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Why Is Emily Dickinson so Popular in Poetry and English Class?

Books & Writing

Sun, June 09

Emily Dickinson holds immense importance in the world of poetry and literature due to her groundbreaking contributions and unique style. Her works have impacted the literary landscape, influencing generations of writers and readers alike.

“I'm nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?

Then there's a pair of us — don't tell !

They'd banish us, you know.”

Dickinson's significance stems from several key aspects of her poetry and legacy:

(Extract from Emily Dickinson's poetry)

1. Innovative Style: Emily Dickinson's unconventional use of punctuation, capitalization, and form set her apart from her contemporaries. Her enigmatic dashes and capital letters create a distinctive rhythm and emphasis in her poems, challenging traditional poetic conventions and inviting readers to engage with her work in new ways.

2. Exploration of Themes: Dickinson's poetry delves into profound themes such as nature, spirituality, love, death, and the human psyche. Through her introspective and often cryptic verses, she offers profound insights into the complexities of human emotions and experiences, inviting readers to contemplate the mysteries of existence.

3. Unique Voice: Dickinson's distinctive voice, characterized by its wit, intelligence, and emotional depth, resonates with readers across time and cultures. Her ability to capture the nuances of human consciousness and the beauty of the natural world in succinct and evocative language has earned her a place among the most celebrated poets in history.

4. Feminist Icon: As a female poet writing in the 19th century, Emily Dickinson defied societal norms and expectations, choosing a life of seclusion and creative independence. Her refusal to conform to traditional gender roles and her commitment to her art has made her an enduring symbol of feminist empowerment and artistic integrity.

5. Literary Influence: Emily Dickinson's works have inspired countless poets, writers, and scholars, shaping the course of American literature and beyond. Her innovative approach to language and form continues to influence contemporary poets, who draw inspiration from her mastery of craft and her ability to convey profound truths in deceptively simple verses.

Let’s dive into three of her works so we understand her more — "I taste a liquor never brewed," "Some keep the Sabbath going to church," and "I heard a Fly buzz - when I died." We'll unravel the themes, language, and historical context that make Dickinson's work so enduring and influential.

1. “I taste a liquor never brewed”

(Image by Khushi Gupta; Quote by Emily Dickinson)

In this poem, Dickinson explores the intoxicating power of nature and the spiritual experiences it can evoke.

“I taste a liquor never brewed -

From Tankards scooped in Pearl -

Not all the Frankfort Berries

Yield such an Alcohol!”

The speaker describes a sense of euphoria and transcendence that surpasses any earthly drink.

“Inebriate of air - am I

- And Debauchee of Dew-

Reeling- thro endless summer days -

From inns of molten Blue -“

Dickinson's vivid imagery, such as "Inebriate of air am I," and her use of dashes and capitalization create a sense of heightened emotion and sensory richness.

“Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats -

And Saints - to windows run -

To see the little Tippler

Leaning against the - Sun!”

The poem celebrates the transformative and restorative qualities of nature, highlighting Dickinson's deep connection with the natural world and her belief in its ability to inspire profound revelations.

(Emily Dickinson | 1830-1886)

2. “Some keep the Sabbath going to church”

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –

I keep it, staying at Home –

With a Bobolink for a Chorister–

And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Dickinson challenges traditional religious practices in this poem, suggesting that one can find spiritual fulfillment outside the confines of organized religion. The speaker emphasizes a personal and intimate relationship with nature as a source of divine connection, contrasting it with the formalities of attending church.

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice–

I, just wear my Wings –

And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,

Our little Sexton – sings

Dickinson's exploration of spirituality in everyday life and her critique of institutionalized religion reflect her independent and unconventional views on faith. Through vivid imagery and lyrical language, she invites readers to reconsider their notions of spirituality and seek deeper meaning beyond conventional religious structures.

3. “I heard a Fly buzz - when I died”

With Blue - uncertain - stumbling Buzz -

Between the light - and me -

And then the Windows failed - and then

I could not see to see -

This haunting poem reflects on the moment of death and the disruption of the expected solemnity by the presence of a fly. Dickinson paints a vivid scene of the speaker's final moments, emphasizing the intrusion of the mundane into the profound experience of passing.

The fly symbolizes the inevitability of death and the disruption of conventional funeral rituals, challenging readers to confront the stark reality of mortality. Through her evocative language, imagery, and symbolism, Dickinson prompts reflection on the fragility of life and the uncertainties that accompany death.

Overview

Emily Dickinson was known for her unique personality traits. She was often described as introspective, reclusive, and enigmatic. Dickinson led a largely secluded life, spending a lot of time in her family home in Amherst, Massachusetts. She was known for her deep thinking, contemplative nature, and her profound exploration of themes such as death, nature, and the human experience in her poetry.

Dickinson's poetry often delved into complex emotions, inner thoughts, and observations about the world around her. Her inner thoughts, as reflected in her poetry, were profound and introspective. She often explored themes of mortality, love, nature, and the human experience in her work.

Dickinson's poetry delved into the complexities of emotions, thoughts, and observations about life and death. Her inner thoughts were characterized by a deep sensitivity to the world around her and a keen introspection into her feelings and experiences. Through her poetry, Dickinson expressed a deep understanding of the human condition and a unique perspective on the complexities of existence.

Emily Dickinson's reclusive nature during her lifetime can be attributed to several factors. She was known to be a very introspective and contemplative person, preferring solitude to focus on her writing and thoughts. She found solace and inspiration in her seclusion, allowing her to explore deep emotions and complex ideas in her poetry.

Additionally, Dickinson faced personal challenges and losses in her life, such as the deaths of loved ones, which may have contributed to her withdrawal from society. Her reclusiveness also allowed her the freedom to express her unconventional thoughts and ideas without conforming to societal norms or expectations.

Due to her need for solace, her poems weren’t published until after her death. Only a few poems were published during her lifetime, and even those, anonymously. She was a very private person and did not seek out fame or publication.

Dickinson wrote nearly 1,800 poems but only a handful were published anonymously. After she died in 1886, her sister Lavinia discovered the extensive collection of poems and letters that Emily had left behind.

It was Lavinia who took on the task of organizing and publishing Emily Dickinson's poems. The first volume of her poetry was published in 1890, four years after her death. Over time, more of her works were discovered and published, leading to Dickinson's posthumous rise to fame as one of the most significant and influential poets in American literature.

The decision to publish her poems after her death allowed the world to appreciate the depth and beauty of Dickinson's work, which might have otherwise remained largely unknown. As a result, Dickinson has become a great influence on the literary world.

Note: Amherst College holds the original of the only currently authenticated photograph of Emily Dickinson. The daguerreotype was included in Millicent Todd Bingham's gift of Dickinson material to Amherst College in 1956. Bingham acquired it from Wallace Keep (AC 1894) whose brother, Austin Baxter Keep (AC 1897), received the photograph directly from Lavinia Dickinson sometime in the 1890s.
In 1978 the daguerreotype traveled to the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY for conservation treatment. The image was removed from its case, carefully washed, photographed, then re-sealed. The image above is a scan of a black and white photograph taken of the daguerreotype when it was unsealed during treatment at the George Eastman House.
This image is in the public domain and Amherst College claims no authority over its use and reproduction.

Khushi Gupta
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