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Emily Dickinson
Biography



"I have a brother and sister, my mother does not care for thought, and father, too busy with his briefs to notice what we do. He buys me many books, but begs me not to read them, because he fears they jiggle the mind. They are religious, except me."
- to her poetical preceptor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born 10 December, 1830, in Amherst, Mass., into a severely religious, puritanical family that had lived in New England for eight generations. She was educated at Amherst Academy and at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, South Hadley, Mass. According to traditional accounts, Dickinson was a high-spirited and active young woman, but after suffering a romantic disappointment she withdrew from society and lived thereafter as a recluse. Virtually her only contact with her friends was through her whimsical and epigrammatic letters.

Throughout the remainder of her life Dickinson wrote poetry of a profoundly original nature. The first contemporary literary figure to become aware of her existence as a poet was clergyman and author Thomas Higginson. Although Higginson recognised her genius and became her lifelong correspondent and literary mentor, he advised her not to publish her work because of its violation of literary convention. Her other literary friend, the novelist Helen Jackson, however, tried unsuccessfully to persuade her to publish a collection of her poetry. After Dickinson's death, nearly 2,000 poems, many only fragments, were found among her papers. From this mass of material Higginson and Mabel Todd edited the first published selection of her works, Poems, which enjoyed great popular success. Todd never spoke to Dickinson, but glimpsed her once through a doorway, flitting by in white, the only colour Dickinson wore in her later years.

Dickinson's poems, compressed into brief stanza forms, are most frequently written in a few different combinations of iambic tetrameter and trimeter lines. She employed simple rhyme schemes and varied the effects of these schemes by partial rhyming, a device common among many 20th-century poets. Her language is simple, but she draws remarkable connotations from many common words, sometimes with almost pedantic exactness. Her imagery and metaphors were drawn both from an acute observation of nature and from an imagination often as playful in thought and witty in expression as that of the English metaphysical poets of the 17th century.

The combination of universal themes, expressed with vivid personal feeling and familiar verse forms gives Dickinson's lyrics a mystical directness comparable to that found in the work of the British poet William Blake. Her published works include Poems: Second Series, Poems: Third Series, The Single Hound, and Letters of Emily Dickinson. Emily Dickinson died 15 May, 1886.

contributed by Gifford, Katya

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