News Release

Was Poet Emily Dickinson a closet geologist?

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Geological Society of America

Emily Dickinson liked to use images of nature in her poems with such lines as: “Nature rarer uses yellow / Than another hue / Leaves she all of that for sunsets / Prodigal of blue.” But the concepts and imagery of geology in her works astonished Michele Aldrich, a historian of geology at Cornell University.

When Aldrich was researching the life of the 19th century geologist Edward Hitchcock, she learned from John Lancaster, an Amherst College curator, that there was a connection between Hitchcock and Dickinson. Apparently, Dickinson learned geology from Hitchcock when she attended Amherst Academy and at what is now known as Mount Holyoke College. So Aldrich searched Dickinson’s poems for geological terms.

“I was very interested to see the number of poems that used language such as ‘volcanoes,’ and so I thought there definitely is a stream here,” Aldrich said. “So I’ve gone back and looked at this as part of her general interest in nature, and it’s no doubt that this influence came from her education at Amherst Academy and at Mount Holyoke where she spent a year and a half.”

An example of one of Dickinson’s “geology” poems would be:

Volcanoes be in Sicily / And South America / I judge from my geography. Volcanoes nearer here / A lava step, at any time / Am I inclined to climb A crater I may contemplate / Vesuvius at home.

“I want to remind geologists that this is a good way to get to students who might not otherwise be interested in geology or who might be timid about science,” Aldrich said. “Let’s point to the example of Emily Dickinson who was very receptive to geology and who integrated nature into her poetry.”

Aldrich will present her research at the Geological Society of America’s Northeastern Section Meeting in Springfield, Mass., on March 26, 2002.


By Kara LeBeau, GSA Staff Writer

Michele L. Aldrich,
Cornell University
24 Elm Street
Hatfield MA 01038 USA
Phone: 413-247-5828

Abstract available at:

Northeastern Section, Geological Society of America
36th Annual Meeting
March 25-27, 2002
Sheraton Springfield Hotel
Springfield, Mass.

For information and help during the meeting, please see the media assistant at the GSA registration table or call 413-263-2185.

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