Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson Poems

Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, in December of 1830 to a moderately wealthy family. She was frequently ill as a child, a fact which something contributed to her later agoraphobic tendencies. Dickinson never married but became solely responsible for the family household. Solitude, and the pleasures and pains associated with it, is one of Dickinson’s most common topics—as are death, love, and mental health. 

During her lifetime Dickinson wrote hundreds of poems and chose, for a variety of reasons, to only 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. 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. Read more about Emily Dickinson.

Because I could not stop for Death

by Emily Dickinson

‘Because I could not stop for death,’ Dickinson’s best-known poem, is a depiction of one speaker’s journey into the afterlife with personified “Death” leading the way.

'Because I could not stop for Death’ is 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.

Because I could not stop for Death –

He kindly stopped for me –

The Carriage held but just Ourselves –

And Immortality.

Hope is the Thing with Feathers

by Emily Dickinson

‘Hope is the Thing with Feathers’ by Emily Dickinson is a poem about hope. It is depicted through the famous metaphor of a bird.

This is perhaps Emily 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 prime example of the way that Dickinson used nature as a metaphor for the most complicated of human emotions.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all -

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain

by Emily Dickinson

‘I felt a Funeral, in my Brain’ by Emily Dickinson is a popular poem. In it, she depicts a very unusual idea of life after death.

Emily Dickinson wrote prolifically on her own 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.

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,

And Mourners to and fro

Kept treading - treading - till it seemed

That Sense was breaking through -

The Heart asks Pleasure – first

by Emily Dickinson

‘The heart asks pleasure first’ by Emily Dickinson depicts the needs of the heart. They are highly changeable and include pleasure and excuse from pain.

Within this poem Dickinson 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.

The Heart asks Pleasure—first—

And then—Excuse from Pain—

And then—those little Anodynes

That deaden suffering—

I died for beauty but was scarce

by Emily Dickinson

‘I died for beauty but was scarce’ by Emily Dickinson reflects her fascination for death and the possible life to follow.

Published in 1890, this moving poem is one of Emily Dickinson's best. This is particularly true when it comes to poems about death and the meaning of life. It features two mysterious speakers who are discussing their different ideologies in the afterlife. One of the two died for beauty, and the other died for truth. In the end, Dickinson concludes, why one died doesn't matter. Death itself is far more important.

I died for Beauty - but was scarce

Adjusted in the Tomb

When One who died for Truth, was lain

In an adjoining Room -

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died

by Emily Dickinson

‘I heard a Fly Buzz – when I died’ by Emily Dickinson is an unforgettable depiction of the moments before death. The speaker emphasizes the stillness of the room and the movements of a single fly.

In this striking and popular poem, Dickinson's narrator is on their deathbed, not yet embarking on their own ride with “Death.” Everyone is gathered around this dying person, trying to comfort them, but also waiting for the “King.” In amongst all the grandeur of the moment, there is a small fly. This is how Dickinson chose to personify death in ‘I heard a Fly buzz – when I died.’ It moves between the speaker and the light in the room and that is the end.

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 -

Tell all the truth but tell it slant

by Emily Dickinson

‘Tell the truth but tell it slant’ by Emily Dickinson is one of Dickinson’s best-loved poems. It explores an unknown “truth” that readers must interpret in their own way.

The title outlines the major themes of this playful and beautiful poem. The poet writes that one should tell the truth, but not straightforwardly. This is associated with Dickinson’s own writing practice and her fondness for similes and metaphors. Slightly complicating a truth will make it more interesting to a reader or listener. If one has to look a little harder, then in the end the reward will be greater when the truth is made clear.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth's superb surprise

My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun

by Emily Dickinson

‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun’ by Emily Dickinson is a complex, metaphorical poem. The poet depicts a woman who is under a man’s control and sleeps like a load gun.

The gun is a powerful and moving image in this poem that has made the text one of Dickinson's most commonly studied. The gun, and later Mount Vesuvius, represent the anger that builds up inside one’s mind and heart until it can be contained no longer. The problem with letting it out is that it can never be captured again. It is loose in the world, wreaking havoc. She implies in the text that the gun can kill but cannot be killed. The metaphorical shooter of the gun is not in control of their anger if they give in.

My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun -

In Corners - till a Day

The Owner passed - identified -

And carried Me away -

A Bird, came down the Walk

by Emily Dickinson

‘A Bird, came down the Walk’ by Emily Dickinson is a beautiful nature poem. It focuses on the actions of a bird going about its everyday life.

This piece is slightly more straightforward than some of Emily 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.

A Bird, came down the Walk -

He did not know I saw -

He bit an Angle Worm in halves

And ate the fellow, raw, 

Wild nights – Wild nights!

by Emily Dickinson

‘Wild nights – Wild nights!’ by Emily Dickinson is a multi-faceted poem. It explores an ambiguous relationship that could be religious or sexual.

In this poem the reigning image is that of the sea. It is skillfully used as a metaphor to depict passion and desire. This poem is often displaced from the minds of those who consider Dickinson’s life. It speaks to powerful love and lust and is at odds with the common image of the poet as a virginal recluse who never knew true love. The details of her life suggest otherwise as does this text, to some readers anyway. There is an alternative interpretation of ‘Wild nights – Wild nights!’ though. There are those who believe that Dickinson was speaking about her passion for God, another common theme in her works, rather than sexual love.

Wild nights - Wild nights!

Were I with thee

Wild nights should be

Our luxury!

I’m Nobody! Who are you?

by Emily Dickinson

‘I’m Nobody! Who are you?’ by Emily Dickinson reflects the poet’s emotions. It reveals her disdain for publicity and her preference for privacy.

This poem speaks on the pleasures of being unknown, alone and unbothered by the world at large. It displays Dickinson’s characteristic writing style at its finest, with plenty of capital letters and dashes. The poem also connects to her own personal life. Emily Dickinson published very few of her more than 1,500 poems during her lifetime and chose to live simply. This seems to be something she is advocating the pleasures of within ‘I’m Nobody! Who are you?’

I'm Nobody! Who are you?

Are you – Nobody – too? T

hen there's a pair of us!

Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!

Explore more poems from Emily Dickinson

I have never seen “Volcanoes”

by Emily Dickinson

‘I have never seen “Volcanoes”’ by Emily Dickinson is a clever, complex poem that compares humans and their emotions to a volcano’s eruptive power. 

The poem is one of several of Dickinson's that draw upon the imagery of erupting volcanoes to convey ideas about the human experience.

I have never seen "Volcanoes"—

But, when Travellers tell

How those old – phlegmatic mountains

Usually so still –

‘Twas the old — road — through pain—

by Emily Dickinson

‘Twas the old — road — through pain—’ by Emily Dickinson describes a woman’s path from life to death and her entrance into Heaven. 

A good example of Dickinson's poetry, particuarlly of her use of dashes and capitalization.

In Chambers bright —

Too out of sight — though —

For our hoarse Good Night —

To touch her Head!

My Garden — like the Beach

by Emily Dickinson

‘My Garden — like the Beach’ by Emily Dickinson is a beautiful, short poem. It compares the speaker’s garden to the beach and the summer to the sea. Read the full poem, with a complete analysis.

This is a beautiful, although less commonly read, Emily Dickinson poem. The piece compares a garden to the sea in the poet's characteristic short lines. Readers familiar with Dickinson's work will likely find a great deal to appreciate in this poem.

My Garden—like the Beach—

Denotes there be—a Sea—

That's Summer—

I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl

by Emily Dickinson

‘I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl’ by Emily Dickinson is a deeply melancholic poem that elucidates the ways in which people try to go on living when they’ve lost all love of life.

Although not one of the more famous Emily Dickinson poems, this piece still embodies all the subtly casual profundity her writing can elicit and tap into. From its use of hyphens to the speaker's visceral honesty, it carries many of the hallmarks of the poet's compelling style. It's a poem that underscores Dickinson's ability to convey such overwhelming emotion through such precise imagery honestly.

I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl—

Life's little duties do—precisely—

As the very least

Were infinite—to me—

A Coffin is a Small Domain

by Emily Dickinson

‘A Coffin—is a small Domain’ by Emily Dickinson explores death. It is characteristic of much of the poet’s work in that it clearly addresses this topic and everything that goes along with it.

A Coffin — is a small Domain,

Yet able to contain

A Citizen of Paradise

In it diminished Plane

A Day (I’ll Tell You How The Sun Rose)

by Emily Dickinson

‘A Day’ by Emily Dickinson is a lyrical poem describing sunrise and sunset. In a metaphysical sense, it also portrays the beauty of life and the uncertainty of death.

I’ll tell you how the sun rose, —

A ribbon at a time.

The steeples swam in amethyst,

The news like squirrels ran.

A drop fell on the apple tree

by Emily Dickinson

‘A drop fell on the apple tree’ by Emily Dickinson is filled with joy. It describes, with Dickinson’s classic skill, images of the summer season and how a storm can influence it.

A drop fell on the apple tree

Another on the roof;

A half a dozen kissed the eaves,

And made the gables laugh.

A Light Exists in Spring

by Emily Dickinson

‘A light exists in spring’ is about the light in spring that illuminates its surroundings. Though this poem is about nature, it has a deep religious connotation that science cannot explain.

A Light exists in Spring

Not present on the Year

At any other period —

When March is scarcely here

A little Dog that wags his tail

by Emily Dickinson

In ‘A little Dog that wags his tail’ Emily Dickinson explores themes of human nature, the purpose of life, and freedom. She compares animals, cats and dogs, to adults and children.

A little Dog that wags his tail

And knows no other joy

Of such a little Dog am I

Reminded by a Boy

A Murmur in the Trees— to note

by Emily Dickinson

‘A Murmur in the Trees— to note’ by Emily Dickinson is a poem about nature’s magic. It includes mysterious images of fairy men, glowing lights in the woods, and the murmuring of trees. 

A Murmur in the Trees – to note –

Not loud enough – for Wind –

A Star – not far enough to seek –

Nor near enough – to find –

A narrow Fellow in the Grass

by Emily Dickinson

‘A Narrow Fellow in the Grass’ by Emily Dickinson is a thoughtful nature poem. Dickinson uses a male speaker to describe a boyhood encounter with a snake.

A narrow Fellow in the Grass

Occasionally rides -

You may have met him?

Did you not His notice instant is -

A Route of Evanescence

by Emily Dickinson

‘A Route of Evanescence’ by Emily Dickinson describes its subject through a series of metaphors, allusions, and images. But, never actually states that the subject is a hummingbird.

A Route of Evanescence,

With a revolving Wheel –

A Resonance of Emerald

A still— Volcano —Life

by Emily Dickinson

‘A still— Volcano —Life’ by Emily Dickinson is an unforgettable poem that uses an extended metaphor to describe the life of the poet. She compares herself to a volcano that erupts under the cover of darkness.

A still — Volcano — Life —

That flickered in the night —

When it was dark enough to do

Without erasing sight —

A Wounded Deer—leaps highest

by Emily Dickinson

‘A Wounded Deer—leaps highest’ by Emily Dickinson is a highly relatable poem that speaks about the difference between what someone or something looks like and the truth. She uses the examples of a fatally wounded deer and someone dying of tuberculosis.

A wounded deer - leaps highest

I've heard the hunter tell;

'Tis but the ecstasy of death,

And then the brake is still.

After great pain, a formal feeling comes

by Emily Dickinson

‘After great pain, a formal feeling comes’ by Emily Dickinson speaks thoughtfully and emotionally on sorrow. The speaker delves into what it’s like soon after experiencing a loss.

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –

The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –

The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’

And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

Ah, Moon–and Star!

by Emily Dickinson

‘Ah, Moon–and Star!’ by Emily Dickinson is an unforgettable love poem. The poet skillfully uses the universe to depict what it’s like for two lovers to be separated.

Ah, Moon — and Star!

You are very far —

But were no one

Farther than you —

An awful Tempest mashed the air

by Emily Dickinson

‘An awful Tempest mashed the air’ by Emily Dickinson personifies a storm. The speaker follows it from its beginning to end and depicts how nature is influenced.

An awful tempest mashed the air,

The clouds were gaunt and few;

A black, as of a spectre's cloak,

Hid heaven and earth from view.

Apparently with no surprise

by Emily Dickinson

In ‘Apparently with no surprise,’ Emily Dickinson explores themes of life, death, time, and God. The poet takes the reader to a moving snapshot of life and death.

Apparently with no surprise

To any happy Flower

The Frost beheads it at it’s play –

In accidental power – 

As Imperceptibly as Grief

by Emily Dickinson

‘As imperceptibly as grief’ by Emily Dickinson analyzes grief. The poet compares it to the passing away of the summer.

As imperceptibly as Grief

The Summer lapsed away—

Too imperceptible at last

To seem like Perfidy—