Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium

A while back I discovered Dickinson’s manuscripts were available on line, to my delight (what can match seeing her poems in her very cursive?).

And now, Harvard has digitized her herbarium, assembled when she was a teenager in the 1840’s.

I just love “flipping” through the pages (the first two are blank) as I am sure Dickinson herself did many, many times.


Mid-Victorians believed that each flower or plant had a symbolic meaning, including Dickinson’s teacher, Mrs. Almira H. Lincoln, who wrote a book titled Symbolical Language of Flowers. For Dickinson the jasmine (which appeared on the first page of her herbarium) meant “passion” while to give someone a jasmine vine meant, “You are the soul of my soul.” Dickinson would often imply and include these meanings in the poems she wrote or the bouquets she sent.

Dickinson’s favorite flowers include the gentian, the crown imperial, the geranium, the rose, and the Indian pipes that her friend Mabel Todd painted to adorn the cover of the first edition of Dickinson’s poems in 1890. Dickinson also compared herself to a daylily (“red like her auburn hair”).

Victorian Treasure: Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium, by Judith Farr (Poets.org).

Alas, teenage Emily got some of the scientific names wrong, so her notes sometimes don’t match Harvard’s “official” taxonomy. Still, not bad for a 14-year old:

Dickinson’s Herbarium


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