The “Belle of Amherst” is considered one the greatest poets of the 19th century. Emily Dickisinson is thought of as a surprisingly original poet from her time. Ignoring conventional writing standards, Emily used a broken meter, did not rhyme, used unique capitalization and odd dashes. Her poems were pure in nature often a mirror of everyday life. Ranging from birds, to gardens, to domestic duties, her poems were a reflection of the life that she built for herself. Unlike the flowery Romantic poems of her day, her poetry was filled with wit, sarcasm, and a striking honesty. Emily even incorporated church hymns removing their metered rhyme.
Emily Dickinson was born Dec. 10, 1930 in Amherst, Massachusetts to Emily Norcross and Edward Dickeinson. Born to a wealthy family, herself, her older brother Williams Austin (known as Austin) and younger sister Lavinia “Vinnie” were blessed with an early education in literature, mathematics and botany.
In 1847, Emily left for Mount Holyoke Female Seminary to further her education. After being gone for only a year Emily returned home to Amherst. The reason of her departure are unclear. Whether it was home sickness, health problems or her not wanting to profess her faith in Christ, we will never know. Upon moving home, she wrote her first poem.
In 1862, Emily sent in a poem to the Atlantic Monthly after seeing a request for submissions. The editor, Thomas Wentworth tried to convince her to submit to more conventional forms of writing but she refused. There is speculation that she grew to love Thomas Wentworth, however there is no proof of a relationship. She did respect him as a close friend and mentor.
The last time Emily was to leave Amherst was in between 1864-1865 when she went to visit cousins in Boston and see an eye doctor. These years of her life were especially grim because she was not allowed to read or write. Upon returning from Boston, Emily cared for her invalid mother who was restricted to the bed.
In 1874, Emily’s father died. After his death, Emily stopped leaving her house completely. She communicated with the outside world from a writing desk. Emily was very careful selecting her social circle and is known as an eccentric recluse. She busied herself with caring for her gardens, writing, baking and socializing with the few people she would allow into her circle. Love is an overwhelming theme in her poetry but it is unknown if there was one love, or just impassioned writing reflecting many different relationships in her life.
An especially close friend of hers was Susan Gilbert. Many historians have speculated that their relationship was not strictly platonic, however there is no proof in her writing. Susan later married her brother and the two lived next door fostering a close relationship with Emily. She was known to be very friendly with neighborhood children often inviting them over to play.
Emily suffered from Brights Disease and in turn had difficulties with her kidneys and chronic pain. It is speculated that her health was one reason for her keeping such a private life.
Wearing all white, restricting herself to her home and not defining a clear relationship with any one man throughout her life left Emily as a social outcast. Emily was a well educated, intelligent woman who was very strong in her beliefs.
Emily died May 15, 1886 and now lies in the West Cemetery of Amherst, Hampshire County, Massachusetts. After her death, Lavinia, found several of her poems. Although only a couple poems were published in her lifetime, over 2000 poems were discovered written on envelopes, grocery lists, and recipe cards. Most were scribbled in pencil and some were never finished.
Lavinia, with the help of Higginson and Mabel Loomis were able to compile the poems into three compilations. They were edited and punctuation was added to make them flow better and be more understood for the time. Later, in 1955 Thomas Johnson tried to adjust her poetry back to it’s original form.
Although Emily Dickinson’s poetry is often looked at as simple on the page, she brought an incredible amount of life and passion into her work. She is one of the most intriguing historical figures of our time.