Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born in 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts. Throughout Emily’s life, her mother was not "emotionally accessible," the absence of which might have caused some of Emily’s eccentricity. Being rooted in the puritanical Massachusetts of the 1800’s, the Dickinson children were raised in the Christian tradition, and they were expected to take up their father’s religious beliefs and values without argument. Later in life, Emily would come to challenge her fathers religious viewpoints, and the church. The Dickinson family was prominent in Amherst. Unlike her father, Emily did not enjoy the popularity and excitement of public life in Amherst, and she began to withdraw. Emily did not fit in with her father’s religion, and her father began to censor the books she read because of their potential to draw her away from the faith.
Although Emily never married, she had several relationships with a few men. It was during the period following her return from school that Emily began to dress all in white and choose those precious few that would be her own private society. Refusing to see almost everyone that came to visit, Emily seldom left her father’s house. In Emily’s entire life, she took one trip to Philadelphia (due to eye problems), one to Washington, and a few trips to Boston. Other than those occasional ventures, Emily had not seen much of the world outside her home town. During this time, her early twenties, Emily began to write poetry seriously.
When Emily had a sizable backlog of poems, she sought out somebody for advice about anonymous publication, and on April 15, 1862 she found Thomas Wentworth Higginson, an eminent literary man. She wrote a letter to Higginson and enclosed four poems to inquire his appraisal and advice.
In 1862 Emily decided against publishing her poems, and, as a result, only seven of her poems were published in her lifetime - five of them in the local newspaper. The remainder of the works would wait until after Dickinson’s death.
Emily continued to write poetry, but when the United States Civil War broke out a lot of emotional turmoil came through in Dickinson’s work. Some changes in her poetry came directly as a result of the war, but there were other events that distracted Emily and these things came through in the most productive period of her lifetime - about 800 poems.
The later years of Dickinson’s life were primarily spent in mourning because of several deaths within the time frame of a few years. Emily’s father died in 1874, Samuel Bowles died in 1878, J.G. Holland died in 1881, her nephew Gilbert died in 1883, and both Charles Wadsworth and Emily’s mother died in 1882. Over those few years, many of the most influential and precious friendships of Emily’s passed away, and that gave way to the more concentrated obsession with death in her poetry. On June 14, 1884 Emily’s obsessions and poetic speculations started to come to a stop when she suffered the first attack of her terminal illness. Throughout the year of 1885, Emily was confined to bed in her family’s house where she had lived her entire life, and on May 15, 1886 Emily took her last breath at the age of 56. At that moment the world lost one of its most talented and insightful poets. Emily left behind nearly 2,000 poems.
Poems by Dickinson
Emily Dickinson wrote a total of 1,775 poems. Since none but a handful of them were published during her own lifetime, there is no easy way to arrange them. With other poets you group their work by what publication they come from, or by what year they first saw print, or perhaps by ordering the titles of the poems alphabetically. None of this can be applied to Emily's poetry, not even alphabetically by title, since she didn't title her poems.
In 1955 a three-volume critical edition edited by Thomas H Johnson set a new standard for Emily Dickinson students and scholars the world over. The book compiled all the 1,775 poems in chronological order (as far as could be ascertained). Not only that, but the poems were finally published in their original form, uncorrupted by decades of editors.
A word is dead
A word is dead
When it is said,
I say it just
Begins to live