A Lock of Emily Dickinson’s Hair

is for sale on eBay for $450,000.
Perhaps stolen by James Merrill, perhaps found
in an envelope, addressed to sister-in-law Susan,
found in a volume of her poems.
Please buy it and bury it properly.


Photos: Yale University.

I saw this story online about the sale of what is thought to be a lock of Emily Dickinson’s hair. I realize that author mementos are common, sought after, and collected, but this just felt very wrong to me.

Maybe it was the interesting fact that the first collector was a poet, James Merrill, and it was then passed on to poet J.D. McClatchy, who had been one of Merrill’s literary executors, that bothers me. Shouldn’t poets be more respectful of other poets? Or was owning and taking care of this small piece of Emily’s DNA a way of showing respect?  Both poets are dead now and the lock of hair went up for sale.

If Emily did give this to Susan Dickinson, perhaps it should be with Susan’s possessions. Then again, perhaps Susan’s things have been sold by now too. I know her letters have been made available to the public.

I also know that keeping a lock of hair was once a common thing to do. My mother saved a lock of my baby hair in a photo album.

I wrote on another site about a recent auction of objects belonging to Sylvia Plath. Sylvia’s family authorized the sale. Plath’s deck of tarot cards sold for $200,000.

The article points out that “The only bona fide lock of Dickinson’s hair, which has been described as red or auburn, is kept at Amherst College.” The gift from descendants of Emily Fowler Ford, a friend of Emily Dickinson, included this note Emily included when she gave it to her friend.

“I said when the Barber came, I would save you a little ringlet,
and fulfilling my promise, I send you one today.
I shall never give you anything again that will be half so full of sunshine
as this wee lock of hair, but I wish no hue more sombre might ever fall to you.”