In the September 25 edition of the New York Review of Books, Joyce Carol Oates reviews Christopher Benfrey’s A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade; and Brenda Wineapple’s White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson.

“And the hummingbird as a creature of mysterious, otherworldly beauty is most brilliantly evoked by the watercolors of Martin Johnson Heade—see Heade’s masterpiece Cattleya Orchid and Three Brazilian Hummingbirds (1871), which Benfey discusses
in detail; and by the poetry of Emily Dickinson—see the riddlesome poem indexed as number 1463, which Benfey calls the poet’s ‘signature poem’ since Dickinson frequently sent it to correspondents and ‘sometimes signed it “Humming-Bird,” as though she herself were its evanescent subject’:

A Route of Evanescence
With a revolving Wheel—
A Resonance of Emerald—
A Rush of Cochineal—
And every Blossom on the Bush
Adjusts its tumbled Head—
The Mail from Tunis, probably,
An easy Morning’s Ride—

(circa 1879)

“The concluding chapters of Wineapple’s White Heat are a detailed scrutiny of Dickinson’s posthumous career—’posthumous’ being the only career possible for one of such startlingly original gifts, as if, in the midst of the revered Hudson Valley landscape paintings of the nineteenth century there might have appeared the unsettling canvases of Cézanne.”

1 Comment »

  1. Randy, this is very beautifully presented! It’s a pleasure to see the Martin Heade watercolor reproduced.

    much affection & warmest regards for your family–


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