emily dickinsons poetry



Emily Dickinson is regarded as “one of the greatest American poets that
have ever existed.”(Benfey 5) The unique qualities of her brief, but
emotional, poems were so uncommon that they made her peerless in a sense that
her writing could not be compared to. Her diverse poetic character could be
directly connected to her tragic and unusual life. The poems that she wrote were
often about death and things of that nature, and can be related to her
distressed existence. Dickinson’s forthright examination of her philosophical
and religious skepticism, her unorthodox attitude toward her sex and calling,
and her distinctive style—characterized by elliptical compressed expression,
striking imagery and innovative poetic structure—have earned widespread
acclaim, and her poems have become some of the best loved in American

Although only seven of Dickinson’s poems were published during her lifetime
and her work drew harsh criticism when it first appeared, many of her short
lyrics on the subjects of nature, love, death, and immortality are now
considered among the most emotionally and intellectually profound in the English

Biographers generally agree that, “Emily Dickinson experienced an emotional
crisis of an undetermined nature in the early 1860’s.”(Cameron 26) Dickinson’s
antisocial behavior became excessive following 1869. “Her refusal to leave her
home or to meet visitors, her gnomic sayings, and her habit of always wearing a
white dress earned her a reputation of eccentricity among her neighbors.”(Cameron
29) Her intellectual and social isolation further increased when her father died
suddenly in 1874 and he was left to care for her invalid mother. The death of
her mother in 1882 followed two years later by the death of Judge Otis P. Lord,
a close family friend and her most satisfying romantic attachment, contributed
to what Dickinson described as an ‘attack of nerves’.”(Cameron 29)

Emily Dickinson’s distressed state of mind is believed to have inspired her
to write more abundantly: in 1862 alone she is thought to have composed over 300

“Her absorption in the world of feeling found some relief in associations
with nature; yet although she loved nature and wrote many nature lyrics, her
interpretations are always more or less swayed by her own state of being.”(Benfey
22) “The quality of her writing is profoundly stirring, because it betrays,
not the intellectual pioneer, but the acutely observant woman, whose capacity
for feeling was profound.”(Bennet 61)

All seven of the poems published during her lifetime were published
anonymously and some were done without consent. “The editors of the
periodicals in which her lyrics appeared made significant alterations to them in
attempt to regularize the meter and grammar, consequently discouraging Dickinson
from seeking further publication.”(Fuller 17)

When her poetry was first published in a complete unedited edition after her
death, Emily was acknowledged as a poet who was truly ahead of her time.
However, there is no doubt that critics are justified in complaining that, “Her
work was often cryptic in thought and unmelodious in expression.”(Bennet 64)

Today, an increasing number of studies from diverse critical viewpoints are
devoted to her life and works, thus securing Dickinson’s status as a major

“There’s a certain slant of light” is a poem in which seasonal change
becomes a symbol of inner change. The relationship of inner and outer change is
contrasted. “It begins with a moment of arrest that signals the nature and
meaning of winter. It tells that summer passed but insists that the passing
occurred so slowly that it did not seem like the betrayal that it really was.”(Bloom
122) The comparison to the slow fading of grief also implies a failure of
awareness on the speaker’s part. The second and third lines begin a
description of a transitional period, and their claim that the speaker felt no
betrayal shows that she had to struggle against this feeling. The next eight
lines create, “A personified scene of late summer or early autumn. The
distilled quiet allows time for contemplation.”(Eberwein 354) The “twilight
long begun” suggests that the speaker is getting used to the coming season and
is aware that change was occurring before she truly noticed it. “These lines
reinforce the poems initial description of a slow lapse and also convey the idea
that foreknowledge of decline is part of the human condition.”(Bloom 124) The
personification of the polite but coldly determined guest, who insists on
leaving no matter how earnestly she is asked to stay, is convincing on the
realistic level. “On the level of analogy, the courtesy probably corresponds
to the restrained beauty of the season, and the cold determination corresponds
to the inevitability of the year’s cycle.”(Bloom 122) The movement from