Emily Dickinson, in full Emily Elizabeth Dickinson, (born December 10, 1830, Amherst, Massachusetts, U.S.—died May 15, 1886, Amherst), American lyric poet who lived in seclusion and commanded a singular brilliance of style and integrity of vision. With Walt Whitman, Dickinson is widely considered to be one of the two leading 19th-century American poets.
Only 10 of Emily Dickinson’s nearly 1,800 poems are known to have been published in her lifetime. Devoted to private pursuits, she sent hundreds of poems to friends and correspondents while apparently keeping the greater number to herself. She habitually worked in verse forms suggestive of hymns and ballads, with lines of three or four stresses. Her unusual off-rhymes have been seen as both experimental and influenced by the 18th-century hymnist Isaac Watts. She freely ignored the usual rules of versification and even of grammar, and in the intellectual content of her work she likewise proved exceptionally bold and original. Her verse is distinguished by its epigrammatic compression, haunting personal voice, enigmatic brilliance, and lack of high polish.
Family and early childhood
The second of three children, Dickinson grew up in moderate privilege and with strong local and religious attachments. For her first nine years she resided in a mansion built by her paternal grandfather, Samuel Fowler Dickinson, who had helped found Amherst College but then went bankrupt shortly before her birth. Her father, Edward Dickinson, was a forceful and prosperous Whig lawyer who served as treasurer of the college and was elected to one term in Congress. Her mother, Emily Norcross Dickinson, from the leading family in nearby Monson, was an introverted wife and hardworking housekeeper; her letters seem equally inexpressive and quirky. Both parents were loving but austere, and Emily became closely attached to her brother, Austin, and sister, Lavinia. Never marrying, the two sisters remained at home, and when their brother married, he and his wife established their own household next door. The highly distinct and even eccentric personalities developed by the three siblings seem to have mandated strict limits to their intimacy. “If we had come up for the first time from two wells,” Emily once said of Lavinia, “her astonishment would not be greater at some things I say.” Only after the poet’s death did Lavinia and Austin realize how dedicated she was to her art.
As a girl, Emily was seen as frail by her parents and others and was often kept home from school. She attended the coeducational Amherst Academy, where she was recognized by teachers and students alike for her prodigious abilities in composition. She also excelled in other subjects emphasized by the school, most notably Latin and the sciences. A class in botany inspired her to assemble an herbarium containing a large number of pressed plants identified by their Latin names. She was fond of her teachers, but when she left home to attend Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College) in nearby South Hadley, she found the school’s institutional tone uncongenial. Mount Holyoke’s strict rules and invasive religious practices, along with her own homesickness and growing rebelliousness, help explain why she did not return for a second year.
Despite belonging to an elite class, Emily was inclined to religion. It is interesting that she led a mysterious and tragic life after abandoning studies at the age of seventeen and yet preferring to stay at her mansion. Another mystery is her life without any love affair and no marriage. She isolated herself from the outside world and focused on producing unique literary pieces one after another. Despite facing health problems and psychological issues, she documented her thoughtful ideas in her poems very well.
When she left Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, she got emotionally disturbed and stayed at Dickinson House for the rest of her life, where she died of kidney disease at the age of 55 on May 15, 1886. She is buried at West Cemetery, her family cemetery, while her home was turned into a museum.
Famous Quotes of Emily Dickinson
- God is sitting here, looking into my very soul to see if I think right thoughts. Yet I am not afraid, for I try to be right and good; and He knows every one of my struggles. (Letter to Abiah Root, January 29, 1850)
- 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? (Letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1870)
- “Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
requires a sorest need.”(Success is Counted Sweetest, Poem)
- “Hope” is the thing with feathers —
that perches in the soul —
sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all”. (Hope is the Thing with Feathers, Poem)
Best Emily Dickinson Poems
1. Success is counted sweetest (1859)
2. I’m nobody! Who are you? (1861)
3. “Hope” is the thing with feathers (1861)
4. I felt a Funeral, in my Brain (1861)
5. There’s a certain Slant of light (1861)
6. Wild Nights – Wild Nights! (1861)
7. This is my letter to the World (1862)
8. I dwell in Possibility (1862)
9. I heard a Fly buzz– when I died (1862)
10. It was not Death, for I stood up (1862)
11. Before I got my eye put out (1862)
12. After great pain, a formal feeling comes (1862)
13. Because I could not stop for Death (1863)
14. My Life has stood– a Loaded Gun (1862-64)
15. Tell all the truth but tell it slant (1868)
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