Emily DIckinson

Jennifer McNeely

Emily Dickinson, recognized as one of the greatest American poets of the nineteenth century, was born December 10, 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts (Benfey, 1). Dickinson?s greatness and accomplishments were not always recognized. In her time, women were not recognized as serious writers and her talents were often ignored. Only seven of her 1800 poems were ever published. Dickinson?s life was relatively simple, but behind the scenes she worked as a creative and talented poet. Her work was influenced by poets of the seventeenth century in England, and by her puritan upbringing. Dickinson was an obsessively private writer. Dickinson withdrew herself from the social contract around the age of thirty and devoted herself, in secret, to writing. She never married, finding in her poetry, reading, gardening, and close friendships, a rich and fulfilling life.

Emily grew up with a privileged childhood. She was the eldest daughter of Edward Dickinson, a successful lawyer, member of congress, and for many years treasurer of Amherst College. Her father gave here the time, and literary education, as well as confidence to try her hand at free verse. Emily?s mother, Emily Norcross Dickinson, was a submissive, timid housewife dedicated to her husband, children, and household chores. The Dickinson?s only son, William Austin, also a lawyer, succeeded his father as treasurer of the college. Their youngest child, Lavina, was the chief housekeeper and, like her sister, Emily, remained a home, unmarried, all her life. A sixth member who was added to the family in 1856 was Susan Gilbert, a schoolmate of Emily?s, who married Austin and moved into the house next door the Dickinson home which they called Homestead. Emily and Susan were very close friends and confidantes, until Susan and Austin?s marriage. It was at this time that Susan stopped responding to the notes and poems that were often exchanged between the two ( ). Emily?s letters to Susan have contained lines that have proved to be controversial when interpreted.

?Susie, will you indeed come home next Saturday, and be my own again, and kiss me like you used to??- Emily Dickinson

Some historians describe Emily?s letters to Susan Gilbert as representative of the writing style during the Victorian era. Others, including Dickinson?s biographer Rebecca Patterson, saw the letters as evidence of Emily?s homosexuality (Sullivan, 1). It is not known when Dickinson began to write poetry or what happened to the poems of her early youth. Only five poems can be dated prior to 1858, the year in which she began gathering her work into hand- written copies bound loosely with thread to make small packets called ?????. She sent these fives early poems to friends in letters or as valentines. One of them was published anonymously without her permission in the Springfield Republican in 1852 ( ). This was the first time any of Emily?s writings were published. After 1858, she apparently convinced herself that she had a genuine talent, because now, the packets were carefully stored in an ebony box probably awaiting discovery by future readers or publishers. Perhaps Emily knew that her writing was too far advanced for her time and that her accomplishments would be recognized and given the recognition that they deserved in the future.

Publication remained a considerable conflict throughout her writing. A publisher for her writing was never easily arranged. She befriended Samuel Bowles, the editor of the Republican and for four years sent him poems and letters for publication. Because Bowles did not comprehend Dickinson?s poems only two were published, and even those were published anonymously. Both poems were heavily edited and given titles that she had not given or was not aware of. Only five other poems were published in her lifetime, each altered by editors.

In 1862 Dickinson turned to the literary critic Thomas Wentworth Higginson for advice about her poems. She had known him only through his essays in the Atlantic Monthly, but in time he became, in her words, her ?safest friend?. She began her first letter to him by asking ?Are you too deeply occupied to say if my verse is alive?? Six years later a letter to him said ?You were not aware that you saved my life.? ( ). They did not meet until 1870 after she urged him continuously, and only once more after that. Higginson told his wife after their first meeting, ?I was never with anyone who drained my