Dickinson is remembered as a recluse who may or may not have ever had a love affair, or even an intimate relationship. But, that did not stop her from writing some of the most moving love poems of the 19th century. Dickinson was well aware of the power of love in one’s everyday life and showcased it in these ten poems.
Best Emily Dickinson Poems
Wild nights – Wild nights!
This poem is one of Dickinson’s most famous. It is focused on sea imagery, which is used as a metaphor to depict passion and desire. It speaks to powerful love and lust and is that contrasts with the pervading image of who Dickinson was. Most readers have concluded that this poem is about a religious ecstasy rather than a physical one.
Some believe that Dickinson spoke about her passion for God, another common theme in her works, rather than sexual love.
If I can stop one heart from breaking
In this beautiful, very short poem, Dickinson’s speaker expresses a love for all human beings and a desire to help in any way that she can. If she can find a way to assist others with their lives, the speaker says, then she will have a true purpose in her life. This is something that she has lacked up until this point. The speaker’s entire life is centered around this desire. She says that if she can stop “one heart from breaking,” then she won’t have “live[d] in vain”.
I gave myself to him.
‘I gave myself to him’ is an atypical love poem in which the speaker outlines her feelings through unusual financial language. This choice allows Dickinson to depict what the relationship was like, how it was one thing for another, without true love between the two. Value, wealth, and finances are why this relationship failed, metaphorically, and in reality.
I’m “wife” – I’ve finished that
In this poem, Dickinson explores personal themes, including those of independence, society, and womanhood. In the text, she goes into what the differences are between a woman’s life and the life of a woman who has become a wife. She declares in the first lines that she has become a wife. She’s going to set aside the life of a spinster and stand on the other side of the gulf, learning what it means to be married. On the other side are those who remain unmarried; they live lives of pain.
Heart, we will forget him!
This poem explores what it is like to live with the loss of love. Dickinson’s speaker focuses on the period after one accepts that their love is not going to be required. She’s trying to forget someone she loved, but she is still wrapped up in the grief and distress of the loss. The speaker expresses her belief that the two shared a bond, at least on her side, that she’s trying to deal with
After great pain, a formal feeling comes
In this poem, the speaker describes the emotional state one exists in after suffering a vital loss. This loss is not clearly stated, meaning that the reader can insert their own experiences into the poem and tap into what Dickinson, or at least the speaker she was channeling, was feeling in these lines. She takes the reader through the parts of the body, the freezing feelings of loss, and how one moves on autopilot as if their feet are blocks of wood.
Ah, Moon- and Star!
In this short love poem, Dickinson describes the relationship between two lovers through a metaphor depicting the moon and a star. The speaker seeks the distance between herself and her lover as much greater than that between the moon and star. If it wasn’t, she thinks that she’d be able to cross the “firmament” and reach him. Unfortunately, the distance is far too great for that to happen, and there’s nothing she can do about it.
I cannot live with you
In the lines of this poem, the speaker addresses her lover, telling them that she cannot possibly accept their marriage offer. It is unlikely that Dickinson was writing from experience when she penned this poem. Rather, she was taping into a persona that allowed her to write from another perspective. The speaker tells her lover that any possible union between them would end in disaster. She might love them, but she knows that they can’t end up together.
Why do I love you, sir
This short poem can be read alongside ‘Wild nights – Wild nights!’. It outlines all the reasons that the speaker loves God. Dickinson uses fairly complicated syntax throughout the poem while describing how God is everything to her. She is the grass, and he is the wind that moves her; she is the eye that closes when he, like lightning, flashes. Dickinson’s use of imagery in these lines is incredibly skilled, meaning that readers will likely remember this poem long after they’ve finished it.
There is no Frigate like a Book
The last poem on this list is a slightly different addition, one that is focused on a love for reading and books. This piece was written with a young audience in mind and illustrated along with three other short pieces. The other two poems are titled: ‘He ate and drank the precious words’ and ‘A Drop fell on the Apple Tree’. In ‘There is no Frigate like a Book,’ Dickinson addresses the pleasures and accessibility of reading in a light-hearted tone.