Come up and see me some time (Edna's visit to the nuthouse = great lesson on backstory)

I was trying to express the concept of backstory to someone the other day: what needs to be told and what needs to be left unsaid, fully known to the writer but barely glimpsed from the corner of the reader's eye -- and how to tell the difference. The best example I could come up with was this wonderful little poem.

"A Visit to the Asylum"
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Once from a big, big building,
When I was small, small,
The queer folk in the windows
Would smile at me and call.

And in the hard wee gardens
Such pleasant men would hoe:
"Sir, may we touch the little girl's hair!"—
It was so red, you know.

They cut me coloured asters
With shears so sharp and neat,
They brought me grapes and plums and pears
And pretty cakes to eat.

And out of all the windows,
No matter where we went,
The merriest eyes would follow me
And make me compliment.

There were a thousand windows,
All latticed up and down.
And up to all the windows,
When we went back to town,

The queer folk put their faces,
As gentle as could be;
"Come again, little girl!" they called, and I
Called back, "You come see me!"


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