Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886) – My Favorite Poet
I hope that this page will encourage you to look further into the life and writing of Emily Dickinson. Although Emily was a recluse a good part of her life, she saw and depicted the world in ways few others have done. You will find some of my favorite poems here.
I can hardly make a rhyme, but I love poetry – and I especially love the poetry of Emily Dickinson – so much that I own copies of the complete works of Emily’s poems and letters. Dickinson wrote more than 1700 poems and hundreds of letters. The few people in whom she confided about her poems advised her not to publish them – because they believed readers and critics would not understand her genius – and so she decided not to publish any of them. After Emily’s death, her younger sister Lavinia (Emily called her Vinny) found the poems which Emily had neatly bundled up and hidden away in her room. This turned out to be one of the most important literary discoveries of the nineteenth century. Her verse lives and breathes with the richness of knowledge and the freshness of surprise that all great poetry possesses. Today, Emily Dickinson is recognized as one of the great American poets, and her writing is enjoyed all over the world. If God ever needs a ghost writer or if heaven is ever in need of a poet laureate, Emily Dickinson can fill both posts quite handily.
Emily was born and spent her entire life in Amherst, Massachusetts. The house where she lived most of her life is well preserved, as is the house (next door) where Emily’s older brother Austin and his wife Susan Gilbert Dickinson lived – which is now called The Evergreens. I first visited Amherst and the home place of Emily Dickinson in 1998 and have been back several times since. On my most recent visit, as I usually do, I went by the cemetery behind her house, where Emily is buried, along with her mother and father and sister Lavinia. I still chuckle that the headstones of the parents are much taller than those of their daughters, since the parents are remembered chiefly because of their older daughter Emily. The following poem suggests that Emily believed that her poems would someday be published, because she asks the world in this poem not to judge her too harshly.
This Is My Letter To The World
This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,–
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!
Emily’s instructive obituary, written by Susan Gilbert Dickerson, follows:
“Very few in the village [Amherst, Ma.) except among the older inhabitants, knew Miss Emily personally, although the facts of her seclusion and her intellectual brilliancy were familiar Amherst traditions. There are many houses among all classes into which her treasures of fruit and flowers and ambrosial dishes for the sick and well were constantly sent, that will forever miss those evidences of her unselfish consideration, and mourn afresh that she screened herself from close acquaintance…. Not disappointed with the world, not an invalid until within the past two years, not from any lack of sympathy, not because she was insufficient for any mental work or social career — her endowments being so exceptional — but the “mesh of her soul,” as Browning calls the body, was too rare, and the sacred quiet of her own house proved the fit atmosphere for her worth and work. All that must be inviolate….
Her talk and her writings were like no one’s else, and although she never published a line, now and then some enthusiastic literary friend would turn love to larceny, and cause a few verses surreptitiously obtained to be printed. Thus, and through other natural ways, many saw and admired her verses…. A Damascus blade gleaming and glancing in the sun was her wit. Her swift poetic rapture was like the long glistening note of a bird one hears in the June woods at high noon, but can never see. Like a magician she caught the shadowy apparitions of her brain and tossed them in startling picturesqueness to her friends, who charmed with their simplicity and homeliness as well as profundity, fretted that she so easily made palpable the tantalizing fancies forever eluding their bungling, fettered grasp. So intimate and passionate was her love
of Nature, she seemed herself a part of the high March sky, the summer day and bird-call. Quick as the electric spark in her intuitions and analyses, she seized the kernal instantly, almost impatient of the fewest words, by which she must make her revelation. To her life was rich, and all aglow with God and immortality. With no creed, no formulate faith, hardly knowing the names of dogmas, she walked this life with the gentleness and reverence of old saints, with the firm steps of martyrs who sing while they suffer.”