Spotlight Poet, Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson was born on December 10, 1830 in Amherst Massachusetts. She was a very quite little girl and had very few friends that understood her, she was dark and melancholy and just preferred to be alone most of the time. She attended a female seminary in South Hadley, Massachusetts but only for one year. She spent a majority of her life alone and with hardly anyone to talk to, but those in which she did not encounter were who influenced her poetry the most. Although she did have one friend or more than friends one would maybe say, was Reverend Charles Wadsworth. Shortly after meeting one another Charles left for the West Coast leaving Dickinson alone and heartbroken, even though there is no proof that the two were romantically involved, it is still said that most of Dickinson’s work was based upon the love she had for the Reverend.

By 1860 Emily Dickinson was living in almost complete isolation with her father, her brother and and younger sister, the siblings were very close to each other as if almost being “partners in crime”. Dickinson’s poetry was excessively influenced by seventeenth-century poets and her upbringing in a Puritan New England small town, this greatly encouraged an orthodox and conservative approach to Christianity. Her all time favorite poets included John Keats and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, both poets were very similar to Dickinson in how they wrote and what they particularly wrote about. Their style of writing was Gothic, a little depressing and dark, I think this is how she was able to create her own form and style because of her great obsession with two of the greatest poets from that time era.

Most writers obviously write about what they are most interested in and what fascinated her the most, she was a great observer using aspects of nature, religion, law, medicine and themes used worldwide: death immortality, and love. Like the soul of her description, Dickinson refused to be confined by the elements expected of her. The demands of her father’s, her mother’s, and her dear friends’ religion invariably prompted such “moments of escape.” During the period of the 1850 revival in Amherst, Dickinson reported her own assessment of the circumstances. Far from using the language of “renewal” associated with revivalist vocabulary, she described a landscape of desolation darkened by an affliction of the spirit. In her “rebellion” letter to Humphrey, she wrote, “How lonely this world is growing, something so desolate creeps over the spirit and we don’t know it’s name, and it won’t go away, either Heaven is seeming greater, or Earth a great deal more small, or God is more “Our Father,” and we feel our need increased. Christ is calling everyone here, all my companions have answered, even my darling Vinnie believes she loves, and trusts him, and I am standing alone in rebellion, and growing very careless. Abby, Mary, Jane, and farthest of all my Vinnie have been seeking, and they all believe they have found; I can’t tell you what they have found, but they think it is something precious. I wonder if it is?”

From 1858-1865 Dickinson’s personal life underwent a tremendous change. In late 1855, Dickinson moved, somewhat reluctantly, with her family back to her birthplace next door to her brother Austin and his wife Susan Gilbert. In addition to providing close proximity to her brother and his family, the renovated home offered Dickinson several other advantages. Edward Dickinson (father) added a conservatory to the Homestead, where Emily could raise climate-sensitive plants. Now she could engage in her beloved hobby of gardening year-round. And Dickinson had her own bedroom, the southwest corner room on the second floor, a space essential to her writing. By the time Dickinson turned 35, she had composed more than 1100 concise, powerful lyrics that examine pain, grief, joy, love, nature, and art. She recorded about 800 of these poems in small handmade booklet. Dickinson did share a portion of her poems with family and selected friends whose literary taste she admired. Susan Dickinson received more than 250 poems throughout the two women’s forty-year relationship, and to, who authored an article in an 1862 issue of the Atlantic Monthly that encouraged young people to write and publish, Dickinson sent about 100 poems. Although a few of her poems were published in newspapers, they were printed anonymously and apparently without her consent but the majority of her work remained known only to the author herself. Some events in Dickinson’s life during her intense writing period are difficult to re-construct. Drafts of three letters, now called the “Master Letters,” survive from late 1858 and early 1861. They suggest a serious and troubled (though unidentified) romantic attachment that some scholars believe drove Dickinson’s creative output. During this time Dickinson also referred to a trauma that she described in a letter: “I had a terror — since September — I could tell to none”. The source of this terror is unknown but at the time it was alleged that Emily did have trouble with her eyesight and it was no secret her visual aspects were starting to fall a bit down hill.

Significant friendships such as those with Samuel Bowles, Rev. Edward Dwight, and Rev. Charles Wadsworth changed during this time, and Dickinson began to feel an increasing need for an instructor or “teacher” to cope with her outpouring of verse and with questions about publications. In 1864 and 1865, Dickinson underwent treatments for a painful eye condition, now thought to be iritis with a Boston ophthalmologist.While under the doctor’s care she boarded with her cousins, Frances and Louisa Norcross. Those trips were to be her last out of Amherst; after her return in 1865, she rarely ventured beyond the grounds of her home.

Her poetry remained virtually unpublished until after she died on May 15, 1886. After her death, her poems and life story were brought to the attention of the wider world through the competing efforts of family members and intimates.

Dickinson, Emily, and Frances Schoonmaker. Emily Dickinson. New York: Sterling Pub. ; Distributed in Great Britain and Europe by Cassell PLC Villiers House ; Distributed in Australia by Capricorn Link Pty, 1994. Print.