The Life of Emily Dickinson


Although she lived a seemingly secluded life, Emily Dickinson\'s many
encounters with death influenced many of her poems and letters. Perhaps one of
the most ground breaking and inventive poets in American history, Dickinson has
become as well known for her bizarre and eccentric life as for her incredible
poems and letters. Numbering over 1,700, her poems highlight the many moments
in a 19th century New Englander woman\'s life, including the deaths of some of
her most beloved friends and family, most of which occurred in a short period of
time (Benfey 6-25).
Several biographers of Dickinson point out her methods of exploring
several topics in “circumference,” as she says in her own words. Death is
perhaps one of the best examples of this exploration and examination. Other
than one trip to Washington and Philadelphia, several excursions to Boston to
see a doctor, and a few short years in school, Emily never left her home town of
Amherst, Massachusetts. In the latter part of her life she rarely left her
large brick house, and communicated even to her beloved sister through a door
rarely left “slightly ajar.” This seclusion gave her a reputation for
eccentricity to the local towns people, and perhaps increased her interest in
death (Whicher 26).
Dressing in white every day Dickinson was know in Amherst as, “the New
England mystic,” by some. Her only contact to her few friends and
correspondents was through a series of letters, seen as some critics to be equal
not only in number to her poetic works, but in literary genius as well (Sewall
98).
Explored thoroughly in her works, death seems to be a dominating theme
through out Dickinson\'s life. Dickinson, although secluded and isolated had a
few encounters with love, two perhaps serious affairs were documented in her
letters and poems. But, since Emily\'s life was so self kept and private the
exact identity of these people remains unsure. What is known, is during the
Civil War , worried for her friends and families lives, death increased in
frequency to be a dominant theme in her writings. After 1878, the year of her
influential father\'s death, (a treasurer of Amherst college, and a member of the
Congress), this theme increased with each passing of friend or family, peeking
perhaps with the death of the two men she loved (Waugh 100).
But, as documented by several critics, Dickinson viewed death, as she
did most ideas, in circumference. She was careful to high light and explore all
the paradoxes and emotional extremes involved with death. One poem expresses
her depression after discovering her two loves had passed away. She wrote, “I
never lost as much as twice, and that was in the sod; Twice I have stood a
beggar, Before the door of God,” (Porter 170).
Some critics believe it was the suggestion of death which spawned
Dickinson\'s greatest output of Poetry in 1862. After hearing from Charles
Wadsworth, her mentor, and perhaps secret love, that he was ill, and would be “
leaving the land,” Dickinson made her withdrawal from society more apparent
and her writing more frequent and intense. By then Dickinson was already in her
mid thirties, and simply progressed from there to become more reserved and write
more of death and loss, than of nature and love, as had been common in her
earlier years (Whicher 39).
In the poem, My life Had Stood- A Loaded Gun, (since most of Dickinson\'s
poems were unnamed, many are known by the first line of the poem, as in this
case) Dickinson writes in the last stanza, “ Though I than He (the owner of the
gun in the analogy) - may longer live- He longer must- than I- For I have but
the power to kill, Without-the power to die-.” Critics state that here Dickinson,
(writing during the Civil War, 1863 specifically) speaks of the importance of
mortality and death, and highlights the pure foolishness behind killing
(Griffith 188).
As stated above, Dickinson is known for encompassing many perspectives
on a single topic. In, I could not stop for Death, also written in 1863,
Dickinson writes of immortality and eternity, and although death does not “come
in haste”, his eventual coming is inevitable since death in eternal, “ Since
then-\'tis Centuries-and yet, Feels shorter than the day, I first surmised the
Horse\'s Head, Were toward Eternity-.” (Porter 170).
Over all Dickinson\'s works can be seen as a study into the thoughts and
emotions of people, especially in her exploration death. From its inevitable
coming to its eternal existence, Dickinson explains her feelings and