Emily Dickinson

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Creative Quotations from Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born Dec. 10, 1830, in Amherst, Mass., into a  severely religious, puritanical family that had lived in New  England for eight generations. She was educated at Amherst  Academy and at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, South  Hadley, Mass. A high-spirited and active young woman,  Dickinson later withdrew from society; virtually her only contact  with her friends was through her whimsical and epigrammatic  letters. The traditional reason given for her reclusive life-that  she suffered a romantic disappointment-is debated by  modern scholars.

Throughout the remainder of her life Dickinson wrote poetry of a profoundly original  nature. The first contemporary literary figure to become aware of her existence as a poet  was clergyman and author Thomas Higginson. Although Higginson recognized her  genius and became her lifelong correspondent and literary mentor, he advised her not to  publish her work because of its violation of contemporary literary convention. Her other  literary friend, the novelist Helen Jackson (1830-85), however, tried unsuccessfully to  persuade her to publish a collection of her poetry. After Dickinson's death, nearly 2000  poems, many only fragments, were found among her papers. From this mass of material  Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd (1856?-1932) edited the first published selection of  her work, Poems (1890), which enjoyed great popular success. Todd never spoke to  Dickinson, but glimpsed her once through a doorway.

Recent research suggests the influence on her poetry of two among the several men and  women important in her life: Charles Wadsworth (1814-82), a Philadelphia clergyman,  and Otis P. Lord (1812-84), her father's friend.

Dickinson most frequently wrote her poems, compressed into brief stanza forms, in a  few different combinations of iambic tetrameter and trimeter lines (see VERSIFICATION).  She employed simple rhyme schemes and varied the effects of these schemes by  partial rhyming (for example, "tune" with "pain"), a device common among many poets of  the following century. Her language is simple, but her complex syntax draws a rich variety  of connotations from many common words. Her imagery and metaphors derive both  from an acute observation of nature and from an imagination often as playful in thought  and witty in expression as that of the English metaphysical poets of the 17th century.  Earlier editings eliminated Dickinson's characteristic use of dashes that serve to convey  the rhythm and power of her thought.

 The combination of universal themes, expressed with vivid personal feeling, and her use  of familiar verse forms gives Dickinson's lyrics a mystical directness somewhat  comparable to that found in the work of the English poet William Blake. In addition to the  1890 selection, her published works include Poems: Second Series (1891), Poems:  Third Series (1896), and The Single Hound (1914). A complete edition of her poetry,  restoring the original punctuation and typographic style, was published in 1960. A  three-volume edition of her letters appeared in 1958. Dickinson died May 15, 1886.

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