Emily Dickinson

Hi everyone, today’s post is about the American Poet Emily Dickinson. She was born on this day, one hundred and ninety years ago today. Emily was more renowned for her poetry after her death than when she was alive.

Early Life

Emily as a Child

Born Emily Elizabeth Dickinson, (December 10, 1830), to parents Edward Dickinson (politician), and Emily Norcross Dickinson (poet), in Amherst, Massachusetts, she was born into a literate and very respectable family. Emily is the second of three children, and she grew-up living a moderately privileged life with strong religious beliefs. For the first nine years of her life she lived in a mansion built by her paternal grandfather Samuel Fowler Dickinson who helped found the Amherst College, but then everything took a drastic turn and they went bankrupt shortly before her birth.

Her father Edward Dickinson was a forceful Whig lawyer and trustee of Amherst College, her mother Emily Norcross Dickinson was a former student of ‘Monson Academy’ and an introverted wife and hardworking housekeeper. Emily was named after her mother and lived with her parents and two siblings her elder brother William Austin Dickinson (known as Austin), and her younger sister, Lavinia Norcross Dickinson (known as Vinnie) at their homestead. Her parents were loving but stern, Emily didn’t get along with her parents but she did become very close to Austin and Vinnie.

 The family moved to Pleasant Street after the birth of Lavinia in order to accommodate for Edwards prospering political career as well as his legal career that provided a bigger house for his children, and to provide his children with a refined education. The education catered to Emily which was not one that was provided to girls during the Victorian age. She received a classical education that only the elite few could afford.

Emily and her siblings – L-R: Emily, William and Lavinia

Dickinson went to primary school in Amherst before she attended the co-educational Amherst Academy, where teachers and students alike saw her extraordinary abilities in composition. Along with being brilliant and observant. She showed a keen interest in the piano and domestic chores, especially in gardening, she also excelled in other subjects that was encouraged by the school, most notably Latin and sciences.

After having seven years at Amherst Academy (1840), she then went onto Mount Holyoke female seminary (1847). This was her first and longest time that she had spent away from her family. Emily made friends easily and acquired plenty of female friends as a young girl, some of them were Emily Fowler, Abby Wood, Jane Humphrey, Abiah Root, Susan Gilbert (who later went on to marry her brother William) and her cousin Sophia Holland. She also had a couple of male friends Benjamin Newton and Henry Vaughn Emmons. The only affection she had for them was purely platonic, nothing went beyond the boundaries of friendship.

There was a sudden turn of events, when Emily was hit by the sudden death of her beloved cousin Sophia Holland; she was so overwhelmed and shaken up by grief over the loss of Sophia that she was sent away to Boston to recover from the trauma. It was the death of Sophia that bought up many questions of death and mortality to a young Emily, and the fact that her garden at the back of the house was opposite the cemetery, which added to her morbid fascination with death. It was presumed that it was the loss of her loved ones that inflicted her with the most pain and which she would later sit down and pen several poems.

Emily’s House/Museum

Facts:

  • Her Father was a Senate for the United States.
  • The Dickinson family were devout Calvinists.
  • Emily Dickinson’s passion in her early years was botany, and it was because of her love of plants that she wanted to know the science of plant life.
  • The sisters never married and remained at home, there brother who was the only one that married, moved into the house next door with his wife.
  • Benjamin Franklin Newton, a student of her fathers, and had tutored her, introduce her to the works of William Wordsworth and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
  • Emily wrote a letter to her brother expressing on her growing interest and desire to write. She also wrote telling him on how different she felt.
  • Between the years of 1858 to 1865 saw her work take a steady leap, she based her writings on a few themes, such as nature and flora: some ballads, gospel, death and mortality
  • Her family moved back to the homestead, where her brother married Susan and had three children.
  • From an early age Emily Dickinson chose to restrict her social engagements as she retreated from society and became a recluse. In her late twenties she chose to stay within her family home for the vast majority of the time instead of venturing out into the world around her. She rarely travelled and based her perceptions of her friends on their ability to write a letter back to her.
  • Emily had wrote 1,000 poems by the time she was 35, which she categorized into manuscripts, and around 50 poems were sent to the chief editor of ‘Springfield Republican Samuel Bowles, which he published only a few anonymously in his journal.
  • Only 10 poems were actually published in her lifetime. The poems that were published during her lifetime were mainly done so anonymously or without her consent.
  • Emily Dickinson’s work was mostly published after her death.  Her sister Lavinia retrieved the bulk of her works when the poet had died. On per Emily’s request Lavinia burnt most of her letters but she recognized the worth of her poems and rather than burn them she wanted the world to recognize and applaud her sister’s works.
  • Dickinson’s health began to deteriorate after the untimely death of her youngest nephew in 1883. She became extremely fragile and became bedridden, but even during her illness she would continue to write.
  • Aged just 55, on May 15, 1886, Emily died of a kidney disorder called ‘Bright’s Disease’. As per her last wish, she was carried through a blooming field of buttercups to her burial site, where her coffin was laid in the family cemetery.
  • Emily’s herbarium, consists of 66 pages of special plant species from her garden is now preserved at Harvard University. The special collections of Amherst College also contains the original portrait and locks of the great poet.
  • Because of the wide heritage that stood in the ‘Homestead’ especially contributing to the proliferous work of Emily Dickinson, the mansion has now been preserved as a museum.
  • The ‘Amherst College’ also purchased the house of William and Susan Dickinson, called ‘Evergreens’ and converted it into a museum open to tours and renamed it the ‘Emily Dickinson Museum’.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Thankyou for taking the time to read my blog. See you all next week.

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