Emily Dickinson – A Biography of a Recluse and Enigmatic Writer

Emily Dickinson was regarded as one of America’s greatest poets. She was well known for her unusual life of self-imposed social seclusion.

Emily Dickinson

Although she lived a life of seclusion, she wrote powerful poetry which questioned transcendent topics like the nature of life, immortality, death and the individual.

Early Life of Emily Dickinson

Dickinson was born on December 10, 1830, in Amherst, Massachusetts. She attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, but only for one year. Throughout her life, she seldom left her home and had fewer visitors with each passing year.

However, the people that she met during her life had great contributions to her poetry, particularly Reverend Charles Wadsworth, whom she first met on a trip to Philadelphia. 

Emily Dickinson

He left for the West Coast shortly after a visit to her home in 1860, and some critics believe his departure gave rise to the heartsick flow of verse from Dickinson in the years that followed.

The nature of their relationship is uncertain, but she regarded him as her ‘closest earthly friend.’ There are other possibilities for the unrequited love that was the subject of many of Dickinson’s poems include Otis P. Lord, a Massachusetts Supreme Court judge, and Samuel Bowles, editor of the Springfield Republican.

Emily Dickinson Life

By the 1860s, Dickinson lived in almost complete isolation from the outside world. But she maintained correspondences and read widely. She spent a great deal of this time with her family.

Her father was actively involved in state and national politics, serving in Congress for one term. Dickinson’s younger sister, Lavinia, also lived at home for her entire life in similar isolation.

Work and Career of Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson’s poetry was heavily influenced by the Metaphysical poets of seventeenth-century England, as well as her reading of the Book of Revelation and her upbringing in a Puritan New England town, which encouraged a Calvinist, orthodox, and conservative approach to Christianity.

Emily Dickinson

She admired the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and John Keats as well. She was discouraged from reading Walt Whitman, who was her contemporary because of the rumors of its disgracefulness.

Emily Dickinson Works

Although Dickinson was extremely prolific and regarded as a solid intellectual and regularly enclosed poems in letters to friends, she was not publicly recognized during her lifetime.

Emily Dickinson

The first volume of her work was published posthumously in 1890 and the last in 1955. She died in Amherst in 1886.

Emily Dickinson Poems

Upon her death, Dickinson’s family discovered forty handbound volumes of nearly 1,800 poems, or “fascicles” as they are sometimes called. Dickinson assembled these booklets by folding and sewing five or six sheets of stationery paper and copying what seem to be final versions of poems.

Emily Dickinson
An excerpt from ‘Because I could not stop for death’.

The original order of the poems was not restored until 1981, when Ralph W. Franklin used the physical evidence of the paper itself to restore her intended order, relying on smudge marks, needle punctures, and other clues to reassemble the packets.

Since then, many critics have argued that there is a thematic unity in these small collections, rather than their order being simply chronological or convenient. (Belknap Press, 1981) is the only volume that keeps the order intact.

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