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Emily Dickinson

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Emily Dickinson made a large influence on poetry, she is known as one of

America's most famous poets. She was also considered to be an obsessively private writer. With close to two thousand different poems and one thousand of her letters to her friends that survived her death Emily Dickinson showed that she was a truly dedicated writer. Out of her two thousand poems only seven were published during her lifetime. (1)

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born in the quiet community of Amherst, Massachusetts on December 10, 1830 to a prominent family, her father Edward Dickinson, an orthodox Calvinist, was both a lawyer and the Treasurer of Amherst College. He also served in Congress. Emily's mother was Emily Norcross Dickinson. Throughout Emily's life, her mother was not "emotionally accessible," the absence of which might have caused some of Emily's eccentricity. Her family was known for educational and political activity. The family included three children, an older brother, William Austin and a little sister, Lavinia. Being rooted in the puritanical Massachusetts of the 1800's, the Dickinson children were raised in the Christian tradition, and they were expected to take up their father's religious beliefs and values without argument. Emily was born in, and died in, a house called the Homestead, built by her grandfather Samuel Fowler Dickinson in 1813. This house was sold out of the family, however, in 1833, and not re-purchased by Edward Dickinson till 1855; so most of the poet's younger years were lived in other houses. (5)

Emily was educated at the Amherst Academy, the institute that her grandfather helped found. She continued education there from 1834-1847. She also spent a year at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, but had left because she did not like the religious environment. During the 1847-1848 year at the Seminary she studied under Mary Lyons. Dickinson acquired limited notoriety as the one student unwilling to publicly confess faith in Christ. Designated a person with "no hope" of salvation, she keenly felt her isolation, writing her friend Abiah Root in 1848, "I am not happy, and I regret that last term, when that golden opportunity was mine, that I did not give up and become a Christian."For a woman of this time, this much education was very rare. (4)

Around 1850 Dickinson started to write poems, first in fairly conventional style, but after ten years of practice she began to give room for experiments. Her poetry reflects her loneliness and the speakers of her poems generally live in a state of want; but her poems are also marked by the intimate recollection of inspirational moments which are decidedly life-giving and suggest the possibility of future happiness. Her work was heavily influenced by the Metaphysical poets of seventeenth-century England, as well as by her Puritan upbringing and the Book of Revelation. (1)

Emily Dickinson was a very mysterious person. As she got older she became more and more reclusive too the point that by her thirties, she would not leave her house and would withdraw from visitors. Emily was known to give fruit and treats to children by lowering them out her window in a basket with a rope to avoid actually seeing them face to face. She developed a reputation as a myth, because she was almost never seen and when people did catch a glimpse of her she was always wearing white. Although she lived a secluded life, her letters reveal knowledge of the writings of John Keats, John Ruskin, and Sir Thomas Browne. Dickinson's emotional life remains mysterious, despite much speculation about a possible disappointed love affair. Emily never got married but is thought to have had a relationship with Reverend Charles Wadsworth who she met in the spring of 1854 in Philadelphia. He was a famous preacher and was married. Many scholars believe that he was the subject of her love poems. Emily probably only saw Wadsworth an additional three times after their first encounter which was only done by him going to Amherst, where she lived. In 1861 Wadsworth moved to San Francisco. It is after this time that Emily really started to produce hundreds of poems. Emily Dickinson submitted very few poems to publishers. She felt that her poetry was not good enough to be read by everyone. Seven of her poems were published during her life time either by her friends who submitted them to a publisher without her consent or Emily Anonymously. (7)

In 1862 she told a friend "If fame belonged to me I could not escape

her...My Barefoot-Rank is better." It is also thought that Emily Dickinson had a passionate relationship with Susan Gilbert. Emily wrote three times more poems to Susan then to any one else. They became very close friends; they shared many similar interests and desires. Emily became very affectionate toward Susan and trusted her completely. Their relationship went sour when Susan became engaged to Austin Dickinson, Emily's brother. They were later married and had three children. For two years Emily and Susan's friendship ended completely. When Austin and Susan moved next door their relationship started over and Emily began to write love letters to Susan again. Feminist scholars who have examined Emily Dickinson's letters and poems to Susan from a lesbian viewpoint think that her letters and poems to Susan move beyond a romantic friendship to a blatantly passionate relationship. No one knows how Susan responded to Emily's love letters and poems. When Emily died all of her letters from Susan were destroyed. (5)

Dickinson took profound pleasure in her reading, her gardening, her friendships, and her share in nurturing Austin's and Sue's three children. She also devoted herself, as did her sister, to long-term care of their invalid mother. Her life was marked increasingly by deaths within the family (her father in 1874, her mother in 1882, and her eight-year-old nephew in 1883) and in her circle of friends. Samuel Bowles died in 1878, Josiah Holland in 1881, Charles Wadsworth in 1882, Otis Phillips Lord in 1884, and Helen Hunt Jackson in 1885. She felt bereaved by deaths of favorite authors also, including Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1861), George Eliot (1880), and Ralph Waldo Emerson (1882). Grief confronted her repeatedly with religious doubts she had coped with earlier in poems exploring her "Flood subject" of immortality though Dickinson's late writings, especially letters, suggest an increasingly hopeful sense of her relationship with God. She suffered from kidney disease, perhaps associated with hypertension, for several years before she died. (6)

Most recent scholarship has abandoned the search for Dickinson's



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