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Overview of Emily Dickinson's Poetry and Life History

Updated on May 20, 2014
Well-known photo of Emily Dickinson
Well-known photo of Emily Dickinson

What I Like about Emily Dickinson

I’m not sure if I love Emily Dickinson’s writing so much because of its brilliance or because I can relate to its strange, eerie, often dark quality. The poignant, melancholy beauty of her poetry touches me to the core. Even the circumstances of her life are some to which I can relate, while the mystery of the years that she lived fascinates me.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), as pointed out in Literature, an anthology, was quite the recluse, spending much of her time alone writing poetry. While she had a love interest at some point, she never married (1013). I can relate, as I often get lost for hours working on my own poems or articles on other topics. As I crave a lot of alone time, I can be perfectly content spending days alone at home in front of my computer.


I'm Nobody! Who Are You?

Let’s look at some of Dickinson's poems:

I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Are you – Nobody – too?

Then there’s a pair of us!

Don’t tell! they’d banish us – you know!

How dreary – to be –Somebody?

How public – like a Frog –

To tell your name – the livelong June –

To an admiring Bog! (1015)


Love it! It sounds like Dickinson was perfectly content being a "nobody," away from the public eye. Also, Emily reveals her sense of humor in her phrases about the public "Frog" and "admiring Bog!"


Untitled Poem by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—

That perches in the soul—

And sings the name without the words—

And never stops—at all (774)

The Soul Selects Her Own Society

Here’s a poem that echoes my own feelings of friendship and those I allow to come into my inner circle and stay….

The Soul Selects Her Own Society

The Soul selects her own Society –

Then – shuts the Door –

To her divine Majority –

Present no more –

Unmoved – she notes the Chariots – pausing –

At her low Gate –

Unmoved – an Emperor be kneeling

Upon her Mat –

I’ve known her – from an ample nation –

Choose One –

Then – close the Valves of her attention –

Like Stone – (1015)


Source

I Heard a Fly Buzz - When I Died

And my personal favorite:

I Heard A Fly Buzz – When I Died

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –

The Stillness in the Room

Was like the Stillness in the Air –

Between the Heaves of Storm –

The Eyes around – had wrung them dry –

And breaths were gathering firm

For that last Onset – when the King

Be witnessed – in the Room –

I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away

What portion of me be

Assignable – and then it was

There interposed a Fly –

With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz –

Between the light – and me –

And then the Windows failed – and then

I could not see to see – (909-10)


The stillness of death--so still that the speaker could hear the buzz of a fly before the “windows,” or her eyes, closed. Such a neat poem. And I love her random capitalizations, prevalent in all her poetry, that draw the reader to certain words. Then there are all the dashes in her poetry, marks that break up Dickinson's thoughts into powerful and dramatic fragments.


Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson on Amazon

My Own Poem (November 1988)

I recently came across a poem I had written back in the late 1980’s. With a phrase about a fly buzzing, I wonder if this poem’s inspiration was in part from that of Emily Dickinson. I don’t profess to have a smidgen of the talent of Emily Dickinson, but I’ll share my own poem here.


Silence

The fire crackles

And pops –

The dryer whirls –

Outside a car whizzes by –

The wind whistles

And moans –

The light flickers –

Overhead a fly buzzes –

Surrounded by noise

Continuous sound –

I wonder why

The silence is so deafening.


Okay, so Dickinson didn’t have a dryer or a car, but perhaps this poem is in similar style, complete with dashes but no capitalized "Fly." I was tickled to find this little poem I had written back in my college days.


Learn More about the Life of Emily Dickinson

Explore Emily Dickinson....

If you didn’t have an appreciation of Emily Dickinson before, I hope that this article has helped to pique your interest in her work and will inspire you to read more of her work. I have merely scratched the surface here.

If you’re a writer, perhaps you’ll be further inspired by what she said to Thomas Wentworth Higginson back in 1870:

“If I read a book and it makes my body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way.

How do most people live without any thoughts. There are many people in the world (you must have noticed them in the street). How do they live. How do they get strength to put on their clothes in the morning.

When I lost the use of my Eyes it was a comfort to think there were so few real books that I could easily find some one to read me all of them.

Truth is such a rare thing it is delightful to tell it.

I find ecstasy in living – the mere sense of living is joy enough” (1018-19).


The lack of question marks is not my omission, but rather they were never there. Notice all the questions Dickinson asks without question marks as if she accepts her musings as truth—as if there could be no other way.

Explore Emily Dickinson! I find her fascinating—both in the mystery of her life and work. Only seven of her poems were published during her lifetime, with many more being put into print afterwards (1013). Perhaps that gives hope to others of us who are writers.


Work Cited for Source for Dickinson's Poems

Kennedy & Gioia, eds. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama, Seventh Edition. New York: Longman, 1999. Print.

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    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 2 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Thanks for reading and commenting, teresapelka!

    • teresapelka profile image

      Teresa Pelka 2 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      If you refer to Emily Dickinson's skill for own writing, I hope you could find this hub useful

      https://hubpages.com/literature/Emily-Dickinson-an...

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 3 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      thewritingowl--That's interesting about the Aspergers theory. I think you could very well be right! It makes sense. I, too, need to read more about her personal life. Interesting. Thanks for your input!

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 3 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      I love her, too, CC, obviously. Since I was a little girl. I always connected to her style. I wonder what that says about me? LOL

    • thewritingowl profile image

      Mary Kelly Godley 3 years ago from Ireland

      I studied her poetry at school long ago and always loved it. Her depth and her imagery really struck a chord with me. It has been suggested at times that today she would have been considered to have Aspergers i.e. She was certainly extremely immersed in her area of interest i.e. her poetry. SHe was also very insighful and thought about her poetry very deeply as us Aspies tend to do. She would also have had a fanatical attention to detail which it appears she did. Also if she did have an autistic brain then she would have been seeing very clear images in her head about everything she wrote about in her poems and that would certainly have contributed to the intricate details she often includes. Also like many Aspergers people she seems to have had one great love in her life and when that didn't work out she could never love again and chose to remain single. A fascianting lady definitely and I must read some more about her.

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Sageleaf 3 years ago from Western NC

      So timely - I mean, me seeing this hub again. Some students of mine were reading Emily Dickinson poems the other day and I just LOVE her kind of writing. Just love it.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Cool, KrisL! Thanks for the link!

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      StephanieBCrosby--I agree. So many people have found fame after their deaths. Thanks for your input!

    • KrisL profile image

      KrisL 4 years ago from S. Florida

      A nice introduction to Dickenson . . . and here's a bonus for your hub -- a video-poem of "I Heard a Fly Buzz" http://movingpoems.com/2009/02/i-heard-a-fly-buzz/ (it's also on Vimeo).

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      FlourishAnyway--You're welcome. I love her, too! :-)

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Misfit Chick--I agree. I was always saddened by her life, but she always fascinated me.

    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 4 years ago from New Jersey

      I have always found Dickinson interesting and fascinating. To have such a catalog of work but not the recognition deserved must have been so frustrating.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      I forgot how much I liked her. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Misfit Chick profile image

      Catherine Mostly 4 years ago from Seattle, WA - USA - The WORLD

      Yet, such a sad and lonely life... I was always struck by that, even as a teenager learning about her.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      CC, yes, our Emily D is brilliant! She was amazingly creative in her poetry. :-)

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      kelleyward--Glad you share the love for Miss Emily. I adore her stuff!

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Emily Dickinson's words are so...ordinarily extraordinary. She juxtaposes words you wouldn't think about putting together. Brilliant - all of it. :)

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      kelleyward 4 years ago

      Love this. Thanks for reminding me of one of my favorite poets. Voted up and shared. Kelley

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      IntegrityYes--I love Dickinson, so thanks!

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      IntegrityYes 5 years ago

      That is so nice. I voted up,Victoria! Yes!

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Thanks, Chelsea. I always love finding a fellow Emily D fan. Thanks for your comments!

    • Chelsea Vogel profile image

      Chelsea Vogel 5 years ago from Bradenton Florida

      Emily Dickinson fascinates me, I'm always finding ways to tie the female empowerment of her poetry into my american lit papers. I couldn't agree more with your statement about the relatability of her poems as I'm a lover of solitude as well.Really enjoyed the hub!

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Thanks, Dana. A woman after my own heart!

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      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      This is a nice intro to Emily Dickinson's work. I love the nobody poem and its playfulness. Its one of my favorites. I crave alone time. If I don't get it I go absolutely batty!

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Thanks for reading this, AA Zavala, and for mentioning your hub. I read it and loved it. So glad you stopped by!

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 5 years ago from Texas

      Emily is my all time favorite poet. I wrote a hub about her ride with death in "Because I could not not wait for Death, he kindly waited for me," my all time favorite. Thank you for sharing...

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Thanks, onlooker. Sometimes I feel like nobody, too, but perhaps that isn't such a bad thing. Thanks for reading!

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      onlooker 5 years ago

      Are you nobody too? how personal she makes her poems become, it is awesome. Emily Dickinson, is truly worth remembering this month, thank you!

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Here's an older hub that I would like to share in honor of National Poetry Month since Emily Dickinson is one of my favorite poets!

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      I'm glad to hear that, instantlyfamily. It's always nice to find another Emily D fan. Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • instantlyfamily profile image

      instantlyfamily 5 years ago

      Love it! This is such a unique and interesting Hub. Emily Dickinson is one of my absolute favorites. Thanks for sharing.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Wow, you're so insightful, Nellieanna! And educated on these ladies. So talented, too. I'm glad saddlerider led me to you!

      snakeslane--I'm glad you found this hub, too. I'm really pleased to know that there are others who love her as I do. Yeah, and the compliment you received--awesome!

    • snakeslane profile image

      snakeslane 5 years ago from Canada

      I am so glad I found your hub on Emily Dickinson Victoria Lynn, thank you, very entertaining and I've always loved her too since a girl in school. I remember once in a writing class a fellow student compared my writing to a fly buzzing in a room, enough said.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 5 years ago from TEXAS

      Victoria - Thank you for the lovely fan mail and follow. We're practically neighbors - I'm in North Texas! And we share a love of Emily Dickinson's work!

      I didn't intimately 'meet' Emily Dickinson till I'd been writing poetry profusely for most of my first 40 years and some good friends compared both my poetry and my life at the time to hers. I was surprised so I investigated and found it was so. Since then I consider she is and was my muse even before I knew it!

      Someone here mentioned a comparison of her with Jane Austen (1775-1817), whom I love too. If I may add a little - they were similar in being ahead of their times as literary women. But Jane Austen actively pursued it as a career during her lifetime, though she wrote only 6 novels, all published & now revered classics. By contrast, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) produced work which was almost totally private and unseen during her lifetime and which emerged posthumously very gradually to mixed reviews for quite awhile, comprising a prolific amount of poetry and letters which are now accepted as honored representative American literature.

      Both writers defied the prevalent rules, - both by being women, spinsters and in their quite original writing styles. Innovative prose styles were possibly more easily accepted, though, than innovative poetry styles. Jane's style was freer than usual prose, but its literary form was fairly familiar. Emily's style and form were both quite different from the established poetic forms in many ways. But, then, she wasn't really writing with a thought to being published, after all.

      Emily surely knew of Jane Austen, being very well educated and aware. She was familiar with the Brontes and many other literary figures.

      But there was a generation separating them, and Austen was British, while Dickinson was American. So there are differences and similarities. It's not like comparing apples and oranges, but maybe like apples and pears or oranges and tangerines. :-) I love them both - and it seems others here do too! Nice!

      I love your 'Silence' poem.

      And thaks to our mutual friend, Saddlerider! Hugs, Ken!

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      I'll check her out, saddlerider. A fan of Emily D--I love her already!

    • saddlerider1 profile image

      saddlerider1 5 years ago

      Let me please refer you to one of my favorite female poets at the Hubs, and dare I say there are many, however this beautiful lady is Emily reincarnated. Emily is also her muse, enjoy her as much as I do please, she is a wonderful person and loved by many. Nellieanna Hay.

      http://hubpages.com/@nellieanna

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Greetings as well, MAKUSR. Glad I made you a follower of us both!

      Silent Reed...I really like how you write, even in comments! I love that quote, too, even though I wonder why it makes her cold. It IS paradoxical. Yes, Emily definitely appear hesitant. I'm glad her poetry caught your attention. Thanks for your compliment on mine!

    • SilentReed profile image

      SilentReed 5 years ago from Philippines

      "If I read a book and it makes my body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that is poetry". It is so paradoxical that I am intrigue by this quote.The fact that Emily Dickinson never married although as you mention she may have had an affair. She appears hesitant....unsure and content to remain in the safety of anonymity. I must confess my ignorance of her poetry but the buzzing fly have caught my attention and I must explore further her poetry. Your poem "silence" may have been inspired by Dickinson but it certainly stands on it's own and it was a delight to read. Thank you for sharing it.

    • makusr profile image

      Manoj Kumar Srivastava 5 years ago from India

      Victoria Lynn,

      Greetings from MAKUSR. This hub about Emily has made me a follower of Emily as well as you. Thanks for sharing.

      Lots of Love,

      MAKUSR

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Epi--to be mentioned in the same sentence as Emily Dickinson is complimentary enough. :-) Yes, check out some of her work. Very interesting, complicated at times. Thanks for posting and linking--very cool of you!!

      Astra, you like her, too--awesome! I'll have to check out your writing--and those dashes. I'm so glad you enjoyed the hub. Thanks so much!

    • Astra Nomik profile image

      Cathy Nerujen 5 years ago from Edge of Reality and Known Space

      I am a major Emily Dickinson poetry fan all my poetic life and I use dashes in my poetry just like her... she is my fave poet. I loved this hub. Great writing and poetry from you too. Thank you. :)

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 5 years ago

      ...not as familiar with Emily Dickinson as I am with that other fine poet Victoria Lynn - but this was a first class hub all of the way and you have turned me onto her writing (style) so allow me to post this to my Facebook page with a direct link back here so perhaps more people can share this labor of love with you.

      lake erie time ontario canada 6:52pm

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      I like Donne, too. And wasn't there a Dylan around that time. It's been a while...the name may be escaping me. Thanks for the comments!

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      newday98033 5 years ago

      She is my favorite, for obvious reasons. Donne is another in this line.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Oh, prairieprincess, I'm glad to find another fan of Dickinson! If you think of the name of that book, let me know! Thanks for reading and commenting!

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      Sharilee Swaity 5 years ago from Canada

      She is my favourite poet, by far. So nice to see another fan of hers! I read a book about a love affair she had with a judge. It was supposed to have been based on her life, with the writer taking liberty with the actual conversations, etc. I wish I could remember the name of the book but I don't recall it.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Jane Austen? I don't know as much about her as I do Dickinson, but I love her novels. Thanks for commenting, JT!

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      JT Walters 5 years ago from Florida

      Dickenson and Austim had a lot in common didn't they?

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      I'm glad you liked the poetry, Vinaya. I have always been fascinated by Emily Dickinson. Glad you came by!

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      Vinaya Ghimire 5 years ago from Nepal

      Though I have not read much from Emily Dickinson, I loved the poetry selection and your interpretation.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      That's cool that your choir sings her stuff, Flora. I think she's amazing. Thanks for commenting!

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 5 years ago

      I've read quite a bit of Dickinson poetry in class and on my own. My choir has actually sung songs set to her poems.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image
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      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      jami--thanks so much. Emily Dickinson--her life and poetry--fascinates me. I'm glad you enjoy her too--and the hub!

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      jami l. pereira 5 years ago

      Im an Emily fan too , Great Hub , thanks for sharing , voted up ,awesome and beautiful because it IS , thanks :)