Nature as a “Haunted House”

In a letter to a friend, Dickinson once wrote: ‘Nature is a Haunted House—but Art—a House that tries to be haunted.” The first part of the sentence implies that the natural world is replete with mystery and false signs, which deceive humankind as to the purpose of things in nature as well as to God’s purpose in the creation of nature. The sentence’s second part reveals the poet’s role. The poet does not exist merely to render aspects of nature, but rather to ascertain the character of God’s power in the world.

For Dickinson, however, the characterizing of God’s power proved to be complicated since she often abstained from using the established religious symbols for things in nature. This abstention is most evident in Dickinson’s poem about a snake, “A narrow Fellow in the Grass” (986), in which Dickinson refrains from the easy reference to Satan in Eden. Indeed, in many of her nature poems, such as “A Bird came down the Walk” (328), Dickinson ultimately insists on depicting nature as unapologetically incomprehensible, and thus haunted.