2012-08-11 / Opinions

Melville Would Be Jealous

To the Editor:

It is well known that two of the greatest American writers of the 19th century – Henry David Thoreau and Mark Twain – visited Mackinac Island, and it is probable that a third, Walt Whitman, did the same. A fourth, Herman Melville, though never a visitor in person, famously reported on the Island in the Lakeman’s tale in Chapter 54 of his novel “Moby Dick.” But, until July 28, it was unsuspected that the reclusive poetic genius Emily Dickinson, who rarely set foot outside her home town of Amherst, Massachusetts, would ever make the voyage to “the goat-like craggy guns of lofty Mackinaw” (Melville).

The day-long reading and celebration of Miss Dickinson’s poems on July 28, organized by West Bluff cottager Penny Barr, adds Dickinson’s name to Mackinac’s charmed literary circle.

Under Penny Barr’s wizard hand, volunteers of all ages, occupations, backgrounds, sexes, and working stripes stopped to read one or more of Miss Dickinson’s canny verses. No passerby was safe from great poetry that day. The multitude of voices reading Miss Dickinson’s poems sweetened the streets with mystery and freighted the Huron breeze with song.

Reading almost of all Miss Dickinson’s poems in one day, a rarely accomplished feat, stamps the Dickinson genius firmly on Mackinac’s stony shores. As one of the many volunteers who stumbled home that evening grateful for the spell of Miss Dickinson’s insuperable verse, I want to note the vision and generosity of Penny Barr that made this remarkable day come to pass. Melville would be jealous.

James P. Lenfestey

Mackinac Island

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