Emily Dickinson was born on Dec. 10, 1830, in Amherst, Mass. Dickinson—though she only started writing poetry when she was 22—wrote 1,775 poems (Johnson, v). However, in her lifetime only seven were published (Johnson, v). Unlike other poets who are often obsessed with fame, Dickinson chose for her poems not to be published when she was alive and intended to remain obscure (Johnson, v). 

Dickinson’s poems are often very terse and have very minimal use of punctuation, apart from the use of ‘em dashes’ ( – ). The discordant sounds of Dickinson’s poems reflect the most experimental forms of ‘stream of consciousness’ writing, as in the works of Woolf and Joyce sixty years later, in that there is a degradation of structure. Particularly with the use of dashes–Dickinson’s lines are often made static. Instead of the lines flowing from thought to thought–they jump. 

This can be seen, for example, in poem no. 465, or no. 591, when Dickinson writes, “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died – / The stillness in the Room / Was like the Stillness of the Air – / Between the Heaves of Storm -” (Dickinson 39). The dash placed before “when I died” and “Between the Heaves of Storm–” creates a drop within the line, recreating, sonically, a shift in thought (Dickinson 39).

As with all good poetry, there is an element of mystical participation in the role of the reader. However, very few modern poets have made that participation so vivid. Not only are Dickinson’s poems vivid because they are terse, but because the associations are often strange yet natural; and the sounds of her poems are melodic yet harsh.

Dickinson has poems of beauty and of nature and she has poems of death and loss.

Dickinson, I would say, should not only be revered as the greatest American poet but should also be seen as an ideal for an artist. Because Dickinson was not continually or widely published, and because she was never famous in her lifetime, her art was free.

Readers often feel entitled to certain things from contemporary authors, and publishers try to interpret those desires. All this leads to restrictions and limits, both visible and invisible, on the artists’ creative capacity. But art should not be created out of pressure, or out of expectation. Art should be as innocent as a child. 

Emily Dickinson, in this way, did not write for newspaper editors, she didn’t write for the crowd, she didn’t write to be famous; Emily Dickinson wrote poems for herself and for her friends only. Dickinson’s works are probably the closest we will ever come to poetry that is entirely natural, innocent, beautiful and sublime. 

Works Cited

Dickinson, Emily. “130.” The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Thomas H. Johnson, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1991, p. 92-93.

Dickinson, Emily. “1732.” The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, edited by Richard Ellmann and Robert O’Clair, W. W. Norton, 1973, pp. 247-48.

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