In “Ardor and the Abyss” poet James Longenbach finds quite a different Emily Dickinson—“an extraordinarily powerful woman, an artist who was intimidated by nothing–the opposite of a fear-driven recluse”—in Lyndall Gordon’s revelatory new biography, Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds
The young Dickinson was so volatile, so volcanic in her intuitions that she could clear a room. Mental and emotional acuity of that level is frightening because people have no way of explaining its source. It requires no nurturing. It expands not only without the intervention of other people but without the effort of the person who possesses it—or is possessed by it. It simply happens. Not many people want to have tea with the Delphic Oracle, however mesmerizing her speech.