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The Life of a Hidden Genius : Emily Dickinson

I have been writing poetry for twenty years. Best poems and poets of 2004 International Library of Congress.Google/AdSense, Hubpages Author


Top ten most famous Emily Dickinson poems

1. "I taste a liquor never brewed"

In life and in art Emily Dickinson was idiosyncratic – she did not choose the prescribed life of a well to-do woman of her era (marriage etc.) rather she become an outsider. While ‘I taste a liquor never brewed –’ illustrates her devotion to rhyme, it also shows her maverick’s disregard for it – she often chose an apt image rather than a full rhyme. Dickinson sometimes wrote alternative lines for ‘finished’ poems. Here ‘Not all the Frankfort berries’ can be swapped out for ‘Not all the vats upon the Rhine’; we’re still in Germany but with a vastly different image. This poem illustrates how intoxicating the natural world was to Dickinson. Luckily the house she chose to sequester herself inside, in the latter part of her life, was set on large grounds. There she and her family grew an abundance of produce and flowers; all the better for this little tippler.

2. "Success is counted sweetest"

‘Success is counted sweetest’ is one of Dickinson’s many poems on the subject of fame. Dickinson is at her aphoristic best in poems like this, where she shines a light on the complexities of human desire. Interestingly, though Dickinson did not seek publication – her father disdained Women of Letters – this poem was published (anonymously) in an anthology called A Masque of Poets. ‘Success is counted sweetest’ brings to mind the four lines of ‘Fame is a Bee’, where Dickinson points out that fame has both song and sting, but also wings. By turning her back on notoriety Dickinson may have been trying to protect her good name. Or perhaps she feared editorial input because she had already been stung.

3. "Wild nights - Wild nights!"

Dickinson’s posthumous editor and friend, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, worried about including this poem in the 1891 volume of her poetry ‘lest the malignant read into it more than that virgin recluse ever dreamed of putting there.’ Higginson seems very sure of Dickinson’s virginal state but seems to forget that she had a late romance with her father’s friend, Judge Otis Lord. Dickinson was seen sitting in Lord’s lap and wrote to him (in the third person): ‘I confess that I love him – I rejoice that I love him...’ Lord asked to marry her; apparently she refused. ‘Wild Nights – Wild Nights’ predates Dickinson’s romance with Lord but she had previous love-objects, like the mysterious ‘Master’ and also sister-in-law Sue, whom she loved ardently, as many Victorian women loved their dearest friends. So the abandon of this celebrated Dickinson love poem is not out of place and can be read for what it is: a passionate, exuberant and loving cry from the heart. It’s beautifully done.

4. "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain"

‘I felt a Funeral, in my Brain’ is one of Dickinson’s most well-known poems on mental health, using some of her favourite metaphors: death and the afterlife. The poem has the trademark up-note ending, so that the reader must guess where the breakdown leads to – the heaven of well-being, or the hell of continued mental anguish. There is a theory that Dickinson, like her nephew Ned, was epileptic; she definitely suffered eye trouble and, as we know, she had agoraphobic tendencies. Any of these, or just plain old depression, might have sparked this poem. The melding of the physical and the mental is deftly done with strong verbs – tread, break, beat, creak – that lead down to that final, breathless ‘plunge’.

5. "I'm Nobody! Who are you?"

Dickinson’s random use of capital letters throughout her work raises questions, but the practice comes into its own in this short poem. ‘I’m Nobody! Who are you?’ she wrote. The narrator may be nobody but she makes herself somebody with that capital N. Here is another poem about notoriety and the public eye. Perhaps it’s an apt mantra for the social media abstainers of today who prefer to revel in the luxury of anonymity, much as Dickinson did. This is one that appealed hugely to me as a child for its cheekiness and for that unexpected frog.

6. "'Hope' is the thing with feathers"

This is my favourite Emily Dickinson poem. Its warmth and positivity speak to my gut every time. I always pause on the inverted commas around the word ‘hope’ – and wonder why Dickinson felt the need for them. Was she qualifying hope in some private way? Dickinson was a fan of Emily Brontë – she chose the English writer’s ‘No coward soul is mine’ to be read at her funeral. Was ‘“Hope” is the thing with feathers’ influenced by Brontë’s poem ‘Hope’, within which hope ‘stretched her wings and soared to Heaven’? If so, Dickinson chose to make her poem life-affirming, a counterpoint to Brontë’s more downbeat verses on the same theme.

7. "A Bird, came down the Walk"

This is a poem I studied at school at about the age of ten. It is not as cryptic as many of Dickinson’s poems so it’s perfect for younger poetry readers. Dickinson valued the musicality of words and she loved a hymnal beat. The bird’s ‘frightened Beads’ for eyes and its ‘Velvet Head’ are the sort of recognisable, tactile images that children love. As a child who loved words, ‘plashless’ sang to me and gave me an understanding of the power of originality. I distinctly remember reciting this poem to my four sisters while acting out the part of the bird: hopping sidewise, glancing ‘with rapid eyes’ and finally unrolling my feathers to row away. Read this one to your young friends.

8. "Because I could not stop for Death"

Perhaps the best known of Dickinson’s poems are the melancholic ones – those that deal with death and the afterlife. This may be tied in with the notion that because Dickinson was reclusive, she was also angsty and nun-like. It may also be linked to a general fascination with those who beat their own path, particularly if they seem to do it alone. The grim reaper in this poem is a civil gentleman who takes the narrator – already ghostlike in gossamer and tulle – gently towards death. It’s a hopeful, meditative poem about the promise of immortality.

9. "My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun"

Emily Dickinson excels at the explosive first line that draws the reader in; ‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun’ is one of her strongest openers. The poem is cryptic – it may be about the afterlife, or it may be about an actual lover; it may be a meditation on anger, helplessness and power. One reading holds that it is a Dickinson backlash against having to write her poetry in secret – gun as language, waiting to go off. Interestingly Lyndall Gordon adapted the first line for the title of her book about the Dickinson family feuds to Lives Like Loaded Guns.

10. "Tell all the truth but tell it slant"

Emily Dickinson loved riddles and this poem has an element of that playfulness. Ostensibly an instructional poem about how to be honest in a kindly way, it can also be read as a Dickinson poetics: Write the poem, but don’t spell it out. Decorate your message with imagery and let the reader slowly grasp the meaning. ‘Dazzle gradually.’

Picture of Emily Dickinson


Emily Dickinson's Biography

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, to a family well known for educational and political activity. Her father, an orthodox Calvinist, was a lawyer and treasurer of the local college. He also served in Congress. Dickinson's mother, whose name was also Emily, was a cold, religious, hard-working housewife, who suffered from depression. Her relationship with her daughter was distant. Later Dickinson wrote in a letter, that she never had a mother.

Dickinson was educated at Amherst Academy (1834-47) and Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (1847-48). Around 1850 she started to compose poems - "Awake ye muses nine, sing me a strain divine, / Unwind the solemn twine, and tie my Valentine!" she said in her earliest known poem, dated March 4, 1850. It was published in Springfield Daily Republican in 1852.

The style of her first efforts was fairly conventional, but after years of practice she began to give room for experiments. Often written in the metre of hymns, her poems dealt not only with issues of death, faith and immortality, but with nature, domesticity, and the power and limits of language. From c.1858 Dickinson assembled many of her poems in packets of 'fascicles', which she bound herself with needle and thread. A selection of these poems appeared in 1890.

In 1862 Dickinson started her lifelong correspondence and friendship with Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911), a writer and reformer, who commanded during the Civil War the first troop of African-American soldiers. Higginson later published Army Life in a Black Regiment in 1870. On of the four poems he received from Dickinson was the famous 'Safe in their Alabaster Chambers.'

Creative quotations from Emily Dickinson

Follow along at home

I will list a few Emily Dickinson Facts followed by a breakdown of her poetry. The book above contains all of her work and is a great way to follow along for yourself at home and read Emily yourself. So let us try to understand what Emily is feeling in her own words.

Emily Dickinson's Life Facts

  • Grandfather founded Amherst College.
  • Father, Edward Dickinson, was a prominent lawyer in Amherst, Massachusetts, as well as a U.S. representative.
  • was not close to her mother.
  • competed with her older brother, Austin, who also wrote poetry.
  • was close to her sister-in-law, Susan, with whom she baked cookies and spent "riotous" evenings (Smith 157)
  • came from a Congregationalist family and lived in a Congregationalist community. During her time in school, Dickinson wrote: "I am standing alone in rebellion" against Christianity. She never joined a church and didn't attend after age 30. Although her siblings were involved in local revivals, she resisted them.
  • read the Bible, George Eliot, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Keats, William Shakespeare, and sentimental literature.
  • cultivated a reputation as a local eccentric.
  • was never married.

Chronology of Life Events

  • 1830: born in Amherst, Massachusetts
  • attends Amherst Academy
  • 1847: attends Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, but leaves early
  • 1848: begins acquaintance with Benjamin Newton, a law clerk in father's office; he encourages her to take poetry seriously
  • 1853: Newton dies
  • 1854: meets the Rev. Charles Wadworth from Philadelphia; she calls him her "dearest earthly friend"
  • 1858-1886: composes more than 1,700 poems
  • 1862: Wadworth goes to San Francisco, California
  • 1862: begins acquaintance with Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a writer for Atlantic Monthly and a correspondent with her for 20 years
  • 1886: dies of kidney problem
  • 1890: Poems
  • 1891: Poems: Second Series
  • 1896: Poems: Third Series
  • 1914: The Single Hound
  • 1929: Further Poems
  • 1936: Unpublished Poems

Breaking down Emily Dickinson's Thought


  • "Tell the truth, but tell it slant" . "She is saying to fib or sugar coat the truth so to say." Ryan C. Beitler
  • "I dwell in Possibility- / A fairer House than Prose- / More numerous of Windows- / Superior-for Doors". . " Emily is suggesting that as a poetry writer her thoughts of possibilities are endless. Doors and windows always closing and opening." Ryan C. Beitler
  • "I felt a Cleaving in my Mind-- / As if my Brain had split-- / I tried to match it--Seam by Seam-- / But could not make them fit ." Suggests her difficulty in putting her material into words and explaining it to people.


  • "Because I could not stop for Death-- / He kindly stopped for me"
  • "I heard a Fly buzz--when I died"
  • "That it will never come again / Is what makes life so sweet"
  • "Parting is all we know of heaven, / And all we need of hell"


  • "Bred as we, among the mountains, / Can the sailor understand / The divine intoxication / Of the first league out from land?"
  • "Wild nights--Wild nights! / Were I with thee / Wild Nights should be / Our luxury! / Futile--the Winds-- / To a Heart in port-- / Done with the Compass-- / Done with the Chart! / Rowing in Eden-- / Ah, the Sea! / Might I but moor--Tonight-- / In Thee!"
  • "There is no Frigate like a Book / To take us Lands away" (305)
  • "He ate and drank the precious Words-- / His spirit grew robust-- / He knew no more that he was poor, / Nor that his frame was Dust--" (310)


  • "In fact, almost any fascicle can be used as evidence for the argument that Emily Dickinson is much better viewed as a poet of 'nows,' shifting stances, alternating moods, arriving at only inconclusive conclusions" (Salska 12).
  • "Emily Dickinson's essential artistry lies partly in constructing the sharp, non-discursive image, the instant's insight committed to language. For the momentary insight to be expanded to discursive magnitude is to be false to the impulse" (Porter 20).
  • "'Experience' in Emily Dickinson's best poetry is narrow and profound. Typically it takes the form of a sudden illumination, an appalling pause in the motion of things, a seizure of an unspeakable power, an ecstatic influx. Her favorite images for the typical experience are a bolt of lightning, a brilliant light, the sun, the eruption of a volcano, the unannounced arrival of a lover in his coach, the surprising knock of his hand upon the door, the confrontation of some threatening or overwhelming natural or psychic phenomenon" (Chase 99)
  • "The Moments of Dominion / That happen on the Soul / And leave it with a Discontent / Too exquisite--to tell"
  • "He fumbles at your Soul / As Players at the Keys / Before they drop full Music on-- / He stuns you by degrees--Prepares your brittle Nature / For an ethereal Blow"
  • "The Wind--tapped like a tired Man--" describes a "Rapid-footless Guest," whose "Speech was like the Push / Of numerous Humming Birds at once / From a superior Bush--"
  • "Melville may delineate in the figures of legend the gradual emergence of his Ishmael. But for Hawthorne and Emily Dickinson reality tends to appear hard and fast, emblematic and typical. Truth is given, not evolved" (Chase 102).
  • David Porter argues that her central theme is the striving for an end: "That theme is not the abstraction death or immortality or love or fame, but rather the act of the mind in quest of all of these. For emotional longing, the ideal is love. For the poetic fancy, the ideal is literary achievement. For the spirit's aspiration, the ideal is immortality" (Porter 20)
  • A prose fragment from Dickinson reads: "Consummation is the hurry of fools (exhilaration of fools), but Expectation the Elixir of the Gods" (Porter 21)
  • "I cannot live with You" describes perpetual detachment from, but proximity to, one's lover: "So We must meet apart--/ You there--I-here-- / With just the Door ajar"
  • "Victory comes late--" contains images of freezing lips for which success comes too late and of smaller birds whom "The Eagle's Golden Breakfast" would strangle.
  • In a similar vein, Richard Chase argues: "In Emily Dickinson's poetry, taking it by and large, there is but one major theme, one symbolic act, one incandescent center of meaning. Expressed in the most general terms, this theme is the achievement of status through crucial experiences. The kinds of status our poet imagines are variously indicated by such favorite words as "queen," "royal," "wife," "woman," "poet," "immortal," and "empress." The kinds of experience which confer status are love, "marriage," death, poetic expression, and immediate intuitive experiences which have the redemptive power of grace" (Chase 99).
  • She was influenced by Puritan thought, which said man was filled by the infinite amplitude of God (Chase 100)
  • "The second source of her idea of experience is simply her reaction to the culture of provincial America. . . . For these writers [Hawthorne, Melville, and Dickinson] existence was an emptiness to be filled by the imagination" (101)
  • If she has her eye on a larger experience, however, she also seems interested in making the best of the immediate, accessible experience.
  • "A Prison gets to be a friend" describes one's intimate relationship with what is accessible: "We learn to know the Planks-- / That answer to Our feet-- / So miserable a sound--at first-- / Nor ever now--so sweet-- / As plashing in the Pools-- / When Memory was a Boy-- / But a Demurer Circuit-- / A Geometric Joy--"


  • particularly common theme in early poems
  • "Inebriate of Air--am I-- / And Debauchee of Dew--"
  • "The Bee is not afraid of me. / I know the Butterfly"
  • "You ask of my Companions Hills--Sir--and the Sundown--and a Dog--large as myself, that my Father bought me--They are better than Beings--because they know--but do not tell--and the noise in the Pool, at Noon--excels my Piano" suggests Dickinson recognized a value in aspects of nature and in fact put them above humans .


  • Mind's active role in experience: "The 'Tune is in the Tree--' / The Skeptic--showeth me-- / 'No Sir! In Thee!'" suggests humans' participation in experience; the sound occurs, but it requires our brains to grasp, process, take in, understand the tune.
  • "The Brain--is wider than the Sky-- / For-put them side by side-- / The one the other will contain / With ease--and You--beside"
  • "One need not be a Chamber--to be Haunted-- / One need not be a House-- / The Brain has Corridors--surpassing / Material Place--"


  • composed more than 1,700 poems
  • sent some to Higginson, who was not sure what to make of them
  • only 6 of her poems were published during her life
  • at home, she bound these poems in fascicles, homemade books consisting of folded paper and stitching
  • Smith argues that this form of publication was "consciously designed alternative mode of textual reproduction and distribution" (Smith 2)
  • "Publication--is the Auction /Of the Mind of Man-- / Poverty--be justifying / For so foul a thing"
  • her punctuation and syntax were cleaned up in early editions; the original form was not restored until 1951
  • manuscripts actually have long, short, upward, and downward slashes; what does the editor do with these?
  • some critics, including William Shurr, argue that material in her letters deserves to be considered as poetry; see "New Poems by Emily Dickinson"


  • J. 1624: God as cruel or just oblivious figure: In the natural course of things, frost decapitates a flower for play; God is "Approving"
  • J. 324: Less critical of God, but still critical of organized religion; speaker keeps the Sabbath at home, where she can admire nature and hear a bird sing; she believes heaven is in this world
  • near the end of her life, she was uncertain about eternity (Ward 104)
  • at this same time, however, she hinted in a note and a few poems that she "came nearer than ever before to arresting the transitory ecstasy of which all her life she had received fleeting experiences" (105)
  • "Take all away from me, but leave me Ecstasy, / And I am richer then than all by my Fellow Men- / Ill it becometh me to dwell so wealthily / When at my very Door are those possessing more / In abject poverty" (105)
  • "I watched the Moon around the House" suggests humans' distance from spiritual meaning; she says the moon has no hunger "Nor Avocation--nor Concern / For little Mysteries / As harass us--like Life--and Death-- / And Afterwards--or Nay-- / But seemed engrossed to Absolute-- / With shining--and the Sky" (279)


  • "Success is counted sweetest / By those who ne'er succeed"
  • "How--to be--Somebody!"
  • "Much Madness is divinest Sense-- / To a discerning Eye . . . Assent--and you are sane-- / Demur--you're straightway dangerous-- / And handled with a Chain"
  • "This is my letter to the World / That never wrote to Me--"

Techniques when writing

  • dash makes relationships between words ambiguous
  • lack of ordinary punctuation
  • slant rhyme
  • imagism
  • this form convinced some readers that Dickinson was not a real poet; T.B. Aldrich criticized her as "A Poet With No Grammar" and wrote that, if Dickinson got some lengthy training in grammar and metrics, she would become a poet of the "second magnitude"
  • "Essential Oils-are wrung- / The Attar from the Rose / Be not expressed by Suns--alone-- / It is the gift of Screws--"
  • she "distills amazing sense from ordinary meanings"
  • conceits, riddles
  • J. 1129: "Tell all the Truth but tell it slant"
  • ambiguity: "My Business is Circumference"; Dickinson's poetry is elusive in that it sometimes seems to dance around a subject; see J. 303, which not only is difficult to understand but deals with edges: "Door," "Gate," "Mat"; see J. 636, which mentions "Door," "lock," "Wall," "floor"
  • ambiguity: "Dickinson's use of ambiguity is pervasive and often comes in the form of an unidentified pronoun. Examples are 'A clock stopped' and 'I can wade Grief,' which both conclude with an unidentified 'him'" (Lasher 8).
  • puns
  • said that at one time her lexicon was her only companion
  • sound: many poems end in vowels


11: "Success is countest sweetest"

  • Why would someone who has not succeeded appreciate success the most? What does the phrase "sorest need" mean to you?
  • Where do you think the speaker places herself in this poem? What is the tone of the poem?
  • Do you see any parallels in this poem and "Song of Myself," in which Whitman celebrates the "spirit" of the defeated in a battle?
  • What is the significance of the word "definition" in this poem?

14: "Exultation is the going"

  • What does "exultation" mean? How does the speaker use it?
  • How does Dickinson's metaphor work here?
  • How does an understanding of "Success is countest sweetest" or any other Dickinson poem help you understand this poem?
  • "An even better interpretation of this poem might be to see it as an allusion to death. First of all, the only word capitalized in the poem, besides the first word at the beginning of each line, is 'Eternity.' 'Eternity' is often a word associated with the afterlife. Additionally, by using the word 'soul,' a picture of death is also painted. Just as a boat would float across water, so would a soul float off 'past the houses--past the headlands--.' Also, the word 'divine' is associated with life after death and God. Therefore, the last stanza could be asking, 'Is it possible for God, someone who has not been on earth, to know the joy of leaving this place?'" (Plonk 9/26.06).

23: "These are the days when Birds come back"

  • Consider the phrases "sophistries of June" and "blue and gold mistake." What is Dickinson describing?
  • In what ways is this poem like a riddle? In what ways is it more universal?
  • How does the poem take a turn in the fifth stanza?

28: "The Wounded Deer leaps highest"

  • What is the meaning of ecstasy? How does this poem challenge or enhance your understanding of the term?

39: "I'm 'wife'--I've finished that--"

  • Dickinson writes: "But why compare?" Compare what? What does she mean?
  • What is the difference between a wife and a woman? What is the difference between a woman and a czar? What about these roles interests Dickinson?
  • How do the dashes work in this poem?

46: "Inebriate of Air--am I--"

  • Why does the speaker say she is an "Inebriate of Air"? How does an understanding of the Whitman help you to appreciate this poem? What is Transcendental about the poem?
  • How and why is the word "Sun" isolated in the poem?

47: "Safe in their Alabaster Chambers"

  • What is significant about the setting of this poem?
  • How do the dashes work in this poem?
  • Consider Dickinson's use of sound. Pay especially close attention to the final words of this poem and other poems.
  • "I interpreted this poem of Dickinson's as her objection to people that give up their lives to completely follow Christ. In the first stanza, she describes a perfect sanitarium that, at first glance, seems peaceful and wondrous. When further analyzed, certain connotations bring about a different meaning. For example, in the line 'Sleep the meek members of the Resurrection--,' 'meek' imples painful quietness and shyness. Also, this stanza clearly states that the inhabitants are oblivious to the rise and fall of the sun. The next stanza illustrates some of the wonderful things outside of the chambers that the people (perhaps monks or nuns) are missing out on. By staying inside all the time and worshiping Christ, they aren't seeing the wonderful things that God created for them. The last line, 'Ah, what sagacity perished here,' is rather powerful. It again implies that the great wisdom and greatness of those inside is being wasted because they're throwing their lives away by being buried inside some chamber for their entire lives. Although they mean well, they aren't doing what God put them on Earth to do--to enjoy the many splendors He created. Even though the people inside are living like they think they should be living, they're missing out on the greater things in life" (Smith 9/26/96).

54: "I like a look of Agony"

  • How are the words "Beads" and "strung" used here?
  • What is a "Throe," and why is it impossible to simulate one?

58: "Wild Nights--Wild Nights!"

  • What is the significance of the word "luxury" here?
  • What contradictions do you see in the poem? How do they function?
  • What is the grammatical mood of the poem? How does it work in the poem?
  • "In addition to ending with a true rhyme, 'Wild Nights--Wild Nights!' ends with a vowel sound: 'thee.' This, too, is a common technique in Dickinson's poetry. Possibly, she does this to leave the reader with a longing for more lines. The use of sound to create an ending effect is similar to a musical cadence. 'A cadence in music means a closing phrase' (Copland 123). Such a phrase can leave a feeling of conclusion or a longing for resolution. The former is a full cadence, and the latter is a half-cadence. Using the vowel ending parallels the half cadence. The reader doesn't feel that the story is over without the 'full cadence' of a consonant ending" (Lasher 3).

66: "There's a certain Slant of light"

  • What is the speaker describing? Why do you think it affects her in the way it does?
  • Why might it be significant that it is a "Slant" of light?
  • How do the allusions to religion function?
  • What parallels can you see in this poem and in some of Poe's fiction? In particular, consider the phrase "internal difference, / Where the Meanings, are--"
  • What does the phrase "Distance / On the look of Death" suggest?

78: "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain"

  • Like many of Dickinson's poems, this one contains an extended metaphor. How does Dickinson carry this metaphor through the poem and to what end? Why a funeral? What associations does a funeral have?
  • One of the most striking aspects of Dickinson's poetry is its ambiguity. What instances of ambiguity do you see here?

79: "'Tis so appalling-it exhilirates"

  • Why might something "appalling" and horrible exhilirate and captivate a person? What does the speaker seem to be craving here?
  • How is death depicted in this poem?
  • What does the speaker mean by "Others, Can wrestle-- / Yours, is done--"?

82: "The Robin's my Criterion for Tune-"

  • How does the speaker see "New Englandly"?
  • Apply the argument of this poem to other poems by Dickinson. In what ways does she see "Provincially"? In what ways are her poems and her vision more universal? Can a poem be both provincial and universal at the same time?

84: "A Clock stopped-"

  • What kind of atmosphere does this poem create? How?
  • Which clock stopped?
  • Try to interpret the final lines of the poem: "Decades of Arrogance between / The Dial life- / And Him."
  • "A final theme in this poem is stillness. Dickinson's portrayal of stillness is often paradoxical in that she manages to add to it an element of energy. The Cuckoo bird hangs motionless, yet it seems to want to move" (Lasher 6).

85: "I'm Nobody! Who are you?"

  • What connections do you see between this poem and others Dickinson wrote?
  • How does this poem fit Dickinson's personal reputation?

89: "I got so I could take his name--"

  • What does the speaker mean by "I got so"?
  • What two types of religion does the speaker describe?
  • What is striking about the final word of the poem?

95: "The Soul selects her own Society--"

  • In what way is this poem about control?
  • Dickinson writes: "I've known her--from an ample nation-- / Choose One." Who or what is "One"?
  • Note the last word and image: "Stone." Why do you think Dickinson so often refers to stone?

105: "He fumbles at your Soul"

  • Who is "He"?
  • How does the second-person pronoun function in the poem?
  • How would you characterize Dickinson's choices of images and metaphors in this poem and other poems? In what ways are they different from the images and metaphors Poe uses?
  • Try to absorb the images and atmosphere of the poem. What is happening, and what is your reaction?
  • What is striking about the last word of this poem? How is it ambiguous? What is the effect of the final consonant?

120: "I know that He exists."

  • Note the punctuation in this poem. How does it differ from the punctuation in other poems? What effect does it create?
  • What patterns do you see in the speaker's relationship with an unnamed male in this poem and other poems? How do you interpret this pattern?

122: "After great pain, a formal feeling comes--"

  • In what way does the phrase "Of Ground, or Air, or Ought" suggest a progression? What might this progression mean?
  • What patterns do you see in the images of the poem?
  • What is the "letting go"? Is it good or bad? Why?

149: "There's been a Death, in the Opposite House"

  • What kinds of rhymes appear in this poem? How does the sound they create function in the poem?
  • How do the various persons react to the death?
  • What is "that Dark Parade"? How does this image work in the poem?

150: "A Visitor in Marl"

  • What associations does the word "Visitor" have?
  • How has this visitor left his mark?

168: "Much Madness is divinest Sense--"

  • How does the speaker interpret madness? Do you see any parallels in this characterization and Poe's characterization of madness?

172: "This is my letter to the World"

  • What similarities do you see in this poem and others by Dickinson, such as "I'm Nobody-Who are you?" and "Much Madness is the divinest Sense"?
  • How does an understanding of Dickinson's publishing history help us to understand this poem?:
  • What is a letter? How does this image work in this poem?
  • What kind of nature is the speaker describing?

184: "I heard a Fly buzz--when I died--"

  • How would you describe the imagery of this poem?
  • Where is the speaker situated?
  • Try to interpret the final line: "I could not see to see--."

209: "I started Early--Took my Dog"

  • How is the sea similar to other figures in Dickinson's poems? See "A Visitor in Marl."
  • What does the speaker mean by "the Upper Floor"?
  • What are the various meanings of "started"?
  • Why does the sea withdraw?

228: "One Crucifixion is recorded-only-

  • How is Gethsemane "but a Province--in the Being's Centre"?
  • What is the "newer--nearer Crucifixion"?

243: "I like to see it lap the Miles"

  • What is "it"?
  • How is it "docile and omnipotent"?
  • Compare the picture in this poem with Whitman's pictures in poems such as "Passage to India."

260: "The Tint I cannot take--is best--"

  • What is the tint the speaker cannot take?
  • How do the references to sight and touch work in this poem?

262: "The Brain--is wider than the Sky--"

  • How is Dickinson's notion of the brain similar to Poe's?
  • How might we apply the ideas in this poem to Dickinson's other poetry?
  • What is the relationship between syllable and sound, and how does this relationship help us to understand the speaker's notion of God?

265: "I cannot live with You--"

  • Why can the speaker not live with the listener? Who is the listener?
  • How does the metaphor of a cup work in the poem?
  • What does the speaker say about the listener and Jesus? What does she mean?
  • What does the "Door ajar" suggest?

269: "Pain--has an Element of Blank--"

  • What lends this poem a sense of authenticity?

270: "I dwell in Possibility--"

  • What do the images of windows and doors suggest in this poem?
  • How might we apply this poem to Dickinson's other poetry?
  • What kinds of rhymes does this poem contain?

278: "Essential Oils--are wrung--"

  • What is an essential oil? What function does the metaphor serve in this poem?
  • How might this poem be applied to personal experience?
  • How is the rose "in Lady's Drawer" differ from the "General Rose"?

290: "Because I could not stop for Death--"

  • What extended metaphor is at work here? What does it suggest about death?
  • What other metaphors appear in the poem?
  • Where is the speaker?
  • What is the progression of images in the poem?
  • "She inserts such words as "Carriage," "drove," "passed," and "toward" to give the poem a sense of movement, whether it is forward progress or a slight "pause" (Daigneault 10/3/96).
  • "The rhyme scheme starts out as being pretty normal, with the second and fourth lines ending in rhyme, but this changes as we go on. The middle two stanzas do not have a rhyme, but the last two do. This seems to be a completion of a cycle, as shown by the completion of the cycle of one's life, as seen in the poem" (Jakeman 10/3/96).
  • Dickinson "uses very powerful symbolism to contrast life and death. For example, in the third stanza, she describes the carriage of death passing a school yard where all the children are playing at recess. This creates a striking comparison between death (her in the carriage) with the beginning of life (the children playing)" (Smith 10/3/96).
  • "The second and fourth lines of verse 5 not only rhyme; they are the same word, 'ground.' This repetition is not accidental; Dickinson is emphasizing the location of the narrator's eternity by referring to it twice at the end of two different lines" (Premakumar 10/3/96).
  • "The next lines . . . create an image, 'The Carriage held but just Ourselves--And Immortality." I interpreted this line to mean that when we were babies, each in our own carriage, all that was in front of us was our future (Dickinson's 'Immortality'). Dickinson goes on through the phases of life--school, playgrounds, sunsets, basically signifying growing older" (Wallen 10/1/96).
  • "One other aspect of this poem that I found was that Dickinson starts with Immortality and ends with Eternity. These words are so close in meaning it is almost as if the poem could start over after the last line (circular pattern). In examining these words, the only difference that I thought was relevant was that immortality refers to the constant life of the body, whereas eternity could be the continual life of the soul or just an infinite measure of time" (Wallen 10/1/96).

389: "A narrow Fellow in the Grass"

  • What is the "narrow Fellow in the Grass"?
  • What is special about his appearance and disappearance?
  • How does he resemble other figures in Dickinson's poetry?

427: "Tell all the Truth but tell is slant--"

  • Read this poem in the context of others by Dickinson. Now try to interpret the final lines: "The Truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind--."
  • Does Dickinson follow her own advice? How?

466: "There is no Frigate like a Book"

  • What is the nature of literature, according to this poem?
  • How does Dickinson's own work "take us Lands away"?
  • What motivation is the speaker describing here and in other poems?

563: "My life closed twice before its close-"

  • What incidents in Dickinson's life might she have been describing in this poem?
  • In what ways might the poem be universal?

568: "That it will never come again"

  • What insights into human nature does Dickinson reveal in this poem?
  • What kind of belief might the speaker be addressing?

Emily Dickinson Facts Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Emily had problems with simple Grammer and punctuation?
    • True
    • False
  2. Emily said," The brain is wider then the _"?
    • River
    • World
    • Eye
    • Sky
  3. Emily was raised by her mother, a prominent lawyer?
    • True
    • False
  4. Emily dwelled in _?
    • Achievements
    • Money
    • Possibilities
    • Chance
  5. Emily was notoriously known at a great poet while alive?
    • True
    • False
  6. Emily had a total of 6 poems published by the time she died?
    • True
    • False

Answer Key

  1. True
  2. Sky
  3. False
  4. Possibilities
  5. False
  6. True

Greatest Poet of All time

Emily Dickinson Museum

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2009 Ryan Christopher Beitler


chanroth from California, USA on July 23, 2011:

Emily is my favorite poet and so is Robert frost. Love them two...thank you big much for this information. Now I know something about my favorite poet. :)

Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on February 26, 2011:

She is my personal muse - and more. Thank you for this exhaustive look at her! Excellent!

vietnamvet68 from New York State on September 16, 2010:

I have always enjoyed Emily's work.