The Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson
By: Emily Dickinson
Format/Source: Hardback; my purchase
Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts on December 10,1830, to a prominent family of academics, lawyers, and statesmen. Following her education at Amherst Academy and Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary, Dickinson embarked on her impassioned journey as apoet. Composing first in a fairly conventional style, the poetess soon began to experiment with her writing; her frequent use of dashes, sporadic capitalization of nouns, broken meter, and idiosyncratic metaphors made her work unparalleled for its time.
Dickinson’s poetry dealt not only with issues of death, faith, and immortality, but with nature, domesticity, and the power of language to transfer emotions into written text. An obsessively private writer – only ten of her some 1,700 poems were published during her lifetime – Dickinson withdrew from social contact at the ageof 23 and devoted herself to writingin secret. It wasn’t until her death in 1866 that the scope of Dickinson’s work was realized, when her sister Lavinia found her prolific collection in a dresser drawer.
Since this time, Emily Dickinson’s writing has had significant influences on modern American poetry; her complex use of language and form has contributed to her reputation as one of the most innovative poets of the 19thcentury. This collection of some of her finest works illustrates not only Dickinson’s talent as a writer but her profound love of language, nature, and life.
I read some of Emily Dickinson’s poems in passing a few years ago (a-ha! Found the review); didn’t think much of them at the time (these were my early days dipping into poetry) though I thought the poet and her life was rather interesting (fellow introvert and all). I think it was after reading Nuala O’Connor’s Miss Emily (review) that I thought I should go back and give Dickinson’s poetry another go.
Having read this collection, I’ve come to the conclusion that alas, I think Emily Dickinson’s poetry just isn’t for me. This collection is broken down to three series, depending on the time period in which they were written and published, and then further broken down depending on theme (life, love, time/death, nature). They vary in length and style–you could almost feel her experimenting with variations of imagery and rhyme and structure over the course of her poetry–and I think I’ve mentioned it before but her choice of imagery are rather curious.
Having said all of that, though, it’s purely personal preference that I say that her poetry just isn’t for me: her poetry doesn’t quite move me the way other poets’ works do, they don’t seize any great emotion from me. There’s no particular poem that stands out in memory for me. I do however appreciate how her poetry seems like a predecessor to much of the contemporary poetry that I’ve read in terms of going with your own structure and style, so there’s that. I’m glad to have revisited her work again, but I think that’s it for me and Dickinson’s works for now.