Anyway the whole experience stirred me on to this: (as always you can hear me read it you click on the title or the play button)


Emily Dickinson’s Desk

So slight and spare a square of wood
Sustains so great a muse-
How plain and flat the door is made
To such a subtle maze.

Perhaps the limits of this desk-
-It’s strict restraint of space-
Informed the poet’s take and task
And turned restraint to grace.

Here in this narrow paradise
She pledged and kept her troth-
And trimmed her lamp and trained her verse –
And- slant-wise- told her truth.



Filed under imagination

12 responses to “Emily Dickinson’s Desk: A Lockdown Revisit!

  1. Christine Smith

    Good morning Malcolm,
    This lovely memory and poem makes me think of Waldo Williams’
    ‘What is living?
    Finding a wide space in a narrow hall.’
    We’re all having to do that just now!

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. pastorrickrabe

    Good day Malcolm,
    How lovely a reminder for me that just down the road is her room! (I live next to Amherst, MA). How lovely also a reminder of no matter how little, how spare we might get, we still have a vastness within us. I shared your poem with others today. Thank you

  3. lynndmorrissey

    Very insightful and timely. I had literally just been pondering how the isolation isn’t necessarily confining, especially by souls who choose to see with the boundless borders of their of their imaginations in mind. Thank you for sharing this and for all the encouragement you continue to inspire for “such a time as this.”

  4. Linda J Burton

    Love those slant rhymes. (Line 6 probably meant to use [Its]?)

  5. Wow. It reminds me of Christina Rossetti, writing on the corner of her washstand, and makes me wonder just how many of the things piled about my workspace are truly necessary, fruitful.

  6. That is a very small desk. One would have to be very focused and minimalist

  7. Yunus Mohamed

    From her little desk to students around the world, if she only knew!

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