Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886) was a prolific American poet whose poems weren’t published during her lifetime. She grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts where she gained notoriety among her townspeople as an eccentric recluse. As a child, she studied at Amherst Academy along with her sister Lavinia and brother Austin, and grew up in a somewhat Puritan milieu.

During the Civil War Dickinson developed her identity as a poet. Between the late 1850’s and the early 1860’s, she moved back in with her family where she spent time with her close friend Susan Huntington Gilbert and her brother whom Susan married. Emily built her own conservatory on the Homestead where she gardened and wrote.

Emily, Austin, and Lavinia Dickinson as children
Emily, Austin, and Lavinia Dickinson as children


Dickinson was haunted by a “deepening menace” of death from a young age and was traumatized by the death of her loved ones. She describes this effecting her as “The Crisis of the sorrow of so many years is all that tires me”. Religion provided solace and the theme of loss inspired her writing. She did not produce work to publish, make money or gain fame; she cared only to share her thoughts and writings with those close to her. Most of Dickinson’s poetry was private, although she wrote around 250 for her sister-in-law Susan and sent 100 to the Atlantic Monthly which featured poems by young people.

After living in Cambridge, MA for a short time to receive an eye treatment, Emily moved back to her homestead permanately where she began writing manuscripts. Despite living a rather secluded life, her poetry reveals a deep understanding of love, loneliness, the natural world, and human nature in all its glory and sadness. Dickinson was inspired academically by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Reverend Charles Wadsworth, John Keats and Walt Whitman.

After her death in 1886, around 1,800 poems were discovered by her younger sister Lavinia, a lifelong companion of Emily’s who lived a similar lifestyle. The poems were edited and published to fit the conventional rules of the era. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that Dickinson was given her due as a great poet. Today, it’s hard to argue that she is also one of the most beloved.

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