Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (1830 - 1886) MP

‹ Back to Dickinson surname

Is your surname Dickinson?

Research the Dickinson family

Emily Dickinson's Geni Profile

Records for Emily Dickinson

969,784 Records

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!

Share

Birthplace: Amherst, Hampshire, Massachusetts, USA
Death: Died in Amherst, Hampshire, Massachusetts, USA
Occupation: Poet, poet, whose poems were published posthumously
Managed by: Thomas Don McGurk
Last Updated:

About Emily Elizabeth Dickinson

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emily_Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born on December 10, 1830 in the quiet community of Amherst, Massachusetts, the second daughter of Edward and Emily Norcross Dickinson. Emily, Austin (her older brother) and her younger sister Lavinia were nurtured in a quiet, reserved family headed by their authoritative father Edward. Throughout Emily's life, her mother was not "emotionally accessible," the absence of which might have caused some of Emily's eccentricity. Being rooted in the puritanical Massachusetts of the 1800's, the Dickinson children were raised in the Christian tradition, and they were expected to take up their father's religious beliefs and values without argument. Later in life, Emily would come to challenge these conventional religious viewpoints of her father and the church, and the challenges she met with would later contribute to the strength of her poetry.

The Dickinson family was prominent in Amherst. In fact, Emily's grandfather, Samuel Fowler Dickinson, was one of the founders of Amherst College, and her father served as lawyer and treasurer for the institution. Emily's father also served in powerful positions on the General Court of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts State Senate, and the United States House of Representatives. Unlike her father, Emily did not enjoy the popularity and excitement of public life in Amherst, and she began to withdraw. Emily did not fit in with her father's religion in Amherst, and her father began to censor the books she read because of their potential to draw her away from the faith.

Being the daughter of a prominent politician, Emily had the benefit of a good education and attended the Amherst Academy. After her time at the academy, Emily left for the South Hadley Female Seminary (currently Mount Holyoke College) where she started to blossom into a delicate young woman - "her eyes lovely auburn, soft and warm, her hair lay in rings of the same color all over her head with her delicate teeth and skin." She had a demure manner that was almost fun with her close friends, but Emily could be shy, silent, or even depreciating in the presence of strangers. Although she was successful at college, Emily returned after only one year at the seminary in 1848 to Amherst where she began her life of seclusion.

Although Emily never married, she had several significant relationships with a select few. It was during this period following her return from school that Emily began to dress all in white and choose those precious few that would be her own private society. Refusing to see almost everyone that came to visit, Emily seldom left her father's house. In Emily's entire life, she took one trip to Philadelphia (due to eye problems), one to Washington, and a few trips to Boston. Other than those occasional ventures, Emily had no extended exposure to the world outside her home town. During this time, her early twenties, Emily began to write poetry seriously. Fortunately, during those rare journeys Emily met two very influential men that would be sources of inspiration and guidance: Charles Wadsworth and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. There were other less influential individuals that affected Emily, such as Samuel Bowles and J.G. Holland, but the impact that Wadsworth and Higginson had on Dickinson was monumental.

The Reverend Charles Wadsworth, age 41, had a powerful effect on Emily's life and her poetry. On her trip to Philadelphia, Emily met Wadsworth, a clergyman, who was to become her "dearest earthly friend". A romantic figure, Wadsworth was an outlet for Emily, because his orthodox Calvinism acted as a beneficial catalyst to her theoretical inferences. Wadsworth, like Dickinson, was a solitary, romantic person that Emily could confide in when writing her poetry. He had the same poise in the pulpit that Emily had in her poetry. Wadsworth's religious beliefs and presumptions also gave Emily a sharp, and often welcome, contrast to the transcendentalist writings and easy assumptions of Emerson. Most importantly, it is widely believed that Emily had a great love for this Reverend from Philadelphia even though he was married. Many of Dickinson's critics believe that Wadsworth was the focal point of Emily's love poems.

When Emily had a sizable backlog of poems, she sought out somebody for advice about anonymous publication, and on April 15, 1862 she found Thomas Wentworth Higginson, an eminent literary man. She wrote a letter to Higginson and enclosed four poems to inquire his appraisal and advice.

Although Higginson advised Dickinson against publishing her poetry, he did see the creative originality in her poetry, and he remained Emily's "preceptor" for the remainder of her life. It was after that correspondence in 1862 that Emily decided against publishing her poems, and, as a result, only seven of her poems were published in her lifetime - five of them in the Springfield Republican. The remainder of the works would wait until after Dickinson's death.

Emily continued to write poetry, but when the United States Civil War broke out a lot of emotional turmoil came through in Dickinson's work. Some changes in her poetry came directly as a result of the war, but there were other events that distracted Emily and these things came through in the most productive period of her lifetime - about 800 poems.

Even though she looked inward and not to the war for the substance of her poetry, the tense atmosphere of the war years may have contributed to the urgency of her writing. The year of greatest stress was 1862, when distance and danger threatened Emily's friends - Samuel Bowles, in Europe for his health; Charles Wadsworth, who had moved to a new pastorate at the Calvary Church in San Francisco; and T.W. Higginson, serving as an officer in the Union Army. Emily also had persistent eye trouble, which led her, in 1864 and 1865, to spend several months in Cambridge, Mass. for treatment. Once back in Amherst she never traveled again and after the late 1860s never left the boundaries of the family's property.

The later years of Dickinson's life were primarily spent in mourning because of several deaths within the time frame of a few years. Emily's father died in 1874, Samuel Bowles died in 1878, J.G. Holland died in 1881, her nephew Gilbert died in 1883, and both Charles Wadsworth and Emily's mother died in 1882. Over those few years, many of the most influential and precious friendships of Emily's passed away, and that gave way to the more concentrated obsession with death in her poetry. On June 14, 1884 Emily's obsessions and poetic speculations started to come to a stop when she suffered the first attack of her terminal illness. Throughout the year of 1885, Emily was confined to bed in her family's house where she had lived her entire life, and on May 15, 1886 Emily took her last breath at the age of 56. At that moment the world lost one of its most talented and insightful poets. Emily left behind nearly 2,000 poems.

As a result of Emily Dickinson's life of solitude, she was able to focus on her world more sharply than other authors of her time - contemporary authors who had no effect on her writing. Emily was original and innovative in her poetry, most often drawing on the Bible, classical mythology, and Shakespeare for allusions and references. Many of her poems were not completed and written on scraps of paper, such as old grocery lists. Eventually when her poetry was published, editors took it upon themselves to group them into classes - Friends, Nature, Love, and Death. These same editors arranged her works with titles, rearranged the syntax, and standardized Dickinson's grammar. Fortunately in 1955, Thomas Johnson published Dickinson's poems in their original formats, thus displaying the creative genius and peculiarity of her poetry.

---------------

From Wikipedia entry (taken May 2, 2009)

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (December 10, 1830– May 15, 1886) was an American poet. Born in Amherst, Massachusetts to a successful family with strong community ties, she lived a mostly introverted and reclusive life. After she studied at the Amherst Academy for seven years in her youth, she spent a short time at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary before returning to her family's house in Amherst. Thought of as an eccentric by the locals, she became known for her penchant for white clothing and her reluctance to greet guests or, later in life, even leave her room. Most of her friendships were therefore carried out by correspondence.

Dickinson was a prolific private poet, though fewer than a dozen of her nearly eighteen hundred poems were published during her lifetime. The work that was published during her lifetime was usually altered significantly by the publishers to fit the conventional poetic rules of the time. Dickinson's poems are unique for the era in which she wrote; they contain short lines, typically lack titles, and often utilize slant rhyme as well as unconventional capitalization and punctuation. Many of her poems deal with themes of death and immortality, two subjects which infused her letters to friends.

Although most of her acquaintances were probably aware of Dickinson's writing, it was not until after her death in 1886—when Lavinia, Emily's younger sister, discovered her cache of poems—that the breadth of Dickinson's work became apparent. Her first collection of poetry was published in 1890 by personal acquaintances Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd, both of whom heavily edited the content. A complete and mostly unaltered collection of her poetry became available for the first time in 1955 when The Poems of Emily Dickinson was published by scholar Thomas H. Johnson. Despite unfavorable reviews and skepticism of her literary prowess during the late 19th and early 20th century, critics now consider Dickinson to be a major American poet.

--------------------

biography: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emily_Dickinson

poetry: http://www.bartleby.com/113/, http://www.mith2.umd.edu/WomensStudies/ReadingRoom/Poetry/Dickinson/

both: http://www.americanpoems.com/poets/emilydickinson -------------------- Emily Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886) was an American poet. Born in Amherst, Massachusetts to a successful family with strong community ties, she lived a mostly introverted and reclusive life. After being schooled at the Amherst Academy for seven years in her youth, she spent a short time at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary before retiring to her family's house, the Homestead. Throughout her adult life she rarely traveled outside of Amherst or very far from home. Thought of as an eccentric by the locals, she became known for her penchant for white clothing and her reluctance to greet guests or, later in life, even leave her room. Most of her friendships were therefore carried out by correspondence...

Dickinson was a prolific private poet, choosing to publish fewer than a dozen of her nearly eighteen hundred poems.[1] The work that was published during her lifetime was usually altered significantly by the publishers to fit the conventional poetic rules of the time. Dickinson's poems are unique for the era in which she wrote; they contain short lines, typically lack titles, and often utilize slant rhyme as well as unconventional capitalization and punctuation.[2] Her poems also tend to deal with themes of death and immortality, two subjects which infused her letters to friends. In her lifetime, she wrote a total of 1,775 poems.

Although most of her acquaintances were probably aware of Dickinson's writing, it was not until after her death in 1886—when Lavinia, Emily's younger sister, discovered her cache of poems—that the breadth of Dickinson's work became apparent. Her first collection of poetry was published in 1890 by personal acquaintances Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd, both of whom heavily edited the content. A complete and mostly unaltered collection of her poetry became available for the first time in 1955 when The Poems of Emily Dickinson was published by scholar Thomas H. Johnson. Despite unfavorable reviews and skepticism of her literary prowess during the late 19th and early 20th century, critics now consider Dickinson to be a major American poet.[3]

-------------------- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emily_Dickinson -------------------- NOT in this world to see his face

Sounds long, until I read the place

Where this is said to be

But just the primer to a life

Unopened, rare, upon the shelf,

Clasped yet to him and me.

  

And yet, my primer suits me so

I would not choose a book to know

Than that, be sweeter wise;

Might some one else so learned be,

And leave me just my A B C,

Himself could have the skies.

--------------------------------------------

BECAUSE I could not stop for Death,

He kindly stopped for me;

The carriage held but just ourselves

And Immortality.

  

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,

And I had put away

My labor, and my leisure too,

For his civility.

  

We passed the school where children played

At wrestling in a ring;

We passed the fields of gazing grain,

We passed the setting sun.

  

We paused before a house that seemed

A swelling of the ground;

The roof was scarcely visible,

The cornice but a mound.

  

Since then ’t is centuries; but each

Feels shorter than the day

I first surmised the horses’ heads

Were toward eternity.

--------------------------------------------

Emily Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886) was an American poet. Though virtually unknown in her lifetime, Dickinson has come to be regarded, along with Walt Whitman, as one of the two quintessential American poets of the 19th century.

Dickinson lived an introverted and hermetic life. Although she wrote, at the last count, 1,789 poems, only a handful of them were published during her lifetime. Some of these published anonymously and some may have been published without her knowledge.

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born December 10, 1830, and lived almost all of her life in her family's house in Amherst, which has been preserved as the Emily Dickinson Museum. In 1840, Emily was educated at the nearby Amherst Academy, a former boys' school which had opened to female students just two years earlier. She studied English and classical literature, learning Latin and reading the Aeneid over several years, and was taught in other subjects including religion, history, mathematics, geology, among other things.


In 1847, at 17, Dickinson began attending Mary Lyon's Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (which would later become Mount Holyoke College) in South Hadley. Austin Dickinson, her brother, was sent to bring her home after less than a year at the Seminary, and she did not return to the school. Some speculate that she was homesick, however there is also speculation that she refused to sign an oath stating she would devote her life to Jesus Christ, and realizing she no longer wanted to attend there, went home and never returned.

After that, she left home only for short trips to visit relatives in Boston, Cambridge, and Connecticut. For decades, popular wisdom portrayed Dickinson as an agoraphobic recluse. New scholarship suggests that while she was not necessarily an overly sociable person, she certainly valued her friends.

In 1852 she wrote a letter to her friend Emily Fowler Ford and enclosed a lock of her hair. The lock is now preserved in the Amherst College Archives. Dickinson had redish auburn hair and brown eyes.

Dickinson's brother Austin married Susan Gilbert in 1856; Susan and Emily had known each other earlier. Emily asked Susan to critique her poems, at which she began working harder than ever.

Dickinson died on May 15, 1886. The cause of death was listed as Bright's disease (nephritis). After her death, her family found 40 hand-bound volumes containing more than 1,700 of her poems.

Dickinson's poetry is often recognizable at a glance. Her facility with ballad and hymn meter, her extensive use of dashes and unconventional capitalization in her manuscripts, and her idiosyncratic vocabulary and imagery combine to create a unique lyric style. She did not write in traditional iambic pentameter (a convention of English-speaking poetry for centuries), nor did she write even a five beat line. Her line lengths vary from 4 syllables or 2 beats to often 8 syllables or 4 beats. In addition to the use of the short line, her poems are all quite short. Dickinson's use of short lines and short poems created some of the most concise and compact poems in the English language. Dickinson's condensation of thought and feeling is a thread that runs through all her poetry. Her conciseness can make her poetry difficult to understand, and her poems, with their surface simplicity and word choice, have led to an underestimation of her powerful intellect.

Although over half of her poems were written or were at least copied into the 40 manuscript books found after her death during the years of the American Civil War, the War's influence on and relationship to her poetry is not overt. Dickinson toyed briefly with the idea of having her poems published, even asking Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a literary critic, for advice. Higginson immediately realized the poet's talent, but when he tried to "improve" Dickinson's poems, adapting them to the more florid, romantic style popular at the time, Dickinson quickly lost interest in the project.

By her death in 1886, only ten of Dickinson's poems (see the Franklin Edition of the poems, 1998, App. 1) had been published. Seven of those ten were published in the Springfield Republican and some of those reprinted and other poems were published in Civil War journals such as the Drum Beat. Dickinson's sister-in-law, Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson, entertained every editor who published Dickinson's poems during her lifetime, and there is strong evidence that Susan Dickinson was responsible for passing Emily Dickinson's poetry along to editors. Three posthumous collections in the 1890s established her as a powerful eccentric, but it was not until the 20th century that she was appreciated as a poet.

Dickinson's poetry was collected after her death by Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd, with Todd initially collecting and organizing the material and Higginson editing. They edited the poems extensively in order to regularize the manuscripts' punctuation and capitalization to late nineteenth-century standards, occasionally rewording poems to reduce Dickinson's obliquity. A volume of Dickinson's Poems was published in Boston in 1890, and became quite popular; by the end of 1892 eleven editions had sold. Poems: Second Series was published in 1891 and ran to five editions by 1893; a third series was published in 1896. Two volumes of Dickinson's letters, heavily edited and selected by Todd (who falsified dates on some of them), were published in 1894. It should be noted that during this time, Susan Dickinson also placed a few of Emily Dickinson's poems in literary journals such as Scribner's and The Independent.

This wave of posthumous publications gave Dickinson's poetry its first real public exposure, and it found an immediate audience. Backed by Higginson and William Dean Howells with favorable notices and reviews, the poetry was popular from 1890 to 1892. Later in the decade, critical opinion became negative. A critic wrote anonymously in the January 1892 Atlantic Monthly:

It is plain that Miss Dickinson possessed an extremely unconventional and grotesque fancy. She was deeply tinged by the mysticism of Blake, and strongly influenced by the mannerism of Emerson... . But the incoherence and formlessness of her — versicles are fatal... . [A]n eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse in an out-of-the-way New England village (or anywhere else) cannot with impunity set at defiance the laws of gravitation and grammar.

In the early 20th century, Dickinson's niece Martha Dickinson Bianchi published a series of further collections, including many previously unpublished poems, with similarly normalized punctuation and capitalization; The Single Hound emerged in 1914, The Life and Letters of Emily Dickinson and The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson in 1924, and Further Poems of Emily Dickinson in 1929. Other volumes edited by Todd and Bianchi emerged through the 1930s, releasing gradually more previously unpublished poems. With the rise of modernist poetry, Dickinson's failure to conform to nineteenth-century ideas of poetic form was no longer surprising nor distasteful to new generations of readers. A new wave of feminism created greater cultural sympathy for her as a female poet. Her stock had clearly risen, but Dickinson was not generally thought a great poet among the first generation of modernists, as is clear from R.P. Blackmur's critical essay of 1937:

She was neither a professional poet nor an amateur; she was a private poet who wrote as indefatigably as some women cook or knit. Her gift for words and the cultural predicament of her time drove her to poetry instead of antimacassars... . She came, as Mr. Tate says, at the right time for one kind of poetry: the poetry of sophisticated, eccentric vision. That is what makes her good — in a few poems and many passages representatively great. But... the bulk of her verse is not representative but mere fragmentary indicative notation. The pity of it is that the document her whole work makes shows nothing so much as that she had the themes, the insight, the observation, and the capacity for honesty, which had she only known how — or only known why — would have made the major instead of the minor fraction of her verse genuine poetry. But her dying society had no tradition by which to teach her the one lesson she did not know by instinct.

The texts of these early editions would hardly be recognized by later readers, as their extensive editing had altered the texts found in Dickinson's manuscripts substantially. A new and complete edition of Dickinson's poetry by Thomas H. Johnson, The Poems of Emily Dickinson, was published in three volumes in 1955. This edition formed the basis of all later Dickinson scholarship, and provided the Dickinson known to readers thereafter: the poems were untitled, only numbered in an approximate chronological sequence, were strewn with dashes and irregularly capitalized, and were often extremely elliptical in their language. They were printed for the first time much more nearly as Dickinson had left them, in versions approximating the text in her manuscripts. A later variorum edition provided many alternate wordings from which Johnson, in a more limited editorial intervention, had been forced to choose for the sake of readability.

Later readers would draw attention to the remaining problems in reading even Johnson's relatively unaltered typeset texts of Dickinson, claiming that Dickinson's treatment of her manuscripts suggested that their physical and graphic properties were important to the reading of her poems. Possibly meaningful distinctions could be drawn, they argued, among different lengths and angles of dash in the poems, and different arrangements of text on the page. Several volumes have attempted to render Dickinson's handwritten dashes using many typographic symbols of varying length and angle; even R. W. Franklin's 1998 variorum edition of the poems, which aimed to supplant Johnson's edition as the scholarly standard text, used typeset dashes of varying length to approximate the manuscripts' dashes more closely. Some scholars claimed that the poems should be studied by reading the manuscripts themselves.

[edit] Music

Because of her frequent use of rhyme and free verse, many of Dickinson's poems can easily be set to tunes (for example "I heard a fly buzz when I died – / The Stillness in the Room / Was like the Stillness in the Air / Between the Heaves of Storm"). Dickinson’s poetry has been used as texts for art songs by composers such as Aaron Copland, Nick Peros, John Adams, and Michael Tilson Thomas.

Because of this, one can also sing many of her poems to the tunes of "Amazing Grace", "The Yellow Rose of Texas", I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing, or the "Gilligan's Island" theme song. While this novelty is entertaining in itself, it also demonstrates the connection between poetry and song embodied for centuries in the ballad.

------------

from NEGHS at http://www.newenglandancestors.org/research/services/articles_7971.asp :

Outlined below, in the customary format for this column, is the known ancestry of these nine “nineteenth-century heroines” for five generations (parents, grandparents and great- and great-great-grandparents, following the figure and her birth and death years, with semi-colons separating generations and commas separating couples of the same generalion from the figure), with extensions to earlier generations to include all ancestors mentioned above. As before, “RD" indicates an ancestor of royal descent, “MP” a Mayflower passenger, “PW” an ancestor shared with The Princess of Wales, “TP” an ancestor of two or three presidents (as charted in Ancestors of American Presidents [19891) and “FP” an ancestor of four or five presidents.

EMILY ELIZABETH DiCKINSON, 1830-1886; Edward Dickinson & Emily Norcross; Samuel Fowler Dickinson & Lucretia Gunn, Joel Norcross & Betsey Fay; Nathan Dickinson, Jr. & Esther Fowler, Nathaniel Gunn (III) & Hannah Montague, William Norcross, Jr. & Sarah Marsh, Jude Fay & Sally Fairbanks; Nathan Dickinson & Thankful Warner, Nathaniel Gunn, Jr. & Dorothy Marsh, Richard Montague & Lucy Cooley, William Norcross & Lydia Wheeler, Seth Marsh & Rachel Ellis, Ebenezer Fay & Thankful Hyde, Eleazer Fairbanks (III) & Prudence Cary; Nathaniel Gunn & Esther Belden, Samuel Montague & Elizabeth White, Simon Cooley & Elizabeth Gunn, Joseph Marsh, Jr. & Sarah Partridge, Samuel Ellis, Jr. & Sarah Adams, Samuel Fay & Tabitha Ward, Eleazer Fairbanks, Jr. & Martha Bullard; Samuel Gunn & Elizabeth Wyatt (parents of Nathaniel & Elizabeth), John Montague & Hannah Smith, Nathaniel White, Jr. & Elizabeth Savage, Nathaniel Partridge & Lydia Wight, Henry Adams (III) & Prudence Frary, Increase Ward & Record Wheelock, Eleazer Fairbanks & Martha Lovett; Nathaniel Gunn & Sarah Day, John Wyatt & Mary Bronson, Chileab Smith & Hannah Hitchcock, Nathaniel White & Elizabeth , Ephraim Wight & Lydia Morse, Henry Adams, Jr. & Elizabeth Paine, William Ward & Elizabeth ___, Daniel Lovett & Joanna Blott; Robert Day (VP) & Editha Stebbins (TP), John Bronson,: & Frances Hills, Samuel Smith (TP) & Elizabeth Smith, (TP), John White & Mary (Leavitt?), Daniel Morse & Lydia Fisher, [157] Henry Adams (VP) & Edith Squire (VP), Robert Blott (PW) & ___ (PW); Robert White (FP) & Bridget Allgar (FP), Samuel Morse (TP) & Elizabeth Jasper (TP), Henry Squire (FP) & ___ (FP); Thomas Morse (TP) & Margaret King (TP); Thomas Morse (FP) & Agnes ___ (FP).

-------------------- Emily Elizabeth DICKINSON

(December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886) was an American poet. Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, to a successful family with strong community ties, she lived a mostly introverted and reclusive life. After she studied at the Amherst Academy for seven years in her youth, she spent a short time at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary before returning to her family's house in Amherst. Thought of as an eccentric by the locals, she became known for her penchant for white clothing and her reluctance to greet guests or, later in life, even leave her room. Most of her friendships were therefore carried out by correspondence.

Although Dickinson was a prolific private poet, fewer than a dozen of her nearly eighteen hundred poems were published during her lifetime.[2] The work that was published during her lifetime was usually altered significantly by the publishers to fit the conventional poetic rules of the time. Dickinson's poems are unique for the era in which she wrote; they contain short lines, typically lack titles, and often use slant rhyme as well as unconventional capitalization and punctuation.[3] Many of her poems deal with themes of death and immortality, two recurring topics in letters to her friends.

Although most of her acquaintances were probably aware of Dickinson's writing, it was not until after her death in 1886—when Lavinia, Emily's younger sister, discovered her cache of poems—that the breadth of Dickinson's work became apparent. Her first collection of poetry was published in 1890 by personal acquaintances Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd, both of whom heavily edited the content. A complete and mostly unaltered collection of her poetry became available for the first time in 1955 when The Poems of Emily Dickinson was published by scholar Thomas H. Johnson. Despite unfavorable reviews and skepticism of her literary prowess during the late 19th and early 20th century, critics now consider Dickinson to be a major American poet.

Family and early childhood

A drawing of the young Emily Dickinson, age nine. It was made from a portrait featuring Emily, Austin and Lavinia as children.

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born at the family's homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts, on December 10, 1830, into a prominent, but not opulent, family.[5] Two hundred years earlier, the Dickinsons had arrived in the New World—in the Puritan Great Migration—where they prospered.[6] Emily Dickinson's paternal grandfather, Samuel Dickinson, had almost single-handedly founded Amherst College.[7] In 1813 he built the homestead, a large mansion on the town's Main Street, that became the focus of Dickinson family life for the better part of a century.[8] Samuel Dickinson's eldest son, Edward, was treasurer of Amherst College for nearly forty years, served numerous terms as a State Legislator, and represented the Hampshire district in the United States Congress. On May 6, 1828, he married Emily Norcross from Monson. They had three children:

William Austin (1829–1895), known as Austin, Aust or Awe;

Emily Elizabeth; and

Lavinia Norcross (1833–1899), known as Lavinia or Vinnie.[9]

By all accounts, young Emily was a well-behaved girl. On an extended visit to Monson when she was two, Emily's Aunt Lavinia described Emily as "perfectly well & contented—She is a very good child & but little trouble."[10] Emily's aunt also noted the girl's affinity for music and her particular talent for the piano, which she called "the moosic".[11]

Dickinson attended primary school in a two-story building on Pleasant Street.[12] Her education was "ambitiously classical for a Victorian girl".[13] Her father wanted his children well-educated and he followed their progress even while away on business. When Emily was seven, he wrote home, reminding his children to "keep school, and learn, so as to tell me, when I come home, how many new things you have learned".[14] While Emily consistently described her father in a warm manner, her correspondence suggests that her mother was regularly cold and aloof. In a letter to a confidante, Emily wrote she "always ran Home to Awe [Austin] when a child, if anything befell me. He was an awful Mother, but I liked him better than none."[15]

On September 7, 1840, Dickinson and her sister Lavinia started together at Amherst Academy, a former boys' school that had opened to female students just two years earlier.[12] At about the same time, her father purchased a house on North Pleasant Street.[16] Emily's brother Austin later described this large new home as the "mansion" over which he and Emily presided as "lord and lady" while their parents were absent.[17] The house overlooked Amherst's burial ground, described by one local minister as treeless and "forbidding

Teenage years

They shut me up in Prose –

As when a little Girl

They put me in the Closet –

Because they liked me "still" –

Still! Could themself have peeped –

And seen my Brain – go round –

They might as wise have lodged a Bird

For Treason – in the Pound –

Emily Dickinson, c. 1862[18]

Dickinson spent seven years at the Academy, taking classes in English and classical literature, Latin, botany, geology, history, "mental philosophy," and arithmetic.[19] She had a few terms off due to illness: the longest absence was in 1845–1846, when she was only enrolled for eleven weeks.[20]

Dickinson was troubled from a young age by the "deepening menace" of death, especially the deaths of those who were close to her. When Sophia Holland, her second cousin and a close friend, grew ill from typhus and died in April, 1844, Emily was traumatized.[21] Recalling the incident two years later, Emily wrote that "it seemed to me I should die too if I could not be permitted to watch over her or even look at her face."[22] She became so melancholic that her parents sent her to stay with family in Boston to recover.[23] With her health and spirits restored, she soon returned to Amherst Academy to continue her studies.[24] During this period, she first met people who were to become lifelong friends and correspondents, such as Abiah Root, Abby Wood, Jane Humphrey, and Susan Huntington Gilbert (who later married Emily's brother Austin).

In 1845, a religious revival took place in Amherst, resulting in 46 confessions of faith among Dickinson's peers.[25] Dickinson wrote to a friend the following year: "I never enjoyed such perfect peace and happiness as the short time in which I felt I had found my savior."[26] She went on to say that it was her "greatest pleasure to commune alone with the great God & to feel that he would listen to my prayers".[26] The experience did not last: Dickinson never made a formal declaration of faith and attended services regularly for only a few years.[27] After her church-going ended, about 1852, she wrote a poem opening: "Some keep the Sabbath going to Church – / I keep it, staying at Home".[28]

During the last year of her stay at the Academy, Emily became friendly with Leonard Humphrey, its popular new young principal. After finishing her final term at the Academy on August 10, 1847, Dickinson began attending Mary Lyon's Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (which later became Mount Holyoke College) in South Hadley, about ten miles (16 km) from Amherst.[29] She was at the seminary for only ten months. Although she liked the girls at Holyoke, Dickinson made no lasting friendships there.[30] The explanations for her brief stay at Holyoke differ considerably: either she was in poor health, her father wanted to have her at home, she rebelled against the evangelical fervor present at the school, she disliked the discipline-minded teachers, or she was simply homesick.[31] Whatever the specific reason for leaving Holyoke, her brother Austin appeared on March 25, 1848, to "bring [her] home at all events".[32] Back in Amherst, Dickinson occupied her time with household activities.[33] She took up baking for the family and enjoyed attending local events and activities in the budding college town.

Early influences and writing

When she was eighteen, Dickinson's family befriended a young attorney by the name of Benjamin Franklin Newton. According to a letter written by Dickinson after Newton's death, he had been "with my Father two years, before going to Worcester – in pursuing his studies, and was much in our family."[35] Although their relationship was probably not romantic, Newton was a formative influence and would become the second in a series of older men (after Humphrey) that Dickinson referred to, variously, as her tutor, preceptor or master.[36]

Newton likely introduced her to the writings of William Wordsworth, and his gift to her of Ralph Waldo Emerson's first book of collected poems had a liberating effect. She wrote later that he, "whose name my Father's Law Student taught me, has touched the secret Spring".[37] Newton held her in high regard, believing in and recognizing her as a poet. When he was dying of tuberculosis, he wrote to her, saying that he would like to live until she achieved the greatness he foresaw.[37] Biographers believe that Dickinson's statement of 1862—"When a little Girl, I had a friend, who taught me Immortality – but venturing too near, himself – he never returned"—refers to Newton.[38]

Dickinson was familiar not only with the Bible but also with contemporary popular literature.[39] She was probably influenced by Lydia Maria Child's Letters from New York, another gift from Newton[21] (after reading it, she enthused "This then is a book! And there are more of them!"[21]). Her brother smuggled a copy of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Kavanagh into the house for her (because her father might disapprove)[40] and a friend lent her Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre in late 1849.[41] Jane Eyre's influence cannot be measured, but when Dickinson acquired her first and only dog, a Newfoundland, she named him "Carlo" after the character St. John Rivers' dog.[41] William Shakespeare was also a potent influence in her life. Referring to his plays, she wrote to one friend "Why clasp any hand but this?" and to another, "Why is any other book needed?

Adulthood and seclusion

In early 1850 Dickinson wrote that "Amherst is alive with fun this winter ... Oh, a very great town this is!"[33] Her high spirits soon turned to melancholy after another death. The Amherst Academy principal, Leonard Humphrey, died suddenly of "brain congestion" at age 25.[43] Two years after his death, she revealed to her friend Abiah Root the extent of her depression: "... some of my friends are gone, and some of my friends are sleeping – sleeping the churchyard sleep – the hour of evening is sad – it was once my study hour – my master has gone to rest, and the open leaf of the book, and the scholar at school alone, make the tears come, and I cannot brush them away; I would not if I could, for they are the only tribute I can pay the departed Humphrey".[44]

During the 1850s, Emily's strongest and most affectionate relationship was with Susan Gilbert. Emily eventually sent her over three hundred letters, more than to any other correspondent, over the course of their friendship. Her missives typically dealt with demands for Sue's affection and the fear of unrequited admiration, but because Sue was often aloof and disagreeable, Emily was continually hurt by what was mostly a tempestuous friendship.[45] Sue was nevertheless supportive of the poet, playing the role of "most beloved friend, influence, muse, and adviser whose editorial suggestions Dickinson sometimes followed, Susan played a primary role in Emily's creative processes."[46] Sue married Austin in 1856 after a four-year courtship, although their marriage was not a happy one. Edward Dickinson built a house for him and Sue called the Evergreens, which stood on the west side of the Homestead.[47]

Supposedly one of only two known photographs of Emily Dickinson. Made in the 1850s and discovered in 2000 on eBay by Philip F. Gura, its authenticity is uncertain.[48]

Until 1855, Dickinson had not strayed far from Amherst. That spring, accompanied by her mother and sister, she took one of her longest and farthest trips away from home.[49] First, they spent three weeks in Washington, where her father was representing Massachusetts in Congress. Then they went to Philadelphia for two weeks to visit family. In Philadelphia, she met Charles Wadsworth, a famous minister of the Arch Street Presbyterian Church, with whom she forged a strong friendship which lasted until his death in 1882.[50] Despite only seeing him twice after 1855 (he moved to San Francisco in 1862), she variously referred to him as "my Philadelphia", "my Clergyman", "my dearest earthly friend" and "my Shepherd from 'Little Girl'hood".[51]

From the mid-1850s, Emily's mother became effectively bedridden with various chronic illnesses until her death in 1882.[52] Writing to a friend in summer 1858, Emily said that she would visit if she could leave "home, or mother. I do not go out at all, lest father will come and miss me, or miss some little act, which I might forget, should I run away – Mother is much as usual. I Know not what to hope of her".[53] As her mother continued to decline, Dickinson's domestic responsibilities weighed heavier upon her and she confined herself within the Homestead. Forty years later, Lavinia stated that because their mother was chronically ill, one of the daughters had to remain always with her.[53] Emily took this role as her own, and "finding the life with her books and nature so congenial, continued to live it".[53]

Withdrawing more and more from the outside world, Emily began in the summer of 1858 what would be her lasting legacy. Reviewing poems she had written previously, she began making clean copies of her work, assembling carefully pieced-together manuscript books.[54] The forty fascicles she created from 1858 through 1865 eventually held nearly eight hundred poems.[54] No one was aware of the existence of these books until after her death.

In the late 1850s, the Dickinsons befriended Samuel Bowles, the owner and editor-in-chief of the Springfield Republican, and his wife, Mary. They visited the Dickinsons regularly for years to come. During this time Emily sent him over three dozen letters and nearly fifty poems.[56] Their friendship brought out some of her most intense writing and Bowles published a few of her poems in his journal. It was from 1858 to 1861 that Dickinson is believed to have written a trio of letters that have been called "The Master Letters". These three letters, drafted to an unknown man simply referred to as "Master", continue to be the subject of speculation and contention amongst scholars.[58]

The first half of the 1860s, after she had largely withdrawn from social life,[59] proved to be Dickinson's most productive writing period.

s "my Verse ... alive?"

In April 1862, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a literary critic, radical abolitionist, and ex-minister, wrote a lead piece for The Atlantic Monthly entitled, "Letter to a Young Contributor". Higginson's essay, in which he urged aspiring writers to "charge your style with life", contained practical advice for those wishing to break into print.[61] Seeking literary guidance that no one close to her could provide, Dickinson sent him a letter which read in full:[62]

Thomas Wentworth Higginson in uniform; he was colonel of the First South Carolina Volunteers from 1862 to 1864.

Mr Higginson,

Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?

The Mind is so near itself – it cannot see, distinctly – and I have none to ask –

Should you think it breathed – and had you the leisure to tell me, I should feel quick gratitude –

If I make the mistake – that you dared to tell me – would give me sincerer honor – toward you –

I enclose my name – asking you, if you please – Sir – to tell me what is true?

That you will not betray me – it is needless to ask – since Honor is it's [sic] own pawn –

The letter was unsigned, but she had included her name on a card and enclosed it in an envelope, along with four of her poems.[63] He praised her work but suggested that she delay publishing until she had written longer, being unaware that she had already appeared in print. She assured him that publishing was as foreign to her "as Firmament to Fin", but also proposed that "If fame belonged to me, I could not escape her".[64]

Dickinson delighted in dramatic self-characterization and mystery in her letters to Higginson.[65] She said of herself, "I am small, like the wren, and my hair is bold, like the chestnut bur, and my eyes like the sherry in the glass that the guest leaves."[66] She stressed her solitary nature, stating that her only real companions were the hills, the sundown, and her dog, Carlo. She also mentioned that whereas her mother did not "care for Thought", her father bought her books, but begged her "not to read them – because he fears they joggle the Mind".[67] Dickinson valued his advice, going from calling him "Mr. Higginson" to "Dear friend" as well as signing her letters, "Your Gnome" and "Your Scholar".[68] His interest in her work certainly provided great moral support; many years later, Dickinson told Higginson that he had saved her life in 1862.[69] They corresponded until her death.[70]

The woman in white

In direct opposition to the immense productivity that she displayed in the early 1860s, Dickinson wrote fewer poems in 1866.[71] Beset with personal loss as well as loss of domestic help, it is possible that Dickinson was too overcome to keep up her previous level of writing.[72] Carlo died during this time after providing sixteen years of companionship; Dickinson never owned another dog. Although the household servant of nine years had married and left the Homestead that same year, it was not until 1869 that her family brought in a permanent household servant to replace the old one.[73] Emily once again was responsible for chores, including the baking, at which she excelled.

A solemn thing – it was – I said –

A Woman – White – to be –

And wear – if God should count me fit –

Her blameless mystery –

Emily Dickinson, c. 1861[74]

Around this time, Dickinson's behavior began to change. She did not leave the Homestead unless it was absolutely necessary and as early as 1867, she began to talk to visitors from the other side of a door rather than speaking to them face to face.[75] She acquired local notoriety; she was rarely seen, and when she was, she was usually clothed in white. Dickinson's one surviving article of clothing is a white cotton dress, possibly sewn circa 1878–1882.[76] Few of the locals who exchanged messages with Dickinson during her last fifteen years ever saw her in person.[77] Austin and his family began to protect Emily's privacy, deciding that she was not to be a subject of discussion with outsiders.[78] Despite her physical seclusion, however, Dickinson was socially active and expressive through what makes up two-thirds of her surviving notes and letters. When visitors came to either the Homestead or the Evergreens, she would often leave or send over small gifts of poems or flowers.[79] Dickinson also had a good rapport with the children in her life. Mattie Dickinson, the second child of Austin and Sue, later said that "Aunt Emily stood for indulgence."[80] MacGregor (Mac) Jenkins, the son of family friends who later wrote a short article in 1891 called "A Child's Recollection of Emily Dickinson", thought of her as always offering support to the neighborhood children.[80]

When Higginson urged her to come to Boston in 1868 so that they could formally meet for the first time, she declined, writing: "Could it please your convenience to come so far as Amherst I should be very glad, but I do not cross my Father's ground to any House or town".[81] It was not until he came to Amherst in 1870 that they met. Later he referred to her, in the most detailed and vivid physical account of her on record, as "a little plain woman with two smooth bands of reddish hair ... in a very plain & exquisitely clean white pique & a blue net worsted shawl."[82] He also felt that he never was "with any one who drained my nerve power so much. Without touching her, she drew from me. I am glad not to live near her."[83]

Posies and poesies

Scholar Judith Farr notes that Dickinson, during her lifetime, "was known more widely as a gardener, perhaps, than as a poet".[84] Dickinson studied botany from the age of nine and, along with her sister, tended the garden at Homestead.[84] During her lifetime, she assembled a collection of pressed plants in a sixty-six page leather-bound herbarium. It contained 424 pressed flower specimens that she collected, classified, and labeled using the Linnaean system.[85] The Homestead garden was well-known and admired locally in its time. It has not survived, and Dickinson kept no garden notebooks or plant lists, but a clear impression can be formed from the letters and recollections of friends and family. Her niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, remembered "carpets of lily-of-the-valley and pansies, platoons of sweetpeas, hyacinths, enough in May to give all the bees of summer dyspepsia. There were ribbons of peony hedges and drifts of daffodils in season, marigolds to distraction—-a butterfly utopia".[86] In particular, Dickinson cultivated scented exotic flowers, writing that she "could inhabit the Spice Isles merely by crossing the dining room to the conservatory, where the plants hang in baskets". Dickinson would often send her friends bunches of flowers with verses attached, but "they valued the posy more than the poetry".[86]

Later life

On June 16, 1874, while in Boston, Edward Dickinson suffered a stroke and died. When the simple funeral was held in the Homestead's entrance hall, Emily stayed in her room with the door cracked open. Neither did she attend the memorial service on June 28.[87] She wrote to Higginson that her father's "Heart was pure and terrible and I think no other like it exists."[88] A year later, on June 15, 1875, Emily's mother also suffered a stroke, which produced a partial lateral paralysis and impaired memory. Lamenting her mother's increasing physical as well as mental demands, Emily wrote that "Home is so far from Home".[89]

Though the great Waters sleep,

That they are still the Deep,

We cannot doubt –

No vacillating God

Ignited this Abode

To put it out –

Emily Dickinson, c. 1884[90]

Otis Phillips Lord, an elderly judge on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from Salem, in 1872 or 1873 became an acquaintance of Dickinson's. After the death of Lord's wife in 1877, his friendship with Dickinson probably became a late-life romance, though as their letters were destroyed, this is surmise.[91] Dickinson found a kindred soul in Lord, especially in terms of shared literary interests; the few letters which survived contain multiple quotations of Shakespeare's work, including the plays Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, Hamlet and King Lear. In 1880 he gave her Cowden Clarke's Complete Concordance to Shakespeare (1877).[92] Dickinson wrote that "While others go to Church, I go to mine, for are you not my Church, and have we not a Hymn that no one knows but us?"[93] She referred to him as "My lovely Salem"[94] and they wrote to each other religiously every Sunday. Dickinson looked forward to this day greatly; a surviving fragment of a letter written by her states that "Tuesday is a deeply depressed Day".[95]

After being critically ill for several years, Judge Lord died in March 1884. Dickinson referred to him as "our latest Lost".[96] Two years before this, on April 1, 1882, Dickinson's "Shepherd from 'Little Girl'hood", Charles Wadsworth, also had died after a long illness.

Decline and death

Although she continued to write in her last years, Dickinson stopped editing and organizing her poems. She also exacted a promise from her sister Lavinia to burn her papers.[97] Lavinia, who also never married, remained at the Homestead until her own death in 1899.

Emily Dickinson's tombstone in the family plot

The 1880s were a difficult time for the remaining Dickinsons. Irreconcilably alienated from his wife, Austin fell in love in 1882 with Mabel Loomis Todd, an Amherst College faculty wife who had recently moved to the area. Todd never met Dickinson but was intrigued by her, referring to her as "a lady whom the people call the Myth".[98] Austin distanced himself from his family as his affair continued and his wife became sick with grief.[99] Dickinson's mother died on November 14, 1882. Five weeks later, Dickinson wrote "We were never intimate ... while she was our Mother – but Mines in the same Ground meet by tunneling and when she became our Child, the Affection came."[100] The next year, Austin and Sue's third and youngest child, Gilbert—Emily's favorite—died of typhoid fever.[101]

As death succeeded death, Dickinson found her world upended. In the fall of 1884, she wrote that "The Dyings have been too deep for me, and before I could raise my Heart from one, another has come."[102] That summer she had seen "a great darkness coming" and fainted while baking in the kitchen. She remained unconscious late into the night and weeks of ill health followed. On November 30, 1885, her feebleness and other symptoms were so worrying that Austin canceled a trip to Boston.[103] She was confined to her bed for a few months, but managed to send a final burst of letters in the spring. What is thought to be her last letter was sent to her cousins, Louise and Frances Norcross, and simply read: "Little Cousins, Called Back. Emily".[104] On May 15, 1886, after several days of worsening symptoms, Emily Dickinson died at the age of 55. Austin wrote in his diary that "the day was awful ... she ceased to breathe that terrible breathing just before the [afternoon] whistle sounded for six."[105] Dickinson's chief physician gave the cause of death as Bright's disease and its duration as two and a half years.[106]

Dickinson was buried, laid in a white coffin with vanilla-scented heliotrope, a Lady's Slipper orchid, and a "knot of blue field violets" placed about it.[86][107] The funeral service, held in the Homestead's library, was simple and short; Higginson, who had only met her twice, read "No Coward Soul Is Mine", a poem by Emily Brontë that had been a favorite of Dickinson's.[105] At Dickinson's request, her "coffin [was] not driven but carried through fields of buttercups" for burial in the family plot at West Cemetery on Triangle Street.[84]

Publication

Despite Dickinson's prolific writing, fewer than a dozen of her poems were published during her lifetime. After her younger sister Lavinia discovered the collection of nearly eighteen hundred poems, Dickinson's first volume was published four years after her death. Until the 1955 publication of Dickinson's Complete Poems by Thomas H. Johnson, her poetry was considerably edited and altered from their manuscript versions. Since 1890 Dickinson has remained continuously in print.

Contemporary

"Safe in their Alabaster Chambers –," entitled "The Sleeping," as it was published in the Springfield Republican in 1862.

A few of Dickinson's poems appeared in Samuel Bowles' Springfield Republican between 1858 and 1868. They were published anonymously and heavily edited, with conventionalized punctuation and formal titles.[108] The first poem, "Nobody knows this little rose", may have been published without Dickinson's permission.[109] The Republican also published "A narrow Fellow in the Grass" as "The Snake"; "Safe in their Alabaster Chambers –" as "The Sleeping"; and "Blazing in the Gold and quenching in Purple" as "Sunset".[110][111] The poem "I taste a liquor never brewed –" is an example of the edited versions; the last two lines in the first stanza were completely rewritten for the sake of conventional rhyme.

Original wording

I taste a liquor never brewed –

From Tankards scooped in Pearl –

Not all the Frankfort Berries

Yield such an Alcohol!

Republican version[110]

I taste a liquor never brewed –

From Tankards scooped in Pearl –

Not Frankfort Berries yield the sense

Such a delirious whirl!

In 1864, several poems were altered and published in Drum Beat, to raise funds for medical care for Union soldiers in the war.[112] Another appeared in April 1864 in the Brooklyn Daily Union. [113]

In the 1870s, Higginson showed Dickinson's poems to Helen Hunt Jackson, who had coincidentally been at the Academy with Dickinson when they were girls.[114] Jackson was deeply involved in the publishing world, and managed to convince Dickinson to publish her poem "Success is counted sweetest" anonymously in a volume called A Masque of Poets.[114] The poem, however, was altered to agree with contemporary taste. It was the last poem published during Dickinson's lifetime.

Posthumous

After Dickinson's death, Lavinia Dickinson kept her promise and burned most of the poet's correspondence. Significantly though, Dickinson had left no instructions about the forty notebooks and loose sheets gathered in a locked chest.[115] Lavinia recognized the poems' worth and became obsessed with seeing them published.[116] She turned first to her brother's wife and then to Mabel Loomis Todd, her brother's mistress, for assistance.[107] A feud ensued, with the manuscripts divided between the Todd and Dickinson houses, preventing complete publication of Dickinson's poetry for more than half a century.[117]

Cover of the first edition of Poems, published in 1890

The first volume of Dickinson's Poems, edited jointly by Mabel Loomis Todd and T. W. Higginson, appeared in November 1890.[118] Although Todd claimed that only essential changes were made, the poems were extensively edited to match punctuation and capitalization to late 19th-century standards, with occasional rewordings to reduce Dickinson's obliquity.[119] The first 115-poem volume was a critical and financial success, going through eleven printings in two years.[118] Poems: Second Series followed in 1891, running to five editions by 1893; a third series appeared in 1896. One reviewer, in 1892, wrote: "The world will not rest satisfied till every scrap of her writings, letters as well as literature, has been published".[120] Two years later, two volumes of Dickinson's letters, heavily edited, appeared. In parallel, Susan Dickinson placed a few of Dickinson's poems in literary magazines such as Scribner's Magazine and The Independent.

Between 1914 and 1929, Dickinson's niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, published a new series of collections, including many previously unpublished poems, with similarly normalized punctuation and capitalization. Other volumes edited by Todd and Bianchi followed through the 1930s, gradually making more previously unpublished poems available.

The first scholarly publication came in 1955 with a complete new three-volume set edited by Thomas H. Johnson. It formed the basis of all later Dickinson scholarship. For the first time, the poems were printed very nearly as Dickinson had left them in her manuscripts.[121] They were untitled, only numbered in an approximate chronological sequence, strewn with dashes and irregularly capitalized, and often extremely elliptical in their language.[122] Three years later, Johnson edited and published, along with Theodora Ward, a complete collection of Dickinson's letters.

Poetry

See: Emily Dickinson at Wikisource for complete poetic works

Dickinson's poems generally fall into three distinct periods, the works in each period having certain general characters in common.

Pre-1861. These are often conventional and sentimental in nature.[123] Thomas H. Johnson, who later published The Poems of Emily Dickinson, was able to date only five of Dickinson's poems before 1858.[124] Two of these are mock valentines done in an ornate and humorous style, and two others are conventional lyrics, one of which is about missing her brother Austin. The fifth poem, which begins "I have a Bird in spring", conveys her grief over the feared loss of friendship and was sent to her friend Sue Gilbert.[124]

1861–1865. This was her most creative period—these poems are more vigorous and emotional. Johnson estimated that she composed 86 poems in 1861, 366 in 1862, 141 in 1863, and 174 in 1864. He also believed that this is when she fully developed her themes of life and death.[125]

Post-1866. It is estimated that two-thirds of the entire body of her poetry was written before this year.[125]

Structure and syntax

Dickinson's handwritten manuscript of her poem "Wild Nights – Wild Nights!"

The extensive use of dashes and unconventional capitalization in Dickinson's manuscripts, and the idiosyncratic vocabulary and imagery, combine to create a body of work that is "far more various in its styles and forms than is commonly supposed".[3][126] She did not write in traditional iambic pentameter (a convention of English-speaking poetry for centuries), and did not even use a five-foot line. Her line lengths vary from four syllables or two feet to often eight syllables or four feet.[127] Her frequent use of approximate or slant rhyme attracted attention since her work first appeared in print.[127] Her poems typically begin with a declaration or definition in the first line ("The fact that Earth is Heaven"), which is followed by a metaphorical change of the original premise in the second line ("Whether Heaven is Heaven or not").[128] Dickinson's poems can easily be set to music because of the frequent use of rhyme and free verse. Written for the most part in common meter or ballad-meter, they can also be set to songs that use the same alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter.[129] (Familiar examples of such songs are O Little Town of Bethlehem, and Amazing Grace). Dickinson scholar Anthony Hecht finds resonances not only with songs but also with psalms and riddles, citing the following example: "Who is the East? / The Yellow Man / Who may be Purple if he can / That carries the Sun. / Who is the West? / The Purple Man / Who may be Yellow if He can / That lets Him out again."[126]

Late 20th-century scholars are "deeply interested" by Dickinson's highly individual use of punctuation and lineation (line lengths and line breaks).[115] Following the publication of one of the few poems that appeared in her lifetime – "A narrow Fellow in the Grass", published as "The Snake" in the Republican – Dickinson complained that the edited punctuation (an added comma and a full stop substitution for the original dash) altered the meaning of the entire poem.[110]

Original wording

A narrow Fellow in the Grass

Occasionally rides –

You may have met Him – did you not

His notice sudden is –

Republican version[110]

A narrow Fellow in the Grass

Occasionally rides –

You may have met Him – did you not,

His notice sudden is.

As Farr points out, "snakes instantly notice you"; Dickinson's version captures the "breathless immediacy" of the encounter; and The Republican's punctuation renders "her lines more commonplace".[115] With the increasingly close focus on Dickinson's structures and syntax has come a growing appreciation that they are "aesthetically based".[115] Although Johnson's landmark 1955 edition of poems was relatively unaltered from the original, later scholars critiqued it for deviating from the style and layout of Dickinson's manuscripts. Meaningful distinctions, these scholars assert, can be drawn from varying lengths and angles of dash, and differing arrangements of text on the page.[130] Several volumes have attempted to render Dickinson's handwritten dashes using many typographic symbols of varying length and angle. R. W. Franklin's 1998 variorum edition of the poems provided alternate wordings to those chosen by Johnson, in a more limited editorial intervention. Franklin also used typeset dashes of varying length to approximate the manuscripts' dashes more closely.[121]

Major themes

Dickinson left no formal statement of her aesthetic intentions and, because of the variety of her themes, her work does not fit conveniently into any one genre. She has been regarded, alongside Emerson (whose poems Dickinson admired), as a Transcendentalist.[131] However, Farr disagrees with this analysis saying that Dickinson's "relentlessly measuring mind ... deflates the airy elevation of the Transcendental".[132] Apart from the major themes discussed below, Dickinson's poetry frequently uses humor, puns, irony and satire.[133]

Flowers and gardens. Farr notes that Dickinson's "poems and letters almost wholly concern flowers" and that allusions to gardens often refer to an "imaginative realm ... wherein flowers [are] often emblems for actions and emotions".[134] She associates some flowers, like gentians and anemones, with youth and humility; others with prudence and insight.[134] Her poems were often sent to friends with accompanying letters and nosegays.[134] Farr notes that one of Dickinson's earlier poems, written about 1859, appears to "conflate her poetry itself with the posies": "My nosegays are for Captives – / Dim – long expectant eyes – / Fingers denied the plucking, / Patient till Paradise – / To such, if they sh'd whisper / Of morning and the moor – / They bear no other errand, / And I, no other prayer".[134]

The Master poems. Dickinson left a large number of poems addressed to "Signor", "Sir" and "Master", who is characterized as Dickinson's "lover for all eternity".[135] These confessional poems are often "searing in their self-inquiry" and "harrowing to the reader" and typically take their metaphors from texts and paintings of Dickinson's day.[135] The Dickinson family themselves believed these poems were addressed to actual individuals but this view is frequently rejected by scholars. Farr, for example, contends that the Master is an unattainable composite figure, "human, with specific characteristics, but godlike" and speculates that Master may be a "kind of Christian muse".[135]

Morbidity. Dickinson's poems reflect her "early and lifelong fascination" with illness, dying and death.[136] Perhaps surprisingly for a New England spinster, her poems allude to death by many methods: "crucifixion, drowning, hanging, suffocation, freezing, premature burial, shooting, stabbing and guillotinage".[136] She reserved her sharpest insights into the "death blow aimed by God" and the "funeral in the brain", often reinforced by images of thirst and starvation. Dickinson scholar Vivian Pollak considers these references an autobiographical reflection of Dickinson's "thirsting-starving persona", an outward expression of her needy self-image as small, thin and frail.[136] Dickinson's most psychologically complex poems explore the theme that the loss of hunger for life causes the death of self and place this at "the interface of murder and suicide".[136]

Gospel poems. Throughout her life, Dickinson wrote poems reflecting a preoccupation with the teachings of Jesus Christ and, indeed, many are addressed to him.[137] She stresses the Gospels' contemporary pertinence and recreates them, often with "wit and American colloquial language".[137] Scholar Dorothy Oberhaus finds that the "salient feature uniting Christian poets ... is their reverential attention to the life of Jesus Christ" and contends that Dickinson's deep structures place her in the "poetic tradition of Christian devotion" alongside Hopkins, Eliot and Auden.[137] In a Nativity poem, Dickinson combines lightness and wit to revisit an ancient theme: "The Savior must have been / A docile Gentleman – / To come so far so cold a Day / For little Fellowmen / The Road to Bethlehem / Since He and I were Boys / Was leveled, but for that twould be / A rugged billion Miles –".[137]

The Undiscovered Continent. Academic Suzanne Juhasz considers that Dickinson saw the mind and spirit as tangible visitable places and that for much of her life she lived within them.[138] Often, this intensely private place is referred to as the "undiscovered continent" and the "landscape of the spirit" and embellished with nature imagery. At other times, the imagery is darker and forbidding—castles or prisons, complete with corridors and rooms—to create a dwelling place of "oneself" where one resides with one's other selves.[138] An example that brings together many of these ideas is: "Me from Myself – to banish – / Had I Art – / Impregnable my Fortress / Unto All Heart – / But since myself—assault Me – / How have I peace / Except by subjugating / Consciousness. / And since We're mutual Monarch / How this be / Except by Abdication – / Me – of Me?".[138]

Reception

Dickinson wrote and sent this poem ("A Route to Evanescence") to Thomas Higginson in 1880.

The surge of posthumous publication gave Dickinson's poetry its first public exposure. Backed by Higginson and with a favorable notice from William Dean Howells, an editor of Harper's Magazine, the poetry received mixed reviews after it was first published in 1890. Higginson himself stated in his preface to the first edition of Dickinson's published work that the poetry's quality "is that of extraordinary grasp and insight".[139] Maurice Thompson, who was literary editor of The Independent for twelve years, noted in 1891 that her poetry had "a strange mixture of rare individuality and originality".[140] Some critics hailed Dickinson's effort, but disapproved of her unusual non-traditional style. Andrew Lang, a British writer, dismissed Dickinson's work, stating that "if poetry is to exist at all, it really must have form and grammar, and must rhyme when it professes to rhyme. The wisdom of the ages and the nature of man insist on so much".[141] Thomas Bailey Aldrich, a poet and novelist, equally dismissed Dickinson's poetic technique in The Atlantic Monthly in January 1892: "It is plain that Miss Dickinson possessed an extremely unconventional and grotesque fancy. She was deeply tinged by the mysticism of Blake, and strongly influenced by the mannerism of Emerson ... But the incoherence and formlessness of her — versicles are fatal ... an eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse in an out-of-the-way New England village (or anywhere else) cannot with impunity set at defiance the laws of gravitation and grammar".[142]

Critical attention to Dickinson's poetry was meager from 1897 to the early 1920s.[143] By the start of the 20th century, interest in her poetry became broader in scope and some critics began to consider Dickinson as essentially modern. Rather than seeing Dickinson's poetic styling as a result of lack of knowledge or skill, modern critics believed the irregularities were consciously artistic.[144] In a 1915 essay, Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant called the poet's inspiration "daring" and named her "one of the rarest flowers the sterner New England land ever bore".[145] With the growing popularity of modernist poetry in the 1920s, Dickinson's failure to conform to 19th-century poetic form was no longer surprising nor distasteful to new generations of readers. Dickinson was suddenly referred to by various critics as a great woman poet, and a cult following began to form.[146] R. P. Blackmur, in an attempt to focus and clarify the major claims for and against the poet's greatness, wrote in a landmark 1937 critical essay: "... she was a private poet who wrote as indefatigably as some women cook or knit. Her gift for words and the cultural predicament of her time drove her to poetry instead of antimacassars ... She came, as Mr. Tate says, at the right time for one kind of poetry: the poetry of sophisticated, eccentric vision."[147]

The second wave of feminism created greater cultural sympathy for her as a female poet. In the first collection of critical essays on Dickinson from a female perspective, she is heralded as the greatest woman poet in the English language.[148] Biographers and theorists of the past tended to separate Dickinson's roles as a woman and a poet. For example, George Whicher wrote in his 1952 book This Was a Poet: A Critical Biography of Emily Dickinson, "Perhaps as a poet [Dickinson] could find the fulfillment she had missed as a woman." Feminist criticism, on the other hand, declares that there is a necessary and powerful conjunction between Dickinson being a woman and a poet.[149] Adrienne Rich theorized in "Vesuvius at Home: The Power of Emily Dickinson" (1976) that Dickinson's identity as a woman poet brought her power, making her "neither eccentric nor quaint; she was determined to survive, to use her powers, to practice necessary economics."[150] Similarly, some scholars question the poet's sexuality, theorizing that the numerous letters and poems that were dedicated to Susan Gilbert Dickinson indicate a lesbian romance, and speculating about how this may have influenced her poetry.[151] Critics such as John Cody, Lillian Faderman, Vivian R. Pollak, Paula Bennett, Judith Farr, Ellen Louise Hart, and Martha Nell Smith have argued that Susan was the central erotic relationship in Dickinson's life.[152]

Legacy

Emily Dickinson is now considered a powerful and persistent figure in American culture.[153] Although much of the early reception concentrated on Dickinson's eccentric and secluded nature, she has become widely acknowledged as an innovative, pre-modernist poet.[154] As early as 1891, William Dean Howells wrote that "If nothing else had come out of our life but this strange poetry, we should feel that in the work of Emily Dickinson, America, or New England rather, had made a distinctive addition to the literature of the world, and could not be left out of any record of it."[155] Twentieth-century critic Harold Bloom has placed her alongside Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, T. S. Eliot, and Hart Crane as a major American poet.[4]

The Dickinson Homestead as it appears today. In 2003 it was made into the Emily Dickinson Museum.

Dickinson is taught in American literature and poetry classes in the United States from middle school to college. Her poetry is frequently anthologized and has been used as texts for art songs by composers such as Aaron Copland, Nick Peros, John Adams and Michael Tilson Thomas.[156] Several schools have been established in her name; for example, two Emily Dickinson Elementary Schools exist in Bozeman, Montana, and Redmond, Washington.[158] A few literary journals—including The Emily Dickinson Journal, the official publication of the Emily Dickinson International Society—have been founded to examine her work.[159] An 8-cent commemorative stamp in honor of Dickinson was issued by the United States Postal Service on August 28, 1971 as the second stamp in the "American Poet" series.

The Amherst Jones Library's Special Collections department has an Emily Dickinson Collection consisting of approximately seven thousand items, including original manuscript poems and letters, family correspondence, scholarly articles and books, newspaper clippings, theses, plays, photographs and contemporary artwork and prints. The Archives and Special Collections at Amherst College has substantial holdings of Dickinson's manuscripts and letters as well as a lock of Dickinson's hair and the original of the only positively identified image of the poet. Dickinson's herbarium, which is now held in the Houghton Library at Harvard University, was published in 2006 as Emily Dickinson's Herbarium by Harvard University Press. In 1965, in recognition of Dickinson's growing stature as a poet, the Homestead was purchased by Amherst College. It opened to the public for tours, and also served as a faculty residence for many years. The Emily Dickinson Museum was created in 2003 when ownership of the Evergreens, which had been occupied by Dickinson family heirs until 1988, was transferred to the college.

WGA

--------------------

Brief Biography of Emily Dickinson

http://www.uta.edu/english/tim/poetry/ed/bio.html

view all

Emily Dickinson's Timeline

1830
December 10, 1830
Amherst, Hampshire, Massachusetts, USA
1860
1860
Age 29
1870
1870
Age 39
Amherst, Hampshire, Massachusetts
1880
1880
Age 49
Amherst, Hampshire, Massachusetts, United States
1880
Age 49
1880
Age 49
1886
May 15, 1886
Age 55
Amherst, Hampshire, Massachusetts, USA
????