Nature is a haunted house – but Art – is a house that tries to be haunted.
- Emily Dickinson
I love Emily Dickinson's poetry and her letters (I wrote a paper on "Emily Dickinson's interpretation of the world and existence as such' in my Staatsexamen (final exam) at university).
Dickinson's statement 'is not meant to be derogatory towards art. She was ostensibly saying that art imitates nature. But the implication of the remark goes further.
For her, the world of nature is a dwelling place, hauntingly mysterious, peopled with God's creatures who live amid the phenomena God ordains and regulates […]' http://www.nku.edu/~emily/bradshaw.html
'Nature is a haunted house' implies that the natural world is replete with mystery and false signs, which deceive humankind as to the purpose of things in nature as well as to God’s purpose in the creation of nature. The sentence’s second part reveals the poet’s role. The poet does not exist merely to render aspects of nature, but rather to ascertain the character of God’s power in the world. http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/dickinson/themes.html
I would like to add my thoughts to these interpretations of her words.
A house is something built by a creator, someplace given to us by God, which we as humans have to 'make our home'. Haunted for me not only implies mysterious and supernatural (something that cannot be completely explained) but also alive with 'spirit'. A place that is alive with beings or souls and even with the 'spirits of the past'.
The artist's effort is to make his or her creation (her 'house') 'haunted'. Artists try to make their art alive by 'giving it a soul' by letting it affect other people's souls and making the observers thus more alive. Nature is per se alive. Art can only become alive in the communication between artist and observer.