On May 31, 1997, Daniel Lombardo drove from his home, in West Hampton, Massachusetts—a small hill town above the Connecticut River—to the Jones Library, in Amherst, where he has worked as the curator of special collections since 1983. The Jones Library has a privately endowed collection of local historical and literary documents, and Lombardo has devoted much of his professional life to Amherst’s most famous resident, Emily Dickinson. He is the author of a recent study, “A Hedge Away: The Other Side of Emily Dickinson’s Amherst.” He is also a member of the Emily Dickinson International Society, and he was on his way to its annual meeting, with an announcement to make.

A few days earlier, he had come across an unpublished poem by Dickinson in a Sotheby’s catalogue announcing its June 3 auction of fine books and manuscripts. According to the catalogue, the poem had been written in pencil, on a piece of blue-lined paper measuring eight by five inches and was signed Emily. On the top left…