Bring the poetry pages of your English classes to life with a virtual tour of iconic places from the lives of their writers: from the farm that inspired Robert Frost's rural imagery, to the house where Emily Dickinson secreted away all of her work.
Emily Dickinson's House
Emily Dickinson lived much of her life in isolation, spending the majority of her time at the family home in Amherst, Massachusetts and towards the end of her life, refusing to leave her bedroom there at all. She was notoriously private, writing 1,800 poems but only ever releasing a few of them into the world. It wasn’t until after she died in 1886 that the extent of her work was discovered, and the majority of her work was published posthumously. Her poetry was considered unconventional at the time for their short lines, lack of titles, unusual punctuation and capitalization and use of slant rhymes.
Walt Whitman's Brooklyn Bridge
Long Island-born Walt Whitman was the original hipster, he spent his youth living in Brooklyn with an impressive beard where he wrote and published some of his most famous poems, including the famously controversial Leaves of Grass. Whitman self-published the first edition himself, but received negative reviews for its “trashy, profane and obscene" content, and he continually revised it over the years until it went from containing 12 poems to over 400. Whitman is seen as one of America’s most influential poets and is often described as “the father of free verse” for the way he was seen as breaking the boundaries of poetic form. His iconic poem Crossing Brooklyn Ferry was based on the journey he often took between Manhattan and Brooklyn and the railings surrounding the pier are inscribed with his words.
Maya Angelou's New York Home
Maya Angelou was an American poet, singer, memoirist and activist. She began her career as a professional calypso dancer before becoming a powerful and influential writer, collaborating with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X during the Civil Rights movement. Her most famous publication, her autobiography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, condemns the racial segregation she experienced as a child, and celebrates the strength and integrity of black women. In 1993 she became the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost in 1961, when she recited her poem On the Pulse of Morning at President Bill Clinton's inauguration. In 2004, she moved into this New York brownstone at 58 West 120th Street, where she entertained the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Cicely Tyson.
Syvia Plath's London House
The American poet Sylvia Plath lived at this pastel-pink house in Primrose Hill, London, from January 1960 until August 1961. She lived here with her husband, the British poet Ted Hughes, in a three-room flat on the top floor where she wrote her only novel, The Bell Jar and had her first volume of poetry, The Colossus published. Later, she moved to a different house nearby, the old home of the poet WB Yeats, where she took her own life at the age of 30. In 2000 a commemorative blue English Heritage plaque was installed at her former home. When asked why it was not installed at her most recent house in London, her daughter remarked: "My mother died there… but she had lived here.”
Langston Hughes' Harlem Brownstone
Built in 1869, this Italianate-style brownstone in Harlem, New York was where poet, playwright
and social activist Langston Hughes had a workroom from 1947 to 1967. Hughes occupied the top-floor two room suite, while his adopted uncle William Emerson Harper and his wife lived below. Hughes used the apartment as a base in-between his travels, and produced some of his most celebrated work there, including an autobiography, a book-length poem, lyrics and newspaper columns. Hughes also kept a 6-square-foot garden near the steps that he called "Our Block's Children's Garden", where the neighborhood children helped him water the plants. It's now a designated New York landmark site.
Robert Frost's Derry Farm
The winner of four Pulitzer Prizes for poetry and 31 times Nobel Prize in Literature nominee, Robert Frost was no stranger to accolades. His works captured the beauty and pace of the natural world, specifically rural life in New England, while also examining complex social and philosophical themes. The majority of his provincial poetry, collected in his first two books, A Boy’s Will and North of Boston, were written at the New Hampshire farm he lived at from 1900 to 1911. The Derry farm was also the site of a major tragedy in the poet’s life, as his first son died here at the age of 4, possibly from influenza. When Frost was 86 he attempted to read his poem Dedication at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961 but found the sunlight too bright to read, so instead recited The Gift Outright from memory.
Pablo Neruda's La Chascona
Pablo Neruda, the pen name of Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto, was a Chilean politician and diplomat, as well as being considered Chile’s national poet. He began writing poetry at the age of 13, and went on to write a vast array of works, from surrealist poems and historical epics, to political manifestos and passionate love poems. In 1953, Neruda bought a house as a secret hideaway for his then-secret lover Matilde Urrutia, who later became his third wife, which he called La Chascona, inspired by her signature red, curly hair. It is one of the three houses he owned, including La Sebastiana in Valparaíso, and Casa de Isla Negra in Isla Negra, all of which are now open to the public as museums.