Jumbo and Phil - The Evidence

The story of Emily Dickinson and Phil Lord’s romance twines around poems, scraps and copies of Emily’s letters, and a bracelet with the name "Little Phil" engraved inside the clasp.  She refers to other gifts he gave her over the years: a scarf, a Concordance to Shakespeare, and an invitation to visit him in his "dear Home," Salem. Tempting as it is to imagine that Emily did make such a visit, it remains only a possibility.

Asio Otus


Emily Dickinson knew her trees and the birds that built in them.  A poem from 1863 (possibly written earlier), refers to the "Judge" being "like the Owl." She would have known that the genus of Northeastern owls was "Asio otus," and in her typical punning fashion, used that name to craft a teasing, sly invitation to Otis Phillips Lord to give her a "Tune At Midnight."






Asio Otus Close-up


The Judge is like the Owl -
I've heard my Father tell -
And Owls do build in Oaks -
So here's an Amber Sill -

That slanted in my Path -
When going to the Barn -
And if it serve You for a House -
Itself is not in vain -

About the price - 'tis small -
I only ask a Tune
At Midnight - Let the Owl select
His favorite Refrain.


Otis Lord Salem Portrait







Did he accept the invitation? We’ll never know, but we do know that Emily liked the midnight hour.

The Homestead at Night

My Lovely Salem Smiles at MeTo Lie So Near Your Longing

To Beg for the LetterDon't You Know






Emily’s words often engage in playful suggestiveness. She calls Phil her "lovely Salem," her "Seraphic Naughty," her "sweet one," and many more teasing names. Teasing may have given a happy energy to their correspondence.

Lord’s friends described him as "racy in conversation, overflowing with high spirits and abounding in good cheer."

Gift to EmilyCopyright Harvard's Houghton Library Dickinson Collection

Phil Lord gave Emily this gold mesh bracelet around 1880.  Inside the clasp is engraved the nickname she supposedly called him: "Little Phil." His nickname for her was "Jumbo." A Dickinson groundskeeper noticed that the petite Emily, who had tucked a thick letter to Lord inside her dress, looked a bit stout.

She alluded to it in a letter written in December, 1882:

"Emily ‘Jumbo’ Sweetest Name, but I know a sweeter - Emily Jumbo Lord - Have I your approval?"

Emily Jumbo Lord


Selections from The Heart Has Many Doors