In Emily Dickinson’s Bedroom

Lloyd Schwartz


Immediately, this poem, ‘In Emily Dickinson’s Bedroom’, brings to make the daunting and often impossible task of attempting to understand someone, an enigmatic someone. From what I have learned of Emily Dickinson, she was reclusive and certainly an enigma, and yet she wrote and in writing, she bared her thoughts. It makes me wonder, did she want to be known and understood or not? Did she think it was somehow impossible for anyone to understand her? Don’t we all often feel that way at times? It is a bit Meta, as the saying goes, seeing as Mr. Schwartz chose to write a poem about a poet, particularly such a well-known one. I wonder what Emily Dickinson would think of ‘In Emily Dickinson’s Bedroom’ if she would be flattered or dismayed by it. I wonder if she would finally feel understood. Of course, one needs to remember even before reading this, that Emily Dickinson is dead. She cannot comment on the accuracy, she cannot praise or scold Schwartz. We are left to wonder what her reaction to Schwartz’s character study might have been.

In Emily Dickinson's Bedroom by Lloyd Schwartz


In Emily Dickinson’s Bedroom Analysis

Line 1

A chilly light pervades the empty room

Right away in ‘In Emily Dickinson’s Bedroom’, which can read in full here, I notice juxtaposition. Light is meant to and almost always portrayed as bringing warmth and comfort. In fact, this is the only instance I can think of wherein it is otherwise, though I am sure there must be others. In doing this, Schwartz certainly has my attention. There is also the fact that the room is empty, another negative adjective to paint the picture in our minds eye. There is the significance of the word pervading too, I think. The light and I suppose also the narrator is an intruder. It is funny that the narrator thinks the room empty, even when they are presumably standing in it or, in the very least, preparing to enter it.


Line 2-3

bringing neither its current nor former inhabitant peace.


Again there is juxtaposition, a bedroom is meant to be a place wherein someone can find peace and the narrator is stating that Dickinson wouldn’t have found peace there. It is a sad possibility, that Dickinson found no solace in her own bedroom. I also cannot help but wonder what issue Schwartz has with the sun. He certainly seems to cast it in a negative light, if you will pardon the pun, using a word like infects which brings about creepy and crawly mental images. I wonder if Dickinson would have felt the same way, the sun bringing the outside world into her room and casting light on her when she longed for solitude.


Line 4-6

both the air inside and what we see of the grass
Inside, the visitor must be respectful

I find it strange that Dickinson spent her time inside and yet, several lines prior, Schwartz provided more detail about the grass than the titular bedroom. He does not mention Dickinson once, other than the title, and yet focused rather deeply on the sun. I think that this is foreshadowing the final line of the piece, acknowledging that Dickinson is enigmatic even when the narrator is getting as firsthand a glimpse as possible by standing in the bedroom she once inhabited. I also find the visitor to be a strange choice of words in this case. They haven’t exactly been invited by Emily Dickinson, after all. They are as invasive as Schwartz says the sun is. I think there is some acknowledgement of this, in the fact that they “must be respectful.” There is some acknowledgement to the fact that they are invading what was Dickinson’s personal space.


Line 7-9

and polite, evasive without actually telling lies.

Schwartz admits everything seems hidden because it is hidden. They are standing in the bedroom that was Emily Dickinson’s, yes, but it isn’t as though they have traversed time or can speak with her. Schwartz even seems to admit that coming was a wasted venture, noting that the facets of the room are “bricked-up” and “plastered-over.” I cannot help but detect a hint of disappointment, rightful disappointment, in the way that the room has been hidden even when it is open to “visitors.”


Line 10-12

clue-under the wide floorboards, behind the blocked entrance-

And, in acknowledging the hidden qualities, Schwartz begins looking for clues or at least considering the possibility that there may be clues. He cannot exactly look, can only stand back and question. I love that Schwartz seems to think of Dickinson as “haunted.” Aren’t all writers? He understands that part of her without the “clue” he wants. I wonder if Schwartz thinks that the room is haunted as well, and if so, by what? By Dickinson’s literal ghost or simply the memory of Dickinson? It must be strange for a poet to be where a great poet wrote so many of her famous works. Perhaps Schwartz is the one that is haunted by her, by the bar that she set so very high. I appreciate the use of the word “patches.” After all, patches hold things together, they piece them together and Schwartz is attempting to piece together Dickinson. He keeps interjecting the impersonal aspects of the situation with the sentimental ones, telling of the “floorboards” of the room and of Dickinson’s “heart, and sometimes vice versa, mentioning Dickinson’s “verse” and “wallpaper.”


Line 13

motivated those uncanny dashes-these shadows

I cannot help but notice the irony. Schwartz notes Emily’s “uncanny dashes,” and uses them himself. I wonder if he does this in his other poems as well, or it is it only an appropriate allusion to Dickinson’s works. I wonder if the dashes stand to foreshadow what might occur after the piece is through, the ever-present and a strong influence of Dickinson in the writer and narrator’s life. Though, it isn’t only the mention of dashes that catches my eye in this line. It is also the word shadows. Schwartz has his own uncanny ability to choose words extremely well, never wasting a single one. The dashes were within Emily’s poems but the shadows were within Emily herself. Those would be even more difficult to understand. And, it seems, Schwartz isn’t even going to try. I don’t exactly blame him. Can anyone truly understand those who have long gone before us? I don’t think that we can and as sad as that it, it’s a bit irrevocable.


Line 14

still eluding our meager efforts to scrutinize.

And, indeed, there it is. In the end, the narrator cannot help but admit all their efforts are “meager.” I think that it rather sad and yet expected. It is a difficult concept to grapple with, the misunderstanding of someone we long to know and it t is the idea behind many pieces of media, an example being John Green’s novel titled Paper Towns. ‘In Emily Dickinson’s Bedroom’ holds a particular meaning for me. I am currently writing a novel, as all writers do at some point, I suppose. It is about a historical figure who is quite, quite enigmatic. I understand both Schwartz’s longing and inability to comprehend Dickinson because I often feel unable to comprehend my own protagonist. I feel as if we all have someone, fictional or otherwise, who we simply cannot understand. Therefore, there are several themes in this piece that can be universal. There is the disappointment that I mentioned earlier but there is also an ultimate acceptance. He may never understand Dickinson but I think he has grown to accept that fact and appreciate her nonetheless, which is what we all are forced to do when faced with disappointments.

Bailey Boone Poetry Expert
Bailey adores literature, with T.S. Eliot being one of his favourite poets. He has an Associate of Arts degree and continues his love for literature by analysing poetry on

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