Emily Dickinson, The American poet & BiographyNovember 7, 2022
Emily Dickinson, in full Emily Elizabeth Dickinson, (born December 10, 1830, Amherst, Massachusetts, U.S.—died May 15, 1886, Amherst),
American lyric poet who lived in seclusion and commanded a singular brilliance of style and integrity of vision. With Walt Whitman, Dickinson is widely considered to be one of the two leading 19th-century American poets.
Only 10 of Emily Dickinson’s nearly 1,800 poems are known to have been published in her lifetime. Devoted to private pursuits, she sent hundreds of poems to friends and correspondents while apparently keeping the greater number to herself.
She habitually worked in verse forms suggestive of hymns and ballads, with lines of three or four stresses. Her unusual off-rhymes have been seen as both experimental and influenced by the 18th-century hymnist Isaac Watts.
She freely ignored the usual rules of versification and even of grammar, and in the intellectual content of her work she likewise proved exceptionally bold and original. Her verse is distinguished by its epigrammatic compression, haunting personal voice, enigmatic brilliance, and lack of high polish.
The second of three children, Dickinson grew up in moderate privilege and with strong local and religious attachments. For her first nine years she resided in a mansion built by her paternal grandfather, Samuel Fowler Dickinson, who had helped found Amherst Collegebut then went bankrupt shortly before her birth.
Her father, Edward Dickinson, was a forceful and prosperous Whig lawyer who served as treasurer of the college and was elected to one term in Congress. Her mother, Emily Norcross Dickinson, from the leading family in nearby Monson, was an introverted wife and hardworking housekeeper; her lettersseem equally inexpressive and quirky.
Both parents were loving but austere, and Emily became closely attached to her brother, Austin, and sister, Lavinia. Never marrying, the two sisters remained at home, and when their brother married, he and his wife established their own household next door.
The highly distinct and even eccentric personalities developed by the three siblings seem to have mandated strict limits to their intimacy. “If we had come up for the first time from two wells,” Emily once said of Lavinia, “her astonishment would not be greater at some things I say.” Only after the poet’s death did Lavinia and Austin realize how dedicated she was to her art.
As a girl, Emily was seen as frail by her parents and others and was often kept home from school. She attended the coeducational Amherst Academy, where she was recognized by teachers and students alike for her prodigious abilities in composition.
She also excelled in other subjects emphasized by the school, most notably Latin and the sciences. A class in botany inspired her to assemble an herbarium containing a large number of pressed plants identified by their Latin names.
She was fond of her teachers, but when she left home to attend Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College) in nearby South Hadley, she found the school’s institutional tone uncongenial.
Mount Holyoke’s strict rules and invasive religious practices, along with her own homesickness and growing rebelliousness, help explain why she did not return for a second year.