We can find no scar: a literary tattoo for Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

Words: Chloé Vaughan

“Heavenly hurt, it gives us – we can find no scar…”

There are pieces of literature that you will read in your life that stick with you forever.

Maybe it’s an inspirational message from a classic book written in the 19th century, or a line of poetry written twenty minutes ago by a friend… either way, these amazing arrangements of 26 letters or less have touched you.

This is the case for me with my favourite lady, Emily Dickinson.

I’d read her work before when I was 12 or 13 but I wasn’t really in the right mindset to understand or appreciate what she was saying. I started college five years later and we studied Emily Dickinson in my English Literature class for six months. I fell in love with her.

Dickinson’s life was fascinating. The introverted poet was born in Amherst, Massachusetts into a relatively wealthy family and became a noted eccentric into her early adulthood for her refusal to leave the house or meet guests. Instead, she wrote.

After her death in 1886, her younger sister Lavinia was sorting through her things when she stumbled upon Emily’s cache of work. Over 1800 poems were found, and only a dozen were published when she was still alive.

Thanks to the work of Lavinia and subsequent publishing houses, Emily Dickinson is now considered one of the greatest poets America has produced along with one of the best female poets in history.

Dickinson’s life is interesting, but her poetry is something else entirely. Her isolation meant a narrow subject focus, mainly on nature, religion and love; but what she is most famous for are her numerous poems surrounding the grand concept of death.

The death of her closest friend and potential love interest Susan Gilbert affected Dickinson greatly, and instead of falling into herself with grief when other friends or members of her family died, she wrote about death as a kindly gentleman in ‘Because I could not stop for Death’, as a focus stealing fly in ‘I heard a Fly buzz – when I died’, or gave a hauntingly empathetical account of a friend dying in ‘The last Night that She Lived’.

This ability to broach a subject as intimidating and terrifying as death and transform it into something manageable and friendly is unbelievable.

It’s also unbelievably helpful when you lose someone close to you and all you can think is that death is this inescapable monster who takes even the kindest souls. I’d never known anyone to die until last February, and reading Emily Dickinson’s work actually took some of the heaviness of grieving away.

Because of this, and because of my inability to choose one line or one poem from her humongous collection, I’m currently planning my first Emily Dickinson tattoo.

For years I’ve tossed and turned, wondering how to represent my thanks or my ardency for her and her work. And then a Kickstarter campaign started for Phosphorescence, a documentary to go alongside the new Dickinson film due to screen in 2016.

As you probably know, donating to Kickstarter means that you can get certain perks depending on how much you donate. If you donate $60 for example, you will be sent an acorn from Emily Dickinson’s famous white oak tree in her back garden.

The tattoo I am now planning is a simple line drawing of an acorn on my inner left ankle.

This little acorn will be sprouting as soon as possible. I’m getting it tattooed at Sword and Sparrow in Whitefield, Manchester. If you’re reading this, you’ll probably understand my itch to get tattooed as soon as possible, but when I finally do get my little acorn, I’ll update you all with an image, that’ll have my blurry emotional face in the background.

Throughout life, there are texts that will tattoo your soul, texts that will carry with you until the end… I cannot wait until I can have a physical manifestation of how touched I was by Emily Dickinson’s life and her work.

“Here’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons −
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes −

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us −
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are −

None may teach it − Any −
‘Tis the Seal Despair −
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air −

When it comes, the Landscape listens −
Shadows − hold their breath −
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death −”

Emily Dickinson Grave

Photography Credits:
Image of Emily Dickinson: Public Domain
Image of Emily’s Grave: Midnight Dreary


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