Emily Dickinson (Dec. 10, 1830 - May 15, 1886) is probably best known for being a recluse, having made a conscious choice to withdraw from the world. Despite isolating herself, she had several close friendships and continued to read and write letters. The locals thought she was eccentric, and you all know how I feel about eccentrics! Dickinson wrote almost 1,800 poems during her 55 years, but only a handful were published while she was alive.
Dickinson's poems feature short lines and slant rhyme, have a Christian hymn feel to them, and focus on such themes as death, flowers, religion, and love. One of Dickinson's biggest influences was the Reverend Charles Wadsworth, a married man with whom she corresponded. Many believe she loved him and that many of her poems are about him.
Here are a few of my favorite Dickinson poems, taken from The Works of Emily Dickinson as published by The Wordsworth Poetry Library. (The cover image included in this post is the copy I purchased in August 1995, and I'm surprised it's still in good condition, considering all the dog-eared pages, post-it notes, and highlighting.)
I have no life but this,
To lead it here;
Nor any death, but lest
Dispelled from there;
Nor tie to earths to come,
Nor action new,
Except through this extent,
The realm of you (page 63)
Love is anterior to life
Posterior to death,
Initial of creation, and
The exponent of breath. (page 61)
Heart, we will forget him!And finally, the poem on which I gave an oral presentation in college, which many believe is about her unrequited love for Wadsworth and includes symbols of death and withdrawal:
You and I, tonight!
You may forget the warmth he gave,
I will forget the light.
When you have done, pray tell me,
That I my thoughts may dim;
Haste! lest while you're lagging,
I may remember him! (page 74)
The soul selects her own society,No matter how many times I flip through my collection of Dickinson poems, I always find something new, and my understanding and enjoyment of her work grows with each passing year. Like Dickinson during her lifetime, I myself have written numerous poems that I have not yet shown the world. I haven't written a poem in years; I always say the words stopped coming when I got married, had a child, and found myself happy for a change!
Then shuts the door;
On her divine majority
Obtrude no more.
Unmoved, she notes the chariot's pausing
At her low gate;
Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling
Upon her mat.
I've known her from an ample nation
Then close the valves of her attention
Like stone. (pages 7-8)
How do you feel about Dickinson's poems? Do you have a favorite? Feel free to broaden the discussion and tell me whose poetry you like best and which poems move you the most.
April is National Poetry Month -- Follow Savvy Verse & Wit's National Poetry Month Blog Tour! Thank you, Serena, for inviting me to participate!
Disclosure: I purchased my copy of The Works of Emily Dickinson. I am an Amazon affiliate. Please note that the link brings you to an updated version of the book. It has the same ISBN as my copy.
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