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The Poetry of Emily Dickinson

The Poetry of Emily Dickinson

by Emily Dickinson

I find ecstasy in living—the mere sense of living is joy enough.


Emily Dickinson, age 16 (Courtesy of Amherst College Archives and Special Collections)

The Life and Times of Emily Dickinson

1830s
Emily Dickinson is born on December 10, 1830, in the family home, called the Homestead, in Amherst, Massachusetts.
In 1837, Queen Victoria takes the throne and becomes the longest-reigning British monarch, living until 1901.
Dickinson's father, Edward, begins his first term in the Massachusetts General Court, 1838.

1840s
Religious revival seizes Amherst, but Dickinson "attended none of the meetings," 1844-1845.
More than two hundred people—including Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott—attend the first women's rights convention, in Seneca Falls, New York, 1848.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow publishes his novel Kavanagh, which Dickinson's brother smuggles into the house; the book is an early influence on Dickinson, 1849

1850s
Religious revival permeates Amherst once more. Dickinson’s father, sister, and future sister in-law recount their conversion experiences and join the church. Emily Dickinson declares: “I am standing alone in rebellion.”
Amherst-Belchertown Railroad opens through efforts of Edward Dickinson, 1853.
The Dickinson family moves back to the Homestead, 1855.
As banks begin to collapse, the Panic of 1857 leads to a severe economic depression in America that lasts three years.
Dickinson’s most prolific years as a poet, 1858-1865.

1860s
Abraham Lincoln becomes president; the Civil War begins as Confederate forces attack Fort Sumter, 1861.
Civil War ends with the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia; Lincoln assassinated, 1865.
The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution is passed, abolishing slavery in the U.S., 1865.

1870s
After corresponding with her for eight years, Thomas Wentworth Higginson meets Dickinson for the first time, 1870.
Dickinson's father dies, 1874; her mother becomes paralyzed after a stroke, 1875. Dickinson will nurse her mother for the next seven years.
Alexander Graham Bell first conceives of the telephone in 1874, after conducting experiments at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and develops it two years later.

1880s
Impressionist movement creates works of art known for intentionally visible brushstrokes, striking use of light, and ordinary subject matter.
Dickinson's health fails, 1883; she dies in 1886.
Writer Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885), a friend of Dickinson's, publishes the bestselling novel Ramona, 1884. She was the only writer who urged Dickinson to publish her poems.

"I had a terror — since September — I could tell to none — and so I sing, as the Boy does by the Burying Ground — because I am afraid [ . . . ]

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. I have a Brother and Sister — My Mother does not care for thought — and Father, too busy with his Briefs — to notice what we do — He buys me many Books — but begs me not to read them — because he fears they joggle the Mind. They are all religious — except me — and address an Eclipse, every morning — whom they call their 'Father.' But I fear my story fatigues you — I would like to learn — Could you tell me how to grow — or is it unconveyed — like Melody — or Witchcraft?"
—Emily Dickinson
A Letter from Emily Dickinson to Thomas W. Higginson April 25, 1862

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