Thornton Wilder on Emily Dickinson

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Plays: 192

In November and December of 1950, playwright Thornton Wilder delivered the famed Norton Lectures at Harvard University. He focused on Dickinson, Melville, Whitman, Poe and Thoreau, and later said it was because “they all describe America at the moment she was taking her place in world culture, and they showed the dangers of her situation.”

In January of 1951, Wilder made his first appearance at the 92nd Street Y Poetry Center, once more talking about Emily Dickinson, only this time “in light of certain ideas of Gertrude Stein,” his close friend who had died a few years earlier. Wilder confesses that he does not know if Stein ever actually read Dickinson, yet offers his speculations nonetheless.

But before doing so, he asks for the audience’s indulgence as he re-imagines the writing life of the reclusive Dickinson, and today’s featured recording comes from that portion of the lecture, which includes Wilder’s renderings of some of her poems: “The Wind Took Up the Northern Things,” Troubled About Many Things,” “Wild Nights” and “They Put Us Far Apart.”