"The half cracked daughter of squire Dickinson"

By: Chantelle Rideout


     I chose Emily Dickinson, one of the greatest poets of the 1800's. Her life story is very interesting, because she was much different than any other poet I have heard about before. I chose her because I like her poetry, and I wanted to find out more about why she chose to live they way she did. Emily Dickinson was a unique person and definitely a poet worth knowing.

    Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born on December 10th, 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts. There are many books of her poems, but they were all published after her death. Only 7 of her 1,775 poems were published while she was alive. The most famous books are: The three volumes of her poems published by her sister Lavina, 1945's Bolts Of Melody, by her niece Martha Dickinson Bianchi, Poems by Emily Dickinson (1890) edited by T.W Higgins and Mabel Loomis Todd .They  organized all of her poems, standardized the grammar, and gave the poems all titles. They grouped them into classes of; Friends, Nature, Love, and Death. Another famous book is The Complete Poems Of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas Johnson. He published Emily's poems the way she originally wrote them. He later selected 576 of her greatest poems and made another book called Final Harvest. Her audience appears to be adults, although very few people ever read her poems in her lifetime. She died May 15th, 1886, after spending a year confined to her bed because of the terminal illness Bright's Disease.

    Emily's father Edward Dickinson was very dominating and demanding. Emily wrote after he died ;"his heart was pure and terrible I think no other like it exists". He was a lawyer and treasurer for the Amherst College. He also served on the General Court of Massachusetts, The Massachusetts State Senate, and The United States House of Representatives. Because of this, Emily had a very good education. She attended Amherst Academy, and then South Hadley Female Seminary. She only stayed at the seminary for a year, before returning home to begin her life of isolation.  She had a younger sister Lavinia, and an older brother Austin. He followed in his fathers footsteps and became a lawyer. He married Emily's best friend, Susan Huntington Gilbert, making her Dickinson's sister in law. Austin and Susan lived next door and grew to be very close to Dickinson. Austin had a love affair with Mabel Loomis Todd until he died, and she later helped to publish Emily's poems.  When Emily was in her early twenties she began to write seriously. She started to dress all in white and seclude herself almost completely from the outside world. The townspeople gave her names like: "The Woman in White", "The half cracked daughter of squire Dickinson", "The Eccentric Recluse". After that, she only left her hometown 4 or 5 times, mostly due to eye problems. On those rare occasions she met Reverend Charles Wadsworth and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, men who were two of the very few people she allowed herself to be friends with. She refused to see almost everyone else who came to visit. She spent most of her life in her room writing poems. She never married, and her love life is still a mystery. Many think there was a love affair that ended badly between her and either Reverend Charles Wadsworth, or an editor named Samuel Bowles. Samuel Bowles published 5 of the 7 poems that were published in her lifetime in the Springfield Republican. Those two men inspired a lot of her poetry.

    Many think the reason Emily was so peculiar was because her mother was so emotionally distant throughout her life. Her poetry reflects a lot of pain, and she did have a lot of pain in her life. She admired poets such as Elisabeth Barren Browning and Helen Hunt Jackson. She loved to read poetry, and was inspired, but not influenced by the writers of her time. The first ten years of her writing was pretty much the same, but after the war she began to try some new things. She wrote a lot of hymns and talked a lot about death, pain, faith and immorality. She challenged the religious viewpoints of her family. She wrote poems on the back of old recipes and grocery lists. In 1858, she started to copy her poems in ink kept them in little packets bound by thread. that she made herself. In 1862 Emily wrote poems to Higginson who was amazed by her original work, but told her not to publish them. She didn't publish them, but started to write poems to her few friends instead. Most of them found them morbid and didn't like her new obsession with death. Only few people appreciated her work while she was alive. Most of her very emotional work came out during and after the war. During that period she wrote 800 poems. Also during that time a lot of her friends were far away or sick. The last years of her life were spent grieving. Her father died in 1874, Samuel Bowles in 1878, Charles Wadsworth and her mother both dies in 1882, and her nephew died in 1883. Many of her closest friendships were now gone and she began to be even more obsessed with death. In 1884 her poetry began to come to a stop because of her illness.

    The book published most recently of Emily Dickinson's work was Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson's Intimate Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson in 1998. Emily did not receive any awards for her work, because her work was not published while she was living, but the P.S.A. (Poetry Society of America) made an award in her honor. The Emily Dickinson Award is an award given by the P.S.A. to honor the memory and poetry of Emily Dickinson for a poem inspired by her.

    I really like Emily's poems. Her poems are said to give comfort to people with mental problems. She has influenced poetry today a lot. Her poetry has inspired a lot of people. She had a different style than other poets of her day, and was not easily influenced. The thing that stands out to me most is how she can communicate and express herself so well, and yet rhyme and fit the words together at the same time. She got her references from the Bible, myths and Shakespeare. She uses many figures of speech, a lot of metaphors, similes and imagery. Some lines such as "soundless as dots on a disk of snow" are very hard to make sense of, and critics find them very interesting. Some say certain lines of hers are not meant to make sense linguistically. Her imagery reflects pain, and the many things she went through in her life. She appeals to the senses a lot. Her allusions  are of violent things, and she expresses pain in many of her poems. Her language is effective, but sometimes hard to understand. Her messages are not always about pain, she also writes about her friends, love, possible love affairs, and hope.

Emily Dickinson was a very original and unique person who was not recognized in her day, but her name is very famous now. The way she chose to live was different than we choose to live, but it just makes her and her work more interesting. Some of the scholars who studied the life of Emily Dickinson said they thought "Emily could not write about the world with out first backing away from the it and contemplating it from a distance." Her life story is intriguing, and parts of her life as "the woman in white" are still a mystery. Reading her poetry is one way people try to solve it. She was more than an "eccentric recluse", she was smart and talented, and because she chose to take a risk and be different, she has become one of America's greatest poets.

Pain has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there were
A day when it was not.

It has no future but itself,
Its infinite realms contain
Its past, enlightened to perceive
New periods of pain

I chose this poem because it is an example of how Emily chose to write about pain or death in many of her poems. It's an interesting way to look at pain that I never thought about before. She talks about pain like a spirit, always there and never goes away. She makes it sound like it doesn't just happen, it's out to get you. Its also an example about how she expresses herself so well, and yet rhymes and makes the words flow together perfectly.

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