An Interview by David W. Hill
The following interview took place in the English Department Library in Swetman Hall on the campus of the State University of New York College at Oswego on the afternoon of May 9, 1990, after Lewis Turco's book manuscript, Emily Dickinson, Woman of Letters (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993),
David W. Hill. Professor Turco, where did the idea for “A Sampler of Hours” come from?
Lewis Turco. During the winter of 1980 I was reading an anthology (2) that contained an essay about Emily Dickinson titled "Hawthorne in Salem, 2: Emily Dickinson" by Van Wyk Brooks who quoted four lines from Emily Dickinson's letters: "The Moon rides like a girl through a topaz town"; "Tonight the Crimson Children are playing in the west"; "The lawn is full of south and the odors tangle, and I hear today for the first the river in the trees," and "Not what the stars have done, but what they are to do is what detains the sky."
I was struck by the modernity of these prose expressions; their sounds and images seemed to me to have more of the feeling and flavor of modernity than even Dickinson's poems, or even the lines of many and many a poem of the 20th century. Immediately, I wrote four poems that included, and tried to live up to, the Dickinson lines I have quoted.
No doubt this was a foolhardy thing to do, but I had attempted the same sort of thing with Robert Burton's 17th-century tome, The Anatomy of Melancholy, and I produced a book of poems the whole title of which reads, The Compleat Melancholick, A Sequence of Found, Composite, and Composed Poems, based largely upon Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy" (3). I felt then, and I still feel, that my poems did little damage to Burton and, indeed, that Burton inspired me to accomplish some of my better work. These are the first four poems I wrote in a similar series based on Dickinson: