For today’s entry, we will talk about Emily Dickinson, who was a great American poet who spent much of her life in seclusion. Unfortunately, she was not recognized in her time, but many years after her death. She was known for her innovative literary use of form and syntax, and for her moving and compressed verse, which profoundly influenced the direction of 20th century poetry.
Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts on December 10, 1830. Her family already had a legacy in New England, it was a wealthy family with many connections. Her grandfather on her father’s side, Samuel Dickinson, was known to have founded Amherst University. Edward Dickson, her father, worked as a state legislator, and he married Emily Norcross and had three children: William Austin, Emily, and Lavinia Norcross.
Emily Dickinson was an excellent student for seven years at Amherst Academy which is now known as Amherst University. However, as a teenager, she decided to leave her studies in 1848 and began to live in seclusion on the family farm. We do not know the exact reason why she left school, it is said that her father pulled her from her studies or that due to her emotional state and melancholy she could no longer continue.
During her years in solitude, she created incredible collections of poems and wrote hundreds of letters to her beloved Susan Gilbert.
Susan Gilbert was a very close friend and advisor to Emily, and they secretly had a romantic relationship. Susan married William Austin, Emily’s brother. The Dickinson family lived in a large house known as the Homestead in Amherst and after Austin and Susan’s marriage they settled on a property next to the Homestead known as the Evergreens.
In her spare time, in addition to writing, Dickinson studied botany and produced an extensive herbarium. She also corresponded with a variety of contacts. One of her acquaintances was Judge Otis Phillips Lord, which seems to have developed into an affair before Lord’s death in 1884.
Emily lived many years in solitude that to this day has been the subject of speculation.
We don’t know if she suffered from a condition called agoraphobia, depression and/or anxiety or if she was forced to stay to care for her mother when she became ill. Emily and her sister Lavinia served as primary caretakers for their ailing mother until she passed away in 1882. Neither Emily nor her sister married and lived together in Homestead until their respective deaths. In the mid-1850s and 1860s, Dickinson wrote many poems, creating hundreds of little compendiums of verse known as fascicles; this was without any knowledge on the part of her family members.
After Emily’s death, on May 15, 1886 in Amherst, Lavinia discovered Emily’s remarkable work and many of her poems began to be published. The first volume of these works was published in 1890. A full compilation, The Poems of Emily Dickinson, wasn’t published until 1955. Now, she is considered one of the most prominent figures in American literature.