A’ Muntagna (“the mountain” in local dialect) dominates the lives of Sicilians who live in Etna’s shadow. Its lava flows and dust clouds can be disruptive but enrich the soil of the lower slopes and surrounding plains ~ the most fertile regions in Sicily, home to vast expanses of vines, orchards, and olive trees. Recent eruptions have been spectacular and safe. Smoking craters and snaking lava flows are visible from the graceful dusky villages built of lava stone. ‘I judge from my geography’ as the locals and I scramble across rocky lava fields from the 1983 eruption above the town of Randazzo. Trekking up Mt. Etna, I imagine a pale and lonely recluse, dressed in white like Dante’s Beatrice, padding about her father’s house in Amherst. Emily Dickinson never traveled to Sicily, yet a volcano rumbles beneath the surface of her poetry.
Volcanoes be in Sicily And South America I judge from my Geography— Volcanos nearer here A Lava step at any time Am I inclined to climb…
I picture Emily with her darning-needle in the sunny corner bedroom. She binds her poems into booklets and watches the domestic goings-on of Main Street below. But in her mind, she travels ~ her “brain is wider than sky”.
I have never seen Volcanoes – But, when Travellers tell How those old – phlegmatic mountains Usually so still – Bear within – appalling Ordnance, Fire, and smoke, and gun, Taking Villages for breakfast….
A still – Volcano – life That flickered in the night – When it was dark enough to do Without erasing sight – A quiet – Earthquake Style – Too subtle to suspect
Like A’ Muntagna, Emily had a tumultuous inner life. Her manners were staid, her behavior pious. But Etna was inside her, continuously on the boil, a volcano ready to explode with words, some that shocked those around her.
Though Emily never visited a volcano, she glimpsed the possibilities of a life beyond her curtains.
A bolder life.
A life where lava overflows.