Many people asked me if this installation, “I dwell in Possibility –“ is a piece is to honor Emily Dickinson. I suppose that’s part of it. Emily Dickinson was one of Amherst’s most famous residents and I do greatly admire her work. And I do use her words and an image of her as elements of the piece.
However, the larger concept is about exploring identity with respect to place. Approaching this project as an architect, I can’t help but be intrigued by how spaces and places shape our inner selves, our work, and the world’s understanding of who we are.
Emily Dickinson was notably house-bound in her adult years. While she rarely left her home and its grounds, she was certainly not cut off from the world. In addition to her prolific poetry, she maintained a robust life of written correspondence with family, friends, and colleagues.
Dickinson didn’t write much about her interior life, as might be assumed of a recluse. She focused instead on observations of spaces, relationships, and experiences. In this poem (Number 657) she is dwells “in Possibility” – literally in her house and symbolically in her poetry; and most importantly, she relates both to the world of heaven beyond. “Possibility,” here, refers to the “House of God”, which, according to Dickinson, is a “fairer House” than the written word and is compared to the typology of her New England home. She closes by hoping that her work (her poetry) will help her achieve that heavenly goal – with a reference to her earthy “Occupation” being “To gather Paradise”.
The words are so simple, yet carry a complex array of metaphors. I thought it would be interesting to take the poet out of her recognizable yellow homestead and observe what happens to our understanding of her and our understanding of her identity when she is relocated in a new environment. Do we rethink the relationship of Emily Dickinson to her home and her poetry when she is read in a new context? Might the same be true for each of us?
Poem 657, 1855, Emily Dickinson
I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –
Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of Eye –
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –
Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –