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Overview of Emily Dickinson's Poetry and Life History

Updated on January 23, 2020
Victoria Lynn profile image

Victoria Lynn has enjoyed writing poetry since she was a kid. This poem explores the close relationship she has always had with her mom.

Emily Dickinson: One of my Favorite Poets

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

This is just a part of a complete poem. This excerpt is often seen as a quotation by itself.

“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)


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.

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.


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.

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.

© 2011 Victoria Lynn


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