Emily Dickinson

English@BanagherCollege

EMILY DICKINSON

(1830 – 1886)

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Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was an American poet. Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, to a successful family with strong community ties, she lived a mostly introverted and reclusive life. After she studied at the Amherst Academy for seven years in her youth, she spent a short time at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary before returning to her family’s house in Amherst. Thought of as an eccentric by the locals, she became known for her penchant for white clothing and her reluctance to greet guests or, later in life, even leave her room. Most of her friendships were therefore carried out by correspondence.
Although Dickinson was a prolific private poet, fewer than a dozen of her nearly eighteen hundred poems were published during her lifetime. The work that was published during her lifetime was usually altered significantly by the publishers to fit the conventional poetic rules of the time. Dickinson’s poems are unique for the era in which she wrote; they contain short lines, typically lack titles, and often use slant rhyme as well as unconventional capitalization and punctuation. Many of her poems deal with themes of death and immortality, two recurring topics in letters to her friends.
Although most of her acquaintances were probably aware of Dickinson’s writing, it was not until after her death in 1886—when Lavinia, Emily’s younger sister, discovered her cache of poems—that the breadth of Dickinson’s work became apparent. Her first collection of poetry was published in 1890 by personal acquaintances Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd, both of whom heavily edited the content. A complete and mostly unaltered collection of her poetry became available for the first time in 1955 when The Poems of Emily Dickinson was published by scholar Thomas H. Johnson. Despite unfavorable reviews and skepticism of her literary prowess during the late 19th and early 20th century, critics now consider Dickinson to be a major American poet            (poemhunter.com)

Read more about Emily Dickinson’s life here.

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RANDOM EMILY INFO

  • She grew up in a very puritan, Calvinist town in Massachusetts called Amherst.
  • She was traumatised by the death of her cousin, from typhus, when she was fourteen.
  • Her father was at one point a congressman for Hampshire.
  • She was a talented musician
  • After secondary school, she went on to attend a liberal arts college for girls which had a strong religious ethos. She left after just ten months for an unknown reason.
  • From the 1850s onwards, she devoted a lot of time to looking after her ailing, bedridden mother, who eventually died in 1882.
  • She said that her father’s ‘heart was pure and terrible’.
  • She stopped attending church in 1857.
  • By the 1860s, she had become a complete recluse – only communicating to the outside world via letter.
  • She maintained a number of close firendships via letter over the years as well as being close to her extended family.
  • She became associated with only ever wearing white and was referred to in the locality as ‘the myth’.
  • She was a very talented and knowledgeable gardener.
  • After some years, she began to only speak to visitors through doors and eventually retreated to her bedroom completely.
  • She made her younger sister Lavinia promise to destroy all of her letters when she died; a promis ethat she largely kept.
  • However, when Emily did eventually die of Bright’s disease, in 1886, her family discovered 40 hand bound books – containing almost 1800 poems in total.
  • At her request, her coffin was not driven, but carried through fields of buttercups, to the local graveyard where the family burial plot was.
  • The first volume of her work based on the 1800 poems was published posthumously, four years after her death in 1890 and the last one was published in 1955.
  • Her poetry is known for her unusual use of punctuation and capital letters, as well as its ambiguity and variety of themes.

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Emily Dickinson in her own words

“If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”

“Dogs are better than human beings because they know but do not tell.”

“To love is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.”

“The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.”

“Saying nothing…sometimes says the most.”

“Unable are the loved to die, for love is immortality.”

“Poetry is not a turning lose of emotion but an escape from emotion.”

“The brain is wider than the sky.”

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Some views of the poet and her work

 ‘…the poetry’s quality “is that of extraordinary grasp and insight.”‘ Thomas Higginson

Her poetry had “a strange mixture of rare individuality and originality.” Maurice Thompson

“Poetry of sophisticated, eccentric vision.” R.P. Blackmur

“.this strange poetry…….. had made a distinctive addition to the literature of the world.” William Dean Howells

“Dickinson is the American poet whose work consisted in exploring states of psychic extremity.” Adrienne Rich.

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Hope is the Thing with Feathers

See here for text and analysis _________________________________________________________

A Narrow Fellow in the Grass

See here for text and analysis __________________________________________________________

After Great Pain a Formal Feeling Comes

See here for text and analysis __________________________________________________________

I Felt a Funeral in my Brain

See here for text and analysis __________________________________________________________

I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed

See here for text  and analysis __________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Vote for your favourite

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Useful Links

Poets.org Dickinson site http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/155

BBC ‘Great Lives’ episode on Dickinson http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0137ynp

Poetry Foundation Dickinson page http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/emily-dickinson

A very long – but at times interesting – discussion on Dickinson http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhwUc5BAN3E

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English@Banagher College
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