In a letter to her cousins in 1872, Dickinson wrote, "We grow not older with years, but newer every day." Therefore, today's birthday makes Emily 69,397 days new!
At the right: Emily Dickinson's letter to Frances and Louise Norcross from June 1872. Click the image to enlarge.
In honor of Dickinson's 190th birthday (and 69,397th day of being new), I checked the online Emily Dickinson Archive to see what birthday words appeared in her poetry.
The results are below.
For my search of birthday words, I initially checked for "anniversary," "birth," "birthday," "cake," "candle," "presents," "gift," "party," "age," "old," and 'older."
Based on her quote above, I then added "new" and "newer." Then I thought of "card" -- and then "wish" (for birthday wishes when blowing out the candles) and "surprise" (for surprise parties).
Here are the terms and the number of poems in which those words appear:
Presents 1 *
* Dickinson used the word "present" in 27 different poems, but only once did she use it to mean "gifts." In her poem "It was given to me by the gods," she wrote, "They give us presents most -- you know."
Next, due to all of this examination of "new" and "old," I decided to check into Dickinson's use fo the words "past," "present," and "future."
This was a little tricky, because sometimes the words "past" and "present" could be interpreted in different ways. I did not include the words if they were used like "half-past three" or "A Light exists in Spring / Not present on the Year." I did include the terms if, in any way, they could be interpreted to designate the past or the present.
Emily Dickinson Birthday Celebration
Thursday, December 10, 12-1pm
Join the Emily Dickinson Museum for an afternoon of fun including a team bake of Dickinson’s famous Black Cake, a conversation with Apple TV+’s Dickinson series creator Alena Smith, a make-at-home craft demo, an aerial journey over Amherst, video screenings from the “My Emily Dickinson” collecting project, and the singing of the birthday song. There will be a virtual guest-book to sign, interactive poll questions, and surprise special guests.
Learn more and register
Happy Birthday, Emily! with the Houghton Library
Thursday, December 10, 3pm
Live from Harvard University’s Houghton Library, join a distinguished roster of poets, food writers, librarians, scholars, students, and literati who will read their favorite Dickinson poems, share what the poet means to them, and generally wax eloquent on America’s cherished poet and her kitchen prowess.
Learn more and register
Thursday, December 10, 7:30pm
The Folger Shakespeare Library’s annual Emily Dickinson Birthday Tribute, co-sponsored by the Emily Dickinson Museum, will feature a reading by poet Dorianne Laux. She is the author of five collections of poetry, a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award, and a recipient of the Paterson Prize.
Learn more and get tickets