Emily Dickinson

E mily Dickinson is now one of the most popular poets of all time and is credited with writing some of the most skillful, and beautiful poems the English language has ever seen. She wrote hundreds of poems and chose to have around ten published. After her death, her sister Lavinia discovered a collection of almost 1800 poems amongst her possessions. The volume, Complete Poems was published in 1955.

Emily Dickinson

 


Life Facts

  • Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts in December of 1830.
  • She attended a primary school on Pleasant Street where she began her classical education.
  • In 1858, Dickinson began to write her poems. She assembled a total of nearly eight hundred poems in forty fascicles or informal collections. 
  • She died on 15 May 1886 at the age of fifty-five.
  • The volume, “Complete Poems” was published in 1955. 

Interesting Facts

  • Emily Dickinson was a prolific gardener.
  • She struggled with her vision in her thirties.
  • Dickinson never published anything under her own name.
  • She became a recluse in the early 1860s.
  • At the time, her death was put down to Bright’s disease. A kidney disease which is accompanied by high blood pressure and heart disease.


Famous Poems by Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Deathis undoubtedly one of Dickinson’s most famous poems. It is common within her works to find death used as a metaphor or symbol, but this piece far outranks the rest. “Death” appears as a real being. He takes the speaker by the hand a guides her on a carriage ride into the afterlife. There is a simplicity to the lines which puts the reader at ease. Any fear associated with the afterlife is far from one’s mind. Instead, a reader is treated to images of the “Setting Sun” and children at play. It is generally considered to be one of the greatest poems in the English language. 

 

Hope is the thing with feathers – is perhaps Dickinson’s best-known, and most loved poem. It is much lighter than the majority of her works and focuses on the personification of hope. It is a bird that perches inside her soul and sings. The bird asks for nothing. It is at peace, and is, therefore, able to impart the same hope and peace to the speaker. She can depend on it, and take pleasure from it. The text is also a prime example of the way that Dickinson used nature as a metaphor for the most complicated of human emotions. 

 

The Heart asks Pleasure – first –‘ is a poem that again touches on death and depicts it as something that is in the end, desirable. The speaker moves through the things that a human being wants most in their life. The first is an active pleasure. But for some, this is impossible. Next on her list is an escape from pain. If life could progress without trauma, that would be enough. Lastly, there are sleep and death. It is better to die, the speaker implies than to live a life of suffering, devoid of pleasure, or peace. 

 

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain‘ depicts Dickinson’s struggles with mental health and no piece is better known than this one in that wider discussion of her work. Within the text she uses various metaphors, concerned with life and death, to discuss endings, beginnings, and the deep, unshakable fear of losing one’s mind. The speaker depicts the slipping away of her sanity through the image of mourners wandering around in her head. They are in a cycle of sorts, unable to break out or change their pattern. 

 

A Bird, came down the Walk is slightly more straightforward than some of Dickinson’s more complicated verses. She makes use of natural images, triggering the senses, as she speaks on a bird and its eyes and “Velvet Head.” The poem chronicle the simple life of a bird as it moves from grass to bugs and from fear to peace. Dickinson also makes use of original words such as “plashless.” A feature that alludes to her well-known love of words and the power of meter. 

 


Early Life

Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts in December of 1830. Her parents were prominent in local society but were not wealthy. Dickinson’s grandfather, Samuel, was one of the founders of Amherst College, an institution her father, Edward, would later work at. Edward also worked as a lawyer and served a number of terms as a State Legislator. He married Dickinson’s mother, Emily Norcross, in 1828. Together they have three children, two girls, and a boy. 

 

As a young girl, Emily Dickinson was well-behaved. She attended a primary school on Pleasant Street where she began her classical education. It was her father’s determination that all his children were well-educated. She studied English as well as classical literature, history, and botany. Dickinson was considered to be a bright and dedicated student. 

 

The only times she missed her classes were due to periods of illness. From a young age, she was plagued with a fear of death. This stemmed from the deaths of family members and friends.

 

In 1847, Dickinson moved on to Mary Lyon’s Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley. She was only there for ten months and had trouble making friends. The reason for her departure is unclear. It could’ve been the result of poor health or her father’s demand that she stay at home. 


Literary Career

Over the next years, Dickinson became familiar with poets such as Wordsworth and Emerson. A family friend, Newton, was responsible for these literary introductions. He considered Dickinson to have great promise as a poet. Another prominent influence on her writing was the Bible. The Christian religion had gone through a great revival over the previous years and Emily has dedicated herself to her faith. 

 

In 1858, Dickinson began to write and review her poems. She assembled a total of nearly eight hundred poems in forty fascicles or informal collections. These works were not discovered until after her death. A few years later Dickinson began a correspondence with the writer and critic Thomas Wentworth Higginson. She read his aspirational message to writers in The Atlantic Monthly and decided to reach out to him. Higginson praised Dickinson’s writing but warned her away from publication for the time being. She took Higginson’s advice seriously and the two corresponded until her death. 


Writing Career and Relationships

With the early 1860s behind her, Dickinson’s productivity dropped off. She was constantly dealing with personal problems, losses, and the struggles of the household. It was around this period that Dickinson became a true recluse. She did not leave the house unless she absolutely had to and therefore began to develop something of a reputation in town. The writer did not stop contact with the outside world entirely though, maintaining her garden obsessively.

 

Dickinson’s father died in June of 1874 and Emily did not leave her room to attend the funeral. Almost exactly a year later her mother suffered a stroke. The final years of Dickinson’s own life were difficult. Her mother’s death was followed quickly by one of Dickinson’s nephews. 

 

Although today she is known as an incredibly prolific writer, during her lifetime only a dozen or so poems were ever published. After her death, her sister Lavinia discovered a collection of almost 1800 poems amongst her possessions. The volume, Complete Poems was published in 1955. 


Death

In 1885, Dickinson fainted while cooking and was confined to her bed for the following months. Her final letter was sent to her cousins in mid-1886. She died on 15 May 1886 at the age of fifty-five. At the time, her death was put down to Bright’s disease. A kidney disease which is accompanied by high blood pressure and heart disease.


Influence from other Poets

Emily Dickinson was notably influenced by writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Blake, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, as well as more generally by the Metaphysical poets of seventeeth-century England.


Poems by Emily Dickinson

Explore poetry by Emily Dickinson below, analyzed by the team at Poem Analysis.

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