Friday, April 2, 2010

National Poetry Month Blog Tour: Emily Dickinson

When Serena asked me to take part in the National Poetry Month Blog Tour, I knew right away I wanted to talk about Emily Dickinson, who has been my favorite poet for as long as I can remember.  Dickinson lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, a beautiful, upscale town that Serena and I visited once several years ago.  Unfortunately, our visit was during our college days and involved a party -- not the Emily Dickinson Museum.  (We'll get there someday, I hope!)

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.

When I think about why I love Dickinson's work, I want to say simply that she speaks to me in a way that no other poet has.  I know that's not very eloquent, but I'm not really good at analyzing poems.  There are some poems that when I read them, I don't see the hidden meanings or completely understand the symbolism.  With Dickinson, I might not be able to find the right words to explain what her poems mean to me, but I "get" them.  I feel the longing and the desperation, and during my youth when I was depressed and channeling that depression into my poetry, Dickinson felt like a kindred spirit.  Some of her poems are playful and warm, and they all show an understanding of the world that one wouldn't expect from someone who never strayed far from home.

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!
    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)
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:
The soul selects her own society,
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
Choose one;
Then close the valves of her attention
Like stone.  (pages 7-8)
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!

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.

© 2010, Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not copy or reproduce content without permission.


Serena said...

Very thorough post about Emily Dickinson. I wonder if there is anyone out there who doesn't enjoy her poems?!

"I could not stop for death" is one of my favorite poems.

Darlene said...

What a fantastic post Anna! I'm the same I don't get the ins and outs of poetry - I can't say anything impressive - but I do like to read some of it and enjoy it. I like how you say her poetry speaks to you. That's all that really matters.

Ana S. said...

A lovely post, Anna. I'm determined to discover Emily Dickinson this year for the Clover, Bee and Reverie poetry challenge.

bermudaonion said...

I've avoided poetry since my college days since I generally don't get it either. I enjoyed the poems you selected, though. Your post is just wonderful.

Staci said...

"Heart we will forget him" is a favorite of mine. In fact, I've written it down and posted it on my desk. I picked up her book of poems in a library sale and you've inspired me to drag it out and look at it closely this month!

Iliana said...

Great post Anna! I really enjoy Emily Dickinson's poetry. I have an anthology of her poems and need to check it out some more. Oh and what wonderful serendipity because I have a Dickinson poem on my blog right now too :)

Carrie K. said...

I have a kind of love/hate relationship with Dickinson - I love a very small few of her poems, and pretty much hate the rest. LOL Great post!

The Bookworm said...

Emily Dickinson is one of my favorites as well. Great post! I didnt know that much about her.
I agree, there is a beautiful sense of longing to her poems.
'I have no life but this' is a favorite of mine as are 'If you were coming in the fall' and 'Heart, we will forget him!'.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Wonderful post! I like the simpler poems, though, because I'm a bit obtuse about poetry. So my favorite Dickinson is (appropriately enough) "There Is No Frigate Like a Book."

Suko said...

I am not good at understanding poetry, but like you, I do "get" Emily Dickinson's work, at least at some level.

Here's a short poem by Emily Dickinson:

A word is dead
When it is said
Some say.

I say it just
Begins to live
That day.

Hannah Stoneham said...

I love Emily Dickenson - thank you for sharing such an interesting post


Lenore Appelhans said...

Of course you may always link to my reviews - thanks :)

christina said...

I absolutely adore Dickinson. Last year I introduced her to my students and they became intrigued by her life. I think the isolation by the cemetery always gets them!

Funny thing, though. When I was little, I used to confuse Charles Dickens & Emily Dickinson. Not what they wrote or their role in literature, but I would always get their names intermixed: Charles Dickinson and Emily Dickens. :)

Sullivan McPig said...

I love Emily Dickinson's poetry! She had such a rich imagination, you can actually see the poem happen when you read it.
I also love a lot of the poetry Oscar wilde wrote, with 'The Dole of the King's daughter' as my absolute favourite.
And my all time favourite poet is a dutch poet: J.C. Bloem, he was a master in writing melancholic poetry.

Ginny said...

It's so lovely to read such a high quality of post in the blogosphere, thanks very much. I wish you all the best.

Care said...

yea poems! woo hoo!!

Book Publishers said...

Inspiring, wonderful poetry from Emily Dickinson. Just perfect to read with my coffee on the easter weekend. Thank you.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Good stuff, babe. I've got this posted at Win a Book for you.

Unknown said...

It's amazing that she secluded herself and still wrote so many wonderful poems.

Thanks for the great post!

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

This is a great post. I would like to enjoy poetry more than I have, and I have never really read any Emily Dickinson. It's kind of scandalous that I wen to school in the town where her huse is at, but I never visited. Bad girl!

Esme said...

Happy Easter

Valerie said...

I have been appreciating Emily Dickinson a lot more since DailyLit (no affilation) has been sending me an Emily Dickinson poem a day in my e-mailbox. I just posted one of her poems last week on my blog!

With the poems you have here, I love the lines

"Heart, we will forget him!
You and I, tonight!
You may forget the warmth he gave,
I will forget the light."

The way I see it, that is such an eloquent way of saying "I'm trying to forget you, but can't just yet".

Lisa Roe said...

I don't know a lot about poetry (which is why I'm interviewing Serena for my blog post!), so I loved reading your journey to and through poetry! Very beautifully said. :-)

Amy said...

Like you, I'm not sure I could always explain Dickinson's poems, but I do feel like I "get" them. I'm particularly fond of the "I'm Nobody, who are you?" poem.

Anonymous said...

Very nice post. I enjoy poetry but also feel the need to read it aloud, which kind of limits how often I read poems.

Jeanne said...

Wild Nights is my favorite Dickinson ever since I was at the U of MD for grad school and saw a copy of the fascicle with the handwriting looking kind of like ocean waves.

bookmagic said...

I love Emily Dickinson!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Thanks for spotlighting Emily Dickinson ... I've never been to the museum in Amherst either (one day!)

Tea said...

I think Emily Dickinson was a very complex woman. I think her poetry is beautiful and not for the faint of heart. I always love her poetry because there always seems to be some idea missed by me.

I love the one about death and the buzzing of a fly. I seem to like all of her death poems.

Toni said...

Anna ...this was a great post. I enjoyed it. I love Emily Dickinson. I am not overly familiar but studied her a bit her and there in college. I like some of the more humorous ones, but also "get" some of the more seemingly dark missives too. Outstanding job!

Anna said...

Serena: I'm sure there's someone out there...a lone straggler. LOL I enjoy that poem, too. It was hard to choose just a few to include in this post.

Darlene: Thanks!

Nymeth: I hope you get a chance to read her poetry. I'd love to know what you think.

bermudaonion: Thanks! I read more poetry back in college. But I do enjoy learning about new poets.

Staci: I hope you get a chance to look at the book before National Poetry Month ends. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Iliana: I saw that! I guess great minds think alike. LOL

Carrie: I'm curious which ones you do like. I can't say I like every one of her poems, but I think it's very few that I don't like.

Naida: Thanks for sharing! I like those others you mentioned, too.

rhapsodyinbooks: I should have included that one! My bad.

Suko: Thanks for sharing! I love how she says so much in so few words.

Hannah: Thanks for stopping by!

Lenore: Thanks!

Christina: I'm not much of a Dickens fan, so there's not much chance of me confusing them. LOL

Sullivan McPig: Thanks for stopping by! I'll have to check out Wilde and Bloem.

Ginny/Book Publishers: Thanks!

Care: :)

Susan: Thanks, hon!

Janel: Her story has always fascinated me. Thanks for stopping by.

Nicole: I would've loved to go to school in that area! I hope you read some Dickinson soon.

Esme: Thanks! Hope you had a wonderful Easter yourself.

Valerie: That's how I see it, too. I'll have to check out the DailyLit e-mails. Thanks for stopping by!

OnlinePublicist: I'm looking forward to your interview with Serena!

Amy: That's another good one! You can see why I had so much trouble choosing only a few. Thanks for stopping by!

carolsnotebook: It is best read aloud...but I'd just start reading aloud in the living room and the family would just have to deal with it. LOL

Jeanne: Oh, I'd love to see that. I enjoy that poem as well.

bookmagic: I'm glad to hear that, of course. :)

Dawn: It would be great to plan a book blogger trip. That would be so much fun!

Tea: I totally agree. I'm drawn to the death poems as well, especially "I could not stop for death."

Toni: Thanks so much!

Becca said...

I am a fan of Dickinson. The first poem I ever read of hers was the famous "Hope is the thing with feathers..." It is still a favorite of mine, but I also like "I could not stop for death..." and "I sing to use the waiting..."

Anonymous said...

Great post Anna, loved it!

Emily Dickinson is one of my favorites too, I especially love her poem "If I could stop" which was the first poem our English teacher read to us and it stayed with me since then.

Anna said...

Rebecca: I don't even remember my first Dickinson poem. It's as if I've always loved her. LOL

estrella05azul: Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad to see so many people who enjoy Dickinson's work.