Emily’s Garden

CANNABIS CULTURE – Born in 1830, Emily Dickinson is widely regarded, along with Walt Whitman, as the premier American poet.

A great many of the 1,775 poems she left behind have ethereal themes: Ecstasy, heaven, sacrament, spice, the East, death, magic, fairies, flowers and bees were among her favorite subjects.

Her Blake-like vision into the minutest detail of nature and her preoccupation with Ecstatic realms may have been, I propose, inspired by the partaking of ancient plant teachers, today called psychedelics.

A page from Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium showing a male Cannabis plant.

Quite the rebel, Dickinson boldly rejected Christianity as a girl, and wrote poems like:

Forbidden Fruit a flavor has
That lawful Orchards mocks –
How luscious lies within the Pod
The Pea that Duty locks –

It’s quite possible that she was content with her life of seclusion because she was having daily mystical experiences, aided by psychotropic plants she grew in her garden, or found in the woods. She wrote of the white dresses she wore as ceremonial garb, rather than the misinterpretation of bridal dress that moderns impose. She wrote:

Witchcraft was hung, in history
But History and I
Find all the Witchcraft that we need
Around us, every Day –

Considering that she was not far, in time or distance, from the Salem Witch Trials, this was quite a bold statement to make, and possibly one of the chief reasons she scarcely published during her lifetime.

Dickinson was a master gardener and woodswoman, familiar with all the local flora and fauna, and some exotic ones as well that she grew in a greenhouse. By the 1840s Amherst graduates were at work in foreign missions in Syria, Turkey, India, China, Africa, and the South Seas, bringing back artifacts and rare plants. Emily wrote in a letter: “My flowers are near and foreign, and I have but to cross the floor to stand in the Spice Isles.”

In Dickinson’s Herbarium, a male-looking, unmistakable cannabis plant is pasted into the book with her own hand (above). She didn’t label the plant (or several others), but the Harvard academics who have now published a facsimile edition supplied the identification.

In a poem that mentions “hempen hands,” she wrote:

I started Early – Took my Dog –
And visited the Sea –
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me –
And Frigates – in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Hands –
Presuming Me to be a Mouse –
Aground – upon the Sands

But no Man moved Me – till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe –
And past my Apron – and my Belt
And past my Bodice – too –

And made as He would eat me up –
As wholly as a Dew
Upon a Dandelion’s Sleeve –
And then – I started – too –

And He – He followed – close behind –
I felt His Silver Heel
Upon my Ankle – Then my Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl

Until We met the Solid Town –
No One He seemed to know –
And bowing – with a Mighty look–
At me – The Sea withdrew –

Excerpted from the forthcoming Emily Dickinson’s Divine Intoxication, from Evangelista Sista Press.

A cartoon drawn by Dickinson. Text says:
“Life is but a Strife
‘Tis a bubble
‘Tis a dream
And man is but a little boat
Which paddles down the stream”

Ellen Komp is Deputy Director of California NORML and a regular contributor to Cannabis Culture. She manages the website VeryImportantPotheads.com and blogs at Tokin Woman.