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Eye Surgery

Dickinson developed a painful eye condition, now thought to be iritis, for which she traveled to Cambridge for treatment twice in the mid-1860s. During this time which she dubbed “eight months of Siberia,” Dickinson endured intense sensitivity to light, difficulty sleeping, and her doctor’s strict orders to avoid writing, except briefly with pencil only. Several of her poems written between and after treatments use watery imagery, associating the experience of limited sight and blindness with being underwater or even drowning. Dickinson’s eye affliction impeded her writing and marked the start of her most solitary years.

Wood surface cast in lacy shadows. On top: a dip pen resting on an inkwell, a pencil stub, and verse printed on paper scraps.