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The Enigma of Emily Dickinson

Updated on March 14, 2012

Ascetic, eccentric, recluse was what many said of Emily Dickinson the elusive waif of literary genius. A misanthrope melancholy master of prose, Emily Dickinson lived in the world of paradox never seeing the outcome of her own masterpieces. A staggering 1800 or more poems were born from her burgeoned soul and only 9 were published in her lifetime.

Her childhood was a whirlwind of academic achievement engrossed in classical literature and piano. Yet in the thin air of her academia Emily’s dark shadows of fear and isolation were ever drawing closer. Like the thick fog from the ocean’s unrest the bright ship of her personality began to sink but her heart was often buoyed by her ardent faith and the many unusual friends that came along side.

Whether the fear of her own death or those around her, the young Dickinson began to retreat into her own pathos creating an elaborate network of long distant relationships. Her varied passions ranged from botany accumulating a prolific collection of flowers and a affinity for music. Yet in sharp contrast to the panoramic color that framed her life the dark tide of personal tragedy set in consistently taking those that were dear.

If there was one friend that may have been able to pull Emily from the riptide of her self imposed isolation it was the young attorney Benjamin Newton. He became the keyhole into a different reality for Emily exposing her to modern poetry and literature. For a moment it seems her prison saw an escape and much of what she became as a writer blossomed during this time - but again tragedy intervened. Newton, like her cousin before him, was stuck down. The first by Typhus the other by Tuberculosis which drove Emily into the dangerous rocks of depression again. She withdrew until she was nearly impossible to reach.

When the warm arms of spring may have rescued her tragedy struck again stealing another mentor and friend the principal at Amherst Academy where she had attended. Brain congestion was the trespasser now making any relationship for Emily almost criminal. Salvation seemed to come 5 years later by the name of Charles Wadsworth who was a well known minister at the Arch Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. For the next 30 years Wadsworth would prove to be a great ally to Emily giving her some semblance of happiness and peace.

At the age of 52 after caring for her habitually ill mother most of her adult life Emily said goodbye to them both as the ship of death sailed again. Emily Dickinson, like a silent sentinel stood at the threshold of life and death so many times; recluse must have seemed to be her only resort.

Friends were fleeting over the next few years as distant voices urged her to write. One such freind was a abolitionist and ex-minister who wrote for The Atlantic Monthly. Seeing the sparks of brilliance in the letters he received urged him to continue to correspond with her until the end. Like grey ships in the night others came in and out of Emily’s life and faded into the past by death or her own entreated isolation.

Seemingly unable to escape the prison of her melancholy, visitors to the family home would only glimpse a apparition in a white dress. Shakespeare, Longfellow and a myriad of letters and books became her mute companions as the austere Dickinson retreated even further. From this evanescent place of exile the student became a master as she honed her words into her magnum opus as hundreds of poems were wrought. Emily Dickinson was the ghost that wandered the winding dark halls of poetry inspiring and mystifying everyone that presumed to know her.

Only 4 years after losing her close friend and mother, Emily prophesied in a letter, “a great darkness coming”, soon after death claimed her favorite cousin. It was debatable what it was that ailed Emily and caused her swift decline in the budding spring of 1886. After another personal trauma she was left bedridden and unresponsive. One could sadly conclude that the delicate Emily Dickinson died of a broken heart.

The fragile creature who relished every private moment in her flower gardens amidst fragrance and butterfly could not bear another burden so great. Her white coffin garnered in vanilla, orchids and violets carried through a field of buttercups laid the poet to rest.

She had finally; stubbornly found her peace in the place she feared the most - in death.

"Because I could not stop for Death—
He kindly stopped for me—
The Carriage held but just Ourselves—
And Immortality..." Emily


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    • Chad A Taylor profile imageAUTHOR

      Chad Taylor 

      4 years ago from Somewhere in Seattle...


    • Barbara Kenton profile image

      Barbara Kenton 

      6 years ago

      You have captured the essence of Emily, Thank you so much for writing it. I felt my heart swirl with emotion as I read this.

    • Iris Woytowich profile image

      Iris Woytowich 

      6 years ago

      This is so good and descriptive of her on all levels, talent, humanity and spirituality... reading this made me soar and sigh for her at the same time. What a flower in heaven's gardens... thank you.

    • Sarah Writes profile image

      Sarah Writes 

      7 years ago from California

      This is the best Bio of Dickenson’s I have come across. Great job, interesting Hub.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This was a beautiful hub about a great poet. So sad that she never lived to see how much she has touched others with her writings. It seems the greatest of poets who excel at their craft spend their lives walking through the fire of tragedy in order to come out with such powerful work. What a great story.

    • mythbuster profile image


      8 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      This is a beautiful biography here. I enjoyed this very much, Mr. Taylor. This is the first hub of yours I've read but I will be browsing others. Thanks for these wonderful, respectful words on Dickenson.

    • Chad A Taylor profile imageAUTHOR

      Chad Taylor 

      8 years ago from Somewhere in Seattle...

      Thank you!

    • Lynda Gary profile image

      Lynda Gary 

      8 years ago

      Bravo! Fantastic.

    • mwatkins profile image


      8 years ago from Portland, Oregon & Vancouver BC

      I am a huge fan of Emily Dickinson poems and books and was excited to see your Hub! Thank you for sharing! Although I read of her the things I loved the most, I isolated myself from the (more) sad parts of her life. Your Hub is beautiful and well written and your insight is compassionate. Thank you!

    • suziecat7 profile image


      8 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Excellent Hub.

    • Dao Hoa profile image

      Dao Hoa 

      8 years ago

      A well written Emily Dickenson's biography. I love her poems.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Beautifully expressed and well written! I enjoyed reading and learning about the life of Miss Dickenson. A soul imprisoned within her "self."

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      There is much to learn from Miss Emily. She is one of my favorite poets, and definitely my favorite female of the lot. She stands tall with the other American giants in her field, and she knew she was an important poet, though not in her day. I often think of Emily tip-toeing in her slippers, careful not to make a sound, and leaving that to the strength and beauty of her poems. She was definitely NOT a recreational poet. Glad you did a hub on her.

    • motricio profile image

      Mauricio Rodriguez 

      8 years ago from Bogota DC, Colombia

      Excelent hub.

      Your absolutly correct, Emily died of a broken heart.

      "But in sadness we can see our happy times, because is in the darkness in which we can see our inner ligths."

      Ancient Egyptians Duality's Principle.

    • Cheeky Girl profile image

      Cassandra Mantis 

      8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

      Emily is one of my all time favourite poets! She was 100% Unique! Great appreciation for someone who can do a great Hub on Miss E! They say T. S. Elliott was the first poet of modern times who broke the mould and made non-rhyming poetry a standard, but Emily stopped rhyming her poetry before she died, and the results are very original. She beat him to it.

    • starme77 profile image


      8 years ago

      Nice Hubb, interesting, and something I didn't know about, learning something new is always nice to do and when the hubb is well written so I can actually read all the way to the bottom and not be bored, I like those kind the best!

    • donna bamford profile image

      donna bamford 

      8 years ago from Canada

      Read this one too. Beautiful. Now I must go to bed I could read on and on and on. Congratulations on a wonderful and valuable hub.

    • Beata Stasak profile image

      Beata Stasak 

      8 years ago from Western Australia

      Beatifully written, I have learnt so much about Emily. Thank you for visiting my hub and becoming my fan. I am very honoured. All the best from Beata

    • Jess Killmenow profile image

      Jess Killmenow 

      8 years ago from Nowheresville, Eastern United States

      Hers is an amazing talent and a story to ponder. Thank you

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      Very interesting hub on Emily Dickenson.

    • Chad A Taylor profile imageAUTHOR

      Chad Taylor 

      8 years ago from Somewhere in Seattle...

      thank you!

    • profile image

      philip carey 61 

      8 years ago

      She's one of my favorite poets. I really didn't know much about her life until I read this. Interesting stuff.

    • Chad A Taylor profile imageAUTHOR

      Chad Taylor 

      8 years ago from Somewhere in Seattle...

      I love your comments A.M. and you are so true. She was "before her time" indeed. She was true to her passion and did not compromise - thank you for exploring this further!

    • profile image

      A.M. Gwynn 

      8 years ago

      Love the chosen style of your writing Emily here.

      I appreciate the descriptive uses in this bio.

      Although she is considered one of the Classics, perhaps one of the greatest American poets, many don't prefer her straightforward lines, or her florid use of death.

      She certainly did attempt to assuage this great pain with the volume she created. I think... she could have only been a posthumous poet.

      She did have several opportunities to have her poems published in her lifetime, but according to sources of her biographies, they claim she disliked not only the politics of the literature scene of her day, but was not satisfied with their offers.

      She would have been livid with the politics of literature today!

      Very nice article.

    • BriannaMStafford profile image


      8 years ago from Sunny California

      I love the style of biography. Too often biographies are boring and factual. You have found a good balance between learning of her life and writing it as if she inspired individual words.

      She is one of my favorites. Most definitely.

    • Chad A Taylor profile imageAUTHOR

      Chad Taylor 

      8 years ago from Somewhere in Seattle...

      Denizee, it makes you wonder how much she could have enjoyed her life if she enjoyed her later success once she was gone...

    • Chad A Taylor profile imageAUTHOR

      Chad Taylor 

      8 years ago from Somewhere in Seattle...

      Zenani, thanks for the input it means allot!

    • profile image


      8 years ago


      Beautifully written. I had to read Emily's work in school for literature and you have captured her essence so well. My tough literature teacher, Ms Robertson, would have given you an 'A' no doubt:)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I've never read her bio, and this write is done in such a fashion that it is heartwrenching to read, the life of someone so talented fought to survive her life path - touching many with her poetry. Thank you for sharing.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      Good hub, even though I'm not a big fan of hers. One of my best pals, a fellow teacher, loves her!


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