Whoa, hold on there Emily Dickinson, you said what?

Throughout our years here at UMW, all of us have had to go through a “boot camp” English class in which we discovered everything we ever wanted (and didn’t want) to know about literature, writing and grammar.  Included in this class, was a huge section on poetry in which only the big names are gone over, one of them being Emily Dickinson.

Now we won’t pretend to know everything about her, but here goes:

The major thing to remember when thinking about Dickinson is that the most of her poems are focused inwardly. She wrote about things within herself, within the soul, ideas of immortality ring throughout her work. Her words are at times both suggestive and incomprehensible. Dickinson was a loner, insisting on being a spinster, wearing white and ghosting throughout her house.

“Because I could not stop for Death — “

Because I could not stop for Death —
He kindly stopped for me —
The Carriage held but just Ourselves —
And Immortality.

We slowly drove — He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility —

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess — in the Ring —
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain —
We passed the Setting Sun —

Or rather — He passed Us —
The Dews drew quivering and chill —
For only Gossamer, my Gown —
My Tippet — only Tulle —

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground —
The Roof was scarcely visible —
The Cornice — in the Ground —

Since then — ’tis Centuries — and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity —

At best, Dickinson can be said to have slant rhyme. She focuses more on the images, the pictures she gave her readers rather than making it “sound pretty”. She wrote more in a meter that was common in Protestant Hymn books.

So why is she so famous? Why is it that we still study her works along with works by Emerson, Whitman, Frost?

It’s because she brought to poetry something that had never been fully exercised before. Dickinson brought in the idea of lyric poetry. She wrote with unusual punctuation, unusual capitalization, she wrote wistfully, as if every line were it’s own song within the poem.

She, like many artists, poets, writers and the like, did not sell her pieces while she was alive. It wasn’t until the 20th century that her work was even deemed worth reading by the public eye. Now, her work, her writing styles have traversed so far that she is prevalent in the writings of today.