Emily Dickinson is one of the foremost American poets of the nineteenth century and author of over 1800 poems. Dickinson is known for her reclusive behavior and her unconventional poetic style.
Emily Dickinson is commonly considered one of the foremost American poets of the nineteenth century. Although only a handful of her poems were published (anonymously) in her lifetime, her opus includes nearly 1800 poems, most of which were published after her death. Often described as a recluse, Dickinson wrote for herself and a few intimate friends. As a result, her unique poetic voice is proudly individualistic.
Born in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1830, Dickinson had close relationships with her parents and two siblings that lasted throughout most of her life. She never married or took up a profession, but remained in the family home until her death at age 55. Dickinson traveled little, went away to school for only a year, and accepted a limited number of social calls. She had many contacts that she maintained through correspondence, however. She was a dedicated letter writer and shared a number of her poems with friends who acted as literary critics for her. Much of Dickinson’s life and motivation remains a mystery, though the letters and poems she left behind provide hints as to her character. Poems like “This is my letter to the world” and “Nobody” suggest an introverted, yet defiant spirit. Though seemingly reserved, Dickinson was unconventional and challenged the accepted ideas about marriage, religion, and poetry commonly espoused by her society.
Dickinson’s brand of individualism is, in part, responsible for her persistent popularity. Following their posthumous publication in 1890, her poems met with immediate success, which has continued to this day. Dickinson’s poems are deeply reflective and personal, and range in subject from love, joy, and success to pain, loneliness, and death. Her poetic voice is frequently first person and often witty and sardonic. Stylistically, she is known for experimenting with form, particularly in her rejection of traditional punctuation and liberal use of dashes. Generally short, her poems do not rely on rhyme, though many make use of slant rhyme. Dickinson’s compressed, deliberate language is elliptical, deriving increased power through its unwritten implications.
The haunting power of Dickinson’s succinct poetry has only been accentuated by the lore surrounding her mysterious and solitary life. Dickinson’s enigmatic and unconventional behavior, her short and memorable verses, and her pointed wit continue to earn her a spot among today’s favorites.
“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?”
”Hope is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—...”
“Saying nothing… sometimes says the most.”