Emily Dickinson and Pillow History
Somewhere in the marked up scraps of paper that composed Emily Dickinson’s poem drafts, I like to think that there is one that says “A Pillow” is the thing with feathers, and then “A Pillow” is scratched out and replaced with “Hope“ because it had too many syllables.
Dickinson, in my mind, would be the sort of person who could see a pillow and hope as related, the softness or firmness of the thing with feathers in a pillowcase in direct correlation to the amount of sleep a person might get. When it comes down to it, I think we could all agree that the world would be a much more hopeful place if more people got a good night’s rest.
But I imagine Dickinson also knew (because like any good poet she was well-read and knew her sleep history) that the pillow hadn’t always been a thing with feathers, at least not in common usage until the Industrial Revolution when pillows could be mass produced in anticipation of the emergence of the housewares section of the big box stores. Indeed, the first pillows had no feathers but were made of stone and used by the Mesopotamians as early as 7000 BC to keep a guy’s head off the ground so bugs didn’t crawl in his hair and ears. In ancient Egypt, wooden pillows were common, sometimes curved to slope in the middle for enhanced comfort.
In the time of the Chinese dynasties, feathers were still not present, unless they were incorporated in the artful carvings on the pillows made of jade, wood or bamboo. At the time, comfort and bugs were not so much the concern as the fear that a soft pillow might steal away a person’s vigor.
Feathers for comfort finally made their appearance in the Greek and Roman empires, where pillows took on a softer side, filled with down or straw. It’s likely the first pillow fights did not take place until this time period, since jumping on the dirt floor is not nearly the same as jumping on the bed, and swinging a jade pillow at your brother could have grave consequences.
If Dickinson were alive today, I like to think she would welcome this fabricated correlation between pillows and hope, and she would slip quietly into the rooms of the others who shared her home and leave handwritten poems on their pillows in celebration of Poem on Your Pillow Day. And if Emily Dickinson would celebrate Poem on Your Pillow Day, I can’t imagine why anyone else wouldn’t want to join in the fun.
We’ve put together a beautiful collection of romantic, playful, and thoughtful poems for the occasion that you can leave on the pillow of a friend, a guest, or a lover. Or you can share a poem with your child at bedtime, after a rousing pillow fight (down or polyfill only, and no wood or jade, please). Check out our collection of printable Poem on Your Pillow Day poems featuring the photography of Kelly Sauer, or create your own poem-note (find all sorts of poems in our Poets and Poems collection) and join us and our co-sponsor Meadowbrook Press for a day (and night) full of sweet poetry dreams.
Here’s an example of the printable Poem on Your Pillow Day poems:
Tweet us your pillow poem pics, if you want to share with @tspoetry, using the hashtag #POPDay.
Photo by Sergi Melki, Creative Commons license via Flickr.
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L. L. Barkat says
This is so funny. Who knew?
I hope many a stuffed animal does a poetry reading at bedtime today 🙂
Maureen Doallas says
You’re always wonderful! Beautiful excerpt from David’s poem.
Will Willingham says
Thanks, Maureen. Who knew a little pillow poetry could be so fun. 🙂
That poem of David’s is one of my favorites.
Megan Willome says
So that’s my problem–the down pillow has stolen my vigor! Time to look for a nice soft stone.
I love your thoughts on pillows/hope/Dickinson! I’ll never see that poem of hers the same way again.
Monica Sharman says
Megan’s comment above reminded me I have this great wooden beaded pillow from Korea. Here’s a poem for it:
Keep your down and flannel cases.
I’ll rest my aching neck
on wooden beads.
Tension seeps through gaps
between the sanded spheres,
each one rolling between dreams.
Photo in this tweet:
Will Willingham says
“each one rolling between dreams”
Really like that. 🙂
Monica Sharman says
Thank you! I admit I was nervous and hesitated on that very line, wondering if “dreams” might be a taboo word. But then I quit worrying about it and just finished the poem.