Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was an American poet and one of the leading female poets of her time. Emily lived a quiet life and spent most of her adult life in seclusion, only leaving her home for occasional visits to friends. Emily wrote almost all of her poems during this period of seclusion and had them published without showing them to anyone first. Emily’s poems were known as much more than just poems; they became a way Emily communicated with the outside world as she never talked about herself or shared any other written pieces with those around her.
Emily died on May 15, 1886 at the age of 56 after fighting breast cancer for many years, but not before obtaining a widespread fame throughout New England. Emily was born on December 10, 1830 in Amherst Massachusetts to Emily Norcross Dickinson and Edward Dickinson. Emily had three younger siblings Benjamin Philpot Dickinson, Lavinia Norcross Dickinson and Austin Dickinson. Emily was a sickly child and did not attend school for many years; instead she was privately tutored at home due to her weak constitution and because it was considered improper for girls of the time to be out in public or even receiving an education.
Emily did not learn how to read until she was eight years old, but once Emily did begin to learn how to read Emily became obsessed with books. At age fifteen Emily began reading Greek mythology and other such classics which transformed Emily’s writing style from the conventional poetry styles used by most female poets of her time to an original style Emily expressed her own feelings through uniquely clever metaphors.
Emily also began writing her own poems at age fifteen, though Emily only shared these poems with her family and friends Emily’s father encouraged Emily in her literary pursuits even giving Emily one dollar for each poem Emily wrote until the end of his life; unfortunately these poems are lost forever. After graduating from Amherst Academy (which was primarily a school for boys) Emily spent three years at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (a well-known boarding school), but left without finishing due to poor health.
After Emily failed to finish at Mount Holyoke she taught briefly in the area before returning home again where she probably took care of household duties as many women did during this time. Emily was adamant about keeping this time as private as possible and very little is known of Emily’s life during these years, but Emily shared many poems with her family during this time. Emily’s mother passed away in 1882 which left Emily feeling utterly alone; Emily spent several months in Boston with her sister Lavinia until Emily decided to become a recluse at home in order to devote herself almost completely to writing.
When Emily returned home she began splitting her days between periods of seclusion during which she would write poetry and short stories then periods where Emily would go into town or visit friends for an hour or two then return back to the house again leaving very few people ever seeing Emily throughout most of her adult life. During one of Emily’s brief trips into town Emily decided to visit her cousins Charles and Emma Norcross.
Emily met Charles’ friend Samuel Bowles during this visit, Emily and Sam became close with many shared interests including a love of literature and Emily was invited to contribute poems for his newspaper in Springfield Massachusetts the “Republican” Emily was paid $5 per published poem. Emily sent poems under the name “Master” so she would not be connected with the poems and continued writing even when Sam asked Emily to stop upon realizing how prolific Emily was; Emily responded saying that if he did not want any more poems then she would stop sending them but also said that she could not promise that (Dickinson).
Bowles printed almost all of Emily’s known work in his paper Emily was a semi-famous writer in the area and in 1866 Emily’s first book of poetry “A narrow Fellow in the Grass” was published Emily sent copies to all her friends including Samuel Bowles who commented on Emily’s collection by saying that Emily had “a most uncommon gift” (Dickinson).
In 1870 Emily received a letter from Thomas Wentworth Higginson an American author, poet and abolitionist whom she greatly admired asking if he could come visit Emily at home. Emily said yes and when Mr. Higginson arrived they discussed Emily’s writing which included some poems from her second volume “Further Poems” published earlier that year (Dickinson). Mr. Higginson did not like many of Emily’s poems, Emily’s writing was unconventional and Emily was not “feminine” enough for Mr.
Higginson yet Emily could not have cared less about what others thought of her poems Emily continued to write even when almost nobody in the world would ever read her poems Emily only shared them with friends, family or through “letters”, Emily’s method of sending poems to friends included placing the envelopes containing the poems inside other envelopes addressed to another friend then mailing both envelopes at once essentially sharing her work by proxy (Dickinson).
Emily Dickinson died on May 15, 1886 after an illness which several doctors were unable to diagnose. Emily bequeathed all her manuscripts and correspondence to sister Lavinia who kept them until she died in 1899; Emily left all her manuscripts to sister Lavinia who told Emily that Emily would have “a monument more durable than brass” (Dickinson) Emily Dickinson’s poems are considered some of the finest ever written.