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Who is God to Emily Dickinson?

Updated on May 27, 2011

Emily Dickinson was raised in an era of struggles, between modern science and technology and conservative Christian customs. On one hand, she clung to the ideologies she’d grown up with, but on the other hand, she could not deny the exact evidence, and concrete proof the contrary scientific principles had. She is known for her odd choice of lifestyle, staying isolated from society in the solitude of her Homestead house. According to Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief, Emily Dickinson rejected the common opinion that religious poetry was only tolerated when in praise of God. Throughout her hidden career as a poet, she continuously questioned this. She often describes the adversity and anguish caused by Him, and confronts His contradictory ways.

“To lose one’s faith--surpass” expresses her inclination to embrace her faith, placing her religious standards above any materialistic desires. While other works countered that, and expressed a fury towards a distracted God. “Of Course--I prayed-- And did God care? He cared as much as on the Air” Emily gradually halted going to Church services, writing, "Some keep the Sabbath going to church / I keep it staying at home” Raised in a strict Calvinist household, Dickinson’s childhood revolved around the Church. In her later life, though, her devotion to God had weakened significantly. “I feel that the world holds a predominant place in my affections. I do not feel that I could give up all for Christ, were I called to die” conveys her desire to please God, but also to be her own independent person.

In the analytical essay, Religious Influences on Emily Dickinson: Puritanism and Transcendentalism in Her Poetry, Jennifer Gage Edison examines how transcendentalism, the evolution of conventional religion, influences Dickinson’s writing. Edison claims Dickinson’s religious troubles led to her realization of “self-worth”. She holds that this strong conflict of Puritanism and Transcendentalism in Emily Dickinson's poetry is what allowed her to become one of the greatest and most influential American poets of the nineteenth century.” Dickinson’s refusal to conform to her father’s beliefs contributed to how she secluded herself from society. “She opposed the idea of a higher power, God, as influencing her every move and thus governing her thoughts and beliefs toward her life.” Without this conflict, she would never have been able to address such issues in her poems with varying viewpoints.

Religion made Dickinson strong, according to Sumangali Morhall in The Spirituality of Emily Dickinson. “One by one her friends received an inner calling and were ‘saved’...members of her close-knit family followed suit, including her strong-willed father, and finally her brother, Austin, perhaps her closest ally.” Regardless of this “unthinkable social pressure”, Dickinson managed to stay grounded in what she believed, though she did trust God. “She did not claim to fully understand Him, or even to have perennial faith in all His Ways—her poetry bears a continuing strain of doubt—but she certainly did not fear Him.” Her unique relationship with God bolstered her poems with a distinct assertiveness.

The troubles Emily faced continues to plague many in society today. Nowadays, there is no way to reject the clearly proven scientific views, but the religious conservatives of the world are conflicted with other events that strongly oppose their beliefs. A major controversy emerged after victims of the Holocaust began to speak out about their heart-wrenching stories. Even the most mild of religious people could not help but feel torn. How could their beloved God tolerate such evils? Many children raised in traditional households are conflicted when teen-hood introduces forbidden alcoholism, partying and profanity. These lost, and wandering hearts grapple with this every day; not only will they find a connection in Dickinson’s poems, they will also find a friend.

Works Cited

"Dickinson, #657." FGCU Instructional Technology & Broadcast Services . Web. 19 May 2011. <>.

"The Spirituality Of Emily Dickinson — Poet Seers." Poet Seers - Poem of the Day — Poet Seers . Web. 19 May 2011. <>.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


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    • profile image

      Omar 3 years ago

      From what i read she is an outspoken critic of faith and social conformism.

    • ravenblueu profile image

      ravenblueu 6 years ago from Somewhere Tropical

      I didn't know her until I read your article. Thanks for introducing her, I might check out one of her poems and see.

    • LisaMarie724 profile image

      Lisa Stover 6 years ago from Pittsburgh PA

      Intersting figure in history.