Monday, June 28, 2010


From the daguerreotype taken at Mount Holyoke, December 1846 or early 1847. The only authenticated portrait of Emily Dickinson later than childhood, the original is held by the Archives and Special Collections at Amherst College courtesy Wikipedia

Today I am reading poems and biography on Emily Dickinson and have found some that I have picked like Emily's sweet nosegays. The wonderful sense of Victorian life is captured in all it's regalia, pomp and ceremony. There are many jewels in Emily's fine poems, with Emily's poems. I sense the reflective spirit of the woman who enjoyed the sublime Beauty of Nature.

Selected Poems by Emily Dickinson


Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Dickinson was a prolific poet, and very private; almost recluse. She wore white clothing mostly and went to a woman's seminary for a time. She was thought eccentric by many in her community where her family was well-entrenched.

Emily was fearful of death due to the many persons close to her that had died. Also, Emily moved to a new home opposite a cemetary which may have effected her sensibilities and created an obsession.

"Dickinson was troubled from a young age by the "deepening menace" of death, especially the deaths of those who were close to her."*

Emily preferred to correspond to her friends and often left nosegays along with her poems; a tradition of the Victorian era. Her father was a professor at Amherst College in Amherst Massassucetts. There family was quite successful and were Puritans from the Puritan Great Migration.

Although less than a dozen of nearly eighteen hundred poems of Emily Dickinson's were published in her lifetime, Emily remained a devoted writer.

The theme of death and immortality played a significant role in many of her poems.
There was a reason for this significant role of death. It was everywhere in Emily's world, and kept occurring throughout her 56 years.

A complete and mostly unaltered collection of her poetry became available for the first time in 1955 when The Poems of Emily Dickinson was published by scholar Thomas H. Johnson. Although not considered a literary master, the skeptics in her day did not realize the power and longevity of Emily Dickinson as a major American poet.

Emily's paternal grandfather, Samuel almost single-handedly began Amherst College. Emily's father was the treasurer of the College. Little Emily was taught in the classics and was proficient in music, playing the piano with much talent. She was considered an ideal child by all accounts.

Emily at only ten years old and her sister Lavinia started Amherst College. Girls had been allowed there for only two years. Emily spent seven years there taking "English and classical literature, Latin, botany, geology, history, "mental philosophy," and arithmetic.[19]"*

"When Sophia Holland, her second cousin and a close friend, grew ill from typhus and died in April, 1844, Emily was traumatized.[21] Recalling the incident two years later, Emily wrote that "it seemed to me I should die too if I could not be permitted to watch over her or even look at her face."[22] She became so melancholic that her parents sent her to stay with family in Boston to recover.[23] With her health and spirits restored, she soon returned to Amherst Academy to continue her studies.[24] During this period, she first met people who were to become lifelong friends and correspondents, such as Abiah Root, Abby Wood, Jane Humphrey, and Susan Huntington Gilbert (who later married Emily's brother Austin)."*

Although Emily did not belong to a particular religion she did go on a revival and almost became totally committed to religion. However, this was not to be as Emily felt her duties were to the home and hearth.

"The experience did not last: Dickinson never made a formal declaration of faith and attended services regularly for only a few years.[27] After her church-going ended, about 1852, she wrote a poem opening: "Some keep the Sabbath going to Church – / I keep it, staying at Home".[28]"*

"she rebelled against the evangelical fervor present at the school, she disliked the discipline-minded teachers, or she was simply homesick."*

It is hard to believe that Emily did not have a religious background or rejected one due to the Puritan roots. She certainly had read the Bible and Shakespeare and had Victoria sensibilities.

"Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre's influence cannot be measured, but when Dickinson acquired her first and only dog, a Newfoundland, she named him "Carlo" after the character St. John Rivers' dog.[41]"*

Did Emily attach so much to her dog that she foregoed a man-woman relationship? Or was her mother or father overbearing to a point where non of her gentle callers would be good enough. We may never know the truth of Emily Dickinson and her intimate relationships.

"William Shakespeare was also a potent influence in her life. Referring to his plays, she wrote to one friend "Why clasp any hand but this?" and to another, "Why is any other book needed?"[42]"*

A further understanding of Emily's aesthetic angst which wholly consumed her. I believe her intensive immersion into poetry was a result of her deepening depression due to those close to her who were dying like "flies". Remembering how rampant the diseases of the day like TB and other ailments.

"The Amherst Academy principal, Leonard Humphrey, died suddenly of "brain congestion" at age 25.[43] Two years after his death, she revealed to her friend Abiah Root the extent of her depression: "... some of my friends are gone, and some of my friends are sleeping – sleeping the churchyard sleep – the hour of evening is sad – it was once my study hour – my master has gone to rest, and the open leaf of the book, and the scholar at school alone, make the tears come, and I cannot brush them away; I would not if I could, for they are the only tribute I can pay the departed Humphrey"

A close friend, Susan Gilbert who was also a poet and sometimes nemesis soon dies as well. This also has continued wearing away at Emily's constitution, weakening her physically, constantly chipping away at Emily's resolve and desired constitutional happiness.

"During the 1850s, Emily's strongest and most affectionate relationship was with Susan Gilbert. Emily eventually sent her over three hundred letters, more than to any other correspondent, over the course of their friendship."*

Sue was an inspiration as was her husband Austin. Edward Dickinson, Emily's father had built a house for them called "Evergreen". Obviously people were very close in those days. There seemed to be something under the surface; was it jealousy? Could Emily have been jealous of Sue because she could find a man to love, but Emily could not or would not? Interesting trist going on here! It may be that Austin came into Emily and Sue's life after Emily had attached to Sue as a close friend.

"Her missives typically dealt with demands for Sue's affection and the fear of unrequited admiration, but because Sue was often aloof and disagreeable, Emily was continually hurt by what was mostly a tempestuous friendship.[45] Sue was nevertheless supportive of the poet, playing the role of "most beloved friend, influence, muse, and adviser whose editorial suggestions Dickinson sometimes followed, Susan played a primary role in Emily's creative processes."[46]*

Again, Emily's relationships never seemed to go the way she would like and it sounded as if she became a victim to ill-fated relationship, and it sounds like it was purely coincidental; or was it?

"When she was eighteen, Dickinson's family befriended a young attorney by the name of Benjamin Franklin Newton. According to a letter written by Dickinson after Newton's death, he had been "with my Father two years, before going to Worcester – in pursuing his studies, and was much in our family."*

Again, nothing much became of this relationship either. Had Emily given up or never desired a maritial relationship?

"Although their relationship was probably not romantic, Newton was a formative influence and would become the second in a series of older men (after Humphrey) that Dickinson referred to, variously, as her tutor, preceptor or master."*

Again, Emily "referred" to these older men who were more master-slave that maybe Emily could manage, but not of the marrying variety. Remember Emily was 56 when she died. She had plenty of time to find a man, but either refused to, did not find a man suitable, had love someone who had died, or was devoted to her father. I wonder what exactly was the case in Emily's relationships?

"Withdrawing more and more from the outside world, Emily began in the summer of 1858 what would be her lasting legacy. Reviewing poems she had written previously, she began making clean copies of her work, assembling carefully pieced-together manuscript books.[54] The forty fascicles she created from 1858 through 1865 eventually held nearly eight hundred poems.[54]"*

Soon there came a man into Emily's life; another long-distance correspondence relationship with a man called Higginson. Emily did open up in her letters only. Here is the proof;

"Dickinson delighted in dramatic self-characterization and mystery in her letters to Higginson.[65] She said of herself, "I am small, like the wren, and my hair is bold, like the chestnut bur, and my eyes like the sherry in the glass that the guest leaves."[66]

Again, Emily is alone. She is somehow unable to connect in any physical sense. Was this due to her position in life, being the daughter of a prominent person? Was Emily sensing she should be ephemeral only, only of a spiritual nature. Victorians seemed not to honour the physical aspect of woman as flesh. Yet there she was, working for her long term care mother who out lived her, feeding her, baking, cleaning, and in her spare time; working again (woman's work is never done) and in the quiet hours, reading and writing. Emily was a victim to her parents need for cheap labour? Maybe?

"She stressed her solitary nature, stating that her only real companions were the hills, the sundown, and her dog, Carlo. She also mentioned that whereas her mother did not "care for Thought", her father bought her books, but begged her "not to read them – because he fears they joggle the Mind."

"Dickinson valued his advice, going from calling him "Mr. Higginson" to "Dear friend" as well as signing her letters, "Your Gnome" and "Your Scholar".[68] His interest in her work certainly provided great moral support; many years later, Dickinson told Higginson that he had saved her life in 1862.[69] They corresponded until her death.[70]"*

It is fun to see how much like an almost anonymous relationship she has with Higginson who is quite a catch, just not for Emily!

"In April 1862, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a literary critic, radical abolitionist, and ex-
minister, wrote a lead piece for The Atlantic Monthly entitled, "Letter to a Young Contributor". Higginson's essay, in which he urged aspiring writers to "charge your style with life".*

This greatly appealed to Emily, the idea of publication, and the man Higginson who did provide Emily with those three important criteria; "tutor, preceptor or master"*

Here is Emily's letter to Higginson. Notice the romantic wording, almost teasing and/or flirting! Maybe that is why she did not sign the letter, but the outside envelope only.

"Thomas Wentworth Higginson in uniform; he was colonel of the First South Carolina Volunteers from 1862 to 1864.

Mr Higginson,
Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?
The Mind is so near itself – it cannot see, distinctly – and I have none to ask –
Should you think it breathed – and had you the leisure to tell me, I should feel quick gratitude
If I make the mistake – that you dared to tell me – would give me sincerer honor – toward you –
I enclose my name – asking you, if you please – Sir – to tell me what is true?
That you will not betray me – it is needless to ask – since Honor is it's [sic] own pawn –
The letter was unsigned, but she had included her name on a card and enclosed it in an envelope, along with four of her poems.[63]

He praised her work but suggested that she delay publishing until she had written longer, being unaware that she had already appeared in print. She assured him that publishing was as foreign to her "as Firmament to Fin", but also proposed that "If fame belonged to me, I could not escape her".[64]*

What a romantic poet and person is Emily Dickinson! She embodies the romantic spirit 100 percent. I also found much about Emily, her life and poetry interesting; the fact her poems are easily set to music because of the use of rhyme and free verse as well as the use of common metre or ballad-meter which uses the same alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. (such songs as O Little Town of Bethlehem and Amazing Grace are good examples of this form of ballad/song.)*

Also of interest is the fact that Emily Dickinson almost always or typically begins her poems with a definitive declaration such as "That fact that Earth is Heaven" and then consequentially in the second stanza has a metaphorical change from the original premise such as; "Whether Heaven is Heaven or not". Emily appeared to be fascinated with the philosophy of her time and was considered one of the Transcendentalists poets such as Emerson or Wordsworth, etc.* Maybe Emily was "too measuring"* to be considered a full-fledged Transcendentalist. Emily employed the use of "humor, puns, irony and satire".

Flowers were symbols or emblems of action and emotions. Emily evoked the characteristics of certain flowers for personification purposes. For example;

"She associates some flowers, like gentians and anemones, with youth and humility; others with prudence and insight.[134] Her poems were often sent to friends with accompanying letters and nosegays."*

Emily's "Master" poems are interesting as she felt the word or the personage of "Master" is Dickinson's "lover for all eternity". Maybe Jesus? Or God?

Emily's repeating death theme can be considered an unhealthy attention paid to "morbidity".*

"Emily's fascination" with illness, dying and death.crucifixion, drowning, hanging, suffocation, freezing, premature burial, shooting, stabbing and guillontinage.
"funeral in the brain"; maybe a result of a traumatically induced psychoses?

"Dickinson's "thirsting-starving persona", an outward expression of her needy self-image as small, thin and frail.[136] Dickinson's most psychologically complex poems explore the theme that the loss of hunger for life causes the death of self and place this at "the interface of murder and suicide".[136]"*

Maybe Emily was exploring parts of her personality which she had lost control or never fully developed and therefore she did not feel she could marry. Did she think herself insane or different. Most poets are sensitive to a point and maybe she understood this, and thus she became the "poet-personality".

Emily's gospel poems reflect the "poetic tradition of Christian devotion" alongside Hopkins, Eliot and Auden.[137"* Emily reflects on Christ's personality.*

Emily's Undiscovered Continent poems were fantastic; sometimes light, sometimes a heavy presence of emotion is noted.

Emily's poems during her time were not critically approved because of their "unusual" and "non-traditional style".*

"Andrew Lang, a British writer, dismissed Dickinson's work, stating that "if poetry is to exist at all, it really must have form and grammar, and must rhyme when it professes to rhyme. The wisdom of the ages and the nature of man insist on so much."*

However, Emily's work was considered favourable by William Dean Howells. Higginson, Emily's literary agent thought her work to be "that of extraordinary grasp and insight". And Maurice Thompson of The Independent thought of Emily Dickinson's poems as "a strange mixture of rare individuality and originality."*

A very scathing attack came from Thomas Bailey Aldrich, of the Alantic Monthly; "It is plain that Miss Dickinson possessed an extremely unconventional and grotesque fancy. She was deeply tinged by the mysticism of Blake, and strongly influenced by the mannerism of Emerson ... But the incoherence and formlessness of her — versicles are fatal ... an eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse in an out-of-the-way New England village (or anywhere else) cannot with impunity set at defiance the laws of gravitation and grammar".*
Maybe modern day contemporary poets ought not give up hope!

There is always history to prove whether or not a certain writers stand the test of time and true quality such as Miss Emily Dickinson protrayed so lovingly in her body of fine poetry. The twentieth century critics and historians consider Emily Dickinson work to be modern poetry and include Rather than seeing Dickinson's poetic styling as a result of lack of knowledge or skill, modern critics believed the irregularities were consciously artisticRather than seeing Dickinson's poetic styling as a result of lack of knowledge or skill, modern critics believed the irregularities were consciously artistic.[144] In a 1915 essay, Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant called the poet's inspiration "daring" and named her "one of the rarest flowers the sterner New England land ever bore".[Dickinson was suddenly referred to by various critics as a great woman poet, and a cult following began to form.[R. P. Blackmur, in an attempt to focus and clarify the major claims for and against the poet's greatness, wrote in a landmark 1937 critical essay: "... she was a private poet who wrote as indefatigably as some women cook or knit. Her gift for words and the cultural predicament of her time drove her to poetry instead of antimacassars ... She came, as Mr. Tate says, at the right time for one kind of poetry: the poetry of sophisticated, eccentric vision."[147]

Selected Poems by Emily Dickinson 1 to 1775!_Help!_Help!_Another_Day!

Poem #1 A Day! Help! Help! Another Day!

A Day! Help! Help! Another Day!
Your prayers, oh Passer by!
From such a common ball as this
Might date a Victory!
From marshallings as simple
The flags of nations swang.
Steady — my soul: What issues
Upon thine arrow hang!

Poem #1774 (cannot find Poem #1775)
Too happy Time dissolves itself

Too happy Time dissolves itself
And leaves no remnant by -
'Tis Anguish not a Feather hath
Or too much weight to fly -

Emily Dickinson; definitely worth the read (which may take awhile). :)
* Wikipedia as noted above on Emily Dickinson, etc.

My personal favourite so far;


Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Hope you enjoyed my research this day!


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