Adam Kosan in Nautilus:
Emily Dickinson spent most of her life in Amherst, Massachusetts. Despite the geographic limits of her experience, she perceived an abundant, entrancing and confounding natural world of life and death all around her. Among her many aspects as a poet, she comes down to us as a fascinating observer of birds.
Scott Edwards is an ornithologist who studies the evolutionary biology of birds. Poetry in America director Elisa New recently invited Edwards to join her at Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum in Boston to listen to birdsong and read some of Emily Dickinson’s bird poems. As their conversation makes clear in the video below, you can approach these poems on different levels. There is, on the one hand, Dickinson’s perspective as a naturalist, keen to record patterns of nature, and on the other, her perspective as a poet, finding the raw materials of metaphor in those natural patterns. How do these modes complement or diverge from each other? New and Edwards begin by looking at the nature of robin song, memorably conjured in the poem “You’ll know her by her foot.” Their conversation then proceeds to cover a range of questions about poetic vocabulary and scientific knowledge.