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Emily Dickinson Profile

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The Poet and the Murderer - Simon Worrall

Dutton/Plume

(1830-1886) American writer. Emily Dickinson was not well-known during her lifetime, as she lived in seclusion in Amherst, Massachusetts. Dickinson wrote 1,775 poems, according to Thomas H. Johnson, but she only gave titles to 24 of her poems. Very few of her poems were published while Dickinson was alive, although a number of her poems were sent to friends and family member in her letters.

When Dickinson died in 1886, her sister, Lavinia, discovered the fascicles of her 900 poems in a dresser drawer, which has been interpreted as Dickinson's way of "publishing" her works. Drawing from this vast collection of unpublished works, Mrs. Mabel Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson heavily edited and reworked the poems before publishing them. They didn't understand or recognize Dickinson's revolutionary style, so they attempted to "fix" the poems. As Higginson explained in his preface: "Yet she wrote verses in great abundance; and though brought curiously indifferent to all conventional rules, had yet a rigorous literary standard of her own, and often altered a word many times to suit an ear which had its own tenacious fastidiousness."

Emily Dickinson Birth:

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts on December 10, 1830. She was the second child of Edward and Emily Norcross Dickinson. Her family was prominent in Amherst. Her father was a lawyer, and her grandfather was one of the founders of Amherst College.

Emily Dickinson Death:

Death is a theme or thread that runs through Emily Dickinson's poetry. She writes: "Death is a dialogue between / The spirit and the dust..." In another poem, she writes, "Because I could not stop for Death, / He kindly stopped for me..."

Death was a traumatic force in her life, particularly toward the end, as she lost her father, nephew, mother, and others. On June 14, 1884, she suffered from an attack. On May 15, 1886, she died.

Emily Dickinson Marriage:

Emily Dickinson never married, though her poetry is often filled with passion and intensity. Some critics believe that some of her love poems were directed toward Reverend Charles Wadsworth.

Emily Dickinson Education:

Emily Dickinson attended Amherst Academy, and then left home to attend Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, in South Hadly. Her misery and homesickness were too much to endure, however. Here studies at the seminary only lasted one year.

Dickinson returned home to her own personal reading, writing, and living in isolation.

Emily Dickinson Achievements:

Emily Dickinson contributed a great deal to the world of literature, far beyond what her early editors considered unconventional lines. With her contemporary, Walt Whitman, she helped to usher in a new age of poetry, with her revolutionary way with words. Her isolation, in that "room of her own" gave her more than just time to right and reflect. Dickinson had a unique perspective on life, death, love, nature, and friendship. She didn't need titles. Her lines spoke volumes.

Emily Dickinson Lines About Insanity and Madness:

"Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
'Tis the majority
In this, as all, prevails
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,--you're straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain."

Emily Dickinson Lines About Death:

"Because I could not stop for Death--
He kindly stopped for me--
The Carriage held but just Ourselves--
And Immortality."

Emily Dickinson Lines About Life:

"If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Into his nest again,
I shall not live in vain."

Emily Dickinson - Life as a Recluse:

In the "Preface" to Dickinson's poems, Thomas Wentworth Higginson explained: "A recluse by temperament and habit, literally spending years without setting her foot beyond the doorstep, and many more years during which her walks were strictly limited to her father's grounds, she habitually concealed her mind, like her person, from all but a very few friends; and it was with great difficulty that she was persuaded to print, during her lifetime, three or four poems."
 

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