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Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Biographical Information

Main Works

Featured Works: The Poetry of Emily Dickinson


Selected Quotations


Biographical Information

  • Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (1830-1886), American poet, known as "the New England mystic"; innovator in the use of poetic language, forms, and rhythms; author of approximately 1,789 poems, most published posthumously

  • Born December 10, 1830 in Amherst, MA; her grandfather was founder of Amherst College; her father was treasurer of the college and U.S. Congressman; both of her parents were cold, distant, severe people

  • attended Amherst Academy, spent one year (1847-1848) at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley; she resisted Christian indoctrination and returned to the family home in Amherst

  • 1855, visits to Washington and Philadelphia while her father was in Congress; met and was befriended by Rev. Charles Wadsworth, an orthodox Calvinist preacher

  • correspondence with Wadsworth; also corresponded with Samuel Bowles, editor of the Springfield Republican; Bowles criticized her poetry but, eventually, a few of her poems were published in his paper

  • frustrated love for a man she called "Master" (maybe Bowles or Wadsworth) in drafts of her letters

  • 1862, began correspondence with Thomas Wentworth Higginson who showed interest in her poetry but advised her not to publish it; after that she resisted any attempts at the publication of her work

  • she wrote little until the early 1860's; then wrote prolifically for the rest of her life (around 1,789 poems); the years of the Civil War were her most productive period (800 poems); collected her poems in hand-sewn booklets; experimented with language, syntax, and rhythm; conciseness of language

  • influence of writers and ideas of the Romantic period like the Transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Emily Brontë (author of the novel Wuthering Heights, 1847); her work shows Romantic ideals and desires mixed with struggles of religious belief and influence of New England Puritanism

  • 1864 - 1865 treated for eye trouble in Boston

  • after the late 1860's she never left the family home in Amherst, going no further than her garden gate; by 1870 dressed only in white and refused to see most visitors; Higginson described her as "a little plain woman" with a "soft frightened breathless childlike voice"

  • Dickinson died May 15, 1886 of Bright's disease, a kidney condition

  • only a few of her poems were published during her lifetime; she requested that all of her work be burned upon her death but her sister Lavinia turned it over to be published

  • the bulk of her poetry was published posthumously, beginning with Poems by Emily Dickinson (1890) edited by Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd

  • the first complete collection of Dickinson's poetry, edited by Thomas H. Johnson, was not published until 1955

Main Works

  • Poems by Emily Dickinson (1890), edited by Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd

  • Poems: Second Series (1891)

  • Poems: Third Series (1896)

  • Letters of Emily Dickinson (1894)

  • The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Including Variant Readings Critically Compared with All Known Manuscripts (1955), edited by Thomas H. Johnson


  • Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), American Romantic philosopher, poet, and leader of the Transcendentalist movement. Author of essays Nature (1936) and Self-Reliance (1841)

  • Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), American poet, Romantic / Transcendentalist philosopher, and social critic; author of Walden (1854) and Civil Disobedience (1849) -- defining doctrine of peaceful resistance against government injustices; opponent of slavery and of the U.S. war against Mexico (1846-1848)

  • Walt Whitman (1819-1892), American Romantic/Transcendentalist poet, author of Leaves of Grass (1855)

  • Charles Darwin's Origin of Species (1859). The publication of this book prompted much unrest within religious communities because many believed that the theory of natural selection went directly against creation beliefs. Although Dickinson's family followed orthodox Christian belief, she was influenced by Darwin's ideas.

  • American Civil War (1861-1865). During this time of national unrest the Southern states were divided from the Northern states on economic and social issues including, but not limited to, the problem of slavery. Although Dickinson did not write poems specifically about the Civil War, she felt its influence, as her neighbors in Amherst fought and died in the battles; this was her most productive period.
  • Emancipation Proclamation (1863) and 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1865), abolishing slavery in America.
  • Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911), Unitarian minister, anti-slavery activist, took part in the Civil War as colonel of the First South Carolina Volunteers, a regiment in the Union Army constituted by escaped African-American slaves. Higginson was a contributor to the The Atlantic Monthly and corresponded with Emily Dickinson, advising her to improve the rhythm and rhyme of her poems. Dickinson did not follow Higginson's advice and gave up attempts to publish her poetry.

  • Samuel Bowles (1826-1878), editor of the Springfield Republican, a liberal/independent newspaper in Springfield, Massachusetts that supported anti-slavery causes. Bowles was a friend and correspondent of Emily Dickinson and may have been the object of a romantic passion on her part (perhaps the "Master" referred to in some of her letters). Bowles published some of her poems, including "Safe in their Alabaster Chambers" (March 1, 1862).

Selected Quotations

  • to come


Page last updated: 06/04/2009


Dr. Fajardo-Acosta is grateful to Dr. Gina Merys for her research assistance in the drafting of previous versions of this page



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