Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (December 10, 1830 � May 15, 1886) was an American poet. Though virtually unknown in her lifetime, Dickinson has come to be regarded with Walt Whitman as one of the two great American poets of the 19th century.

Emily Dickinson was born in a house known as The Homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts on December 10, 1830. The Homestead, built by Emily's grandfather, was the first brick house in the town. Her parents were Attorney Edward Dickinson and Emily Norcross Dickinson. There were three children in this affluent family: Austin, Emily and Lavinia. Edward and Austin were graduates of Amherst College, of which Edward's father; Samuel Fowler Dickinson was a founder. Edward was a member of the Whig party, which would become the Republican party and served as a Representative.

Emily studied for one year at South Hadley Female Seminary, later called Mt. Holyoke, but her father decided that was enough and she never received any further formal education. It was during this year that Emily refused to become a member of the Congregational Church in which her family was active. After the years she spent in school, Emily Dickinson spent the rest of her life in her family's home, as did her sister Lavinia. Neither sister ever married. Austin married Susan Huntington Gilbert and they lived next door in a house known as The Evergreens with their three children

Dickinson lived life as many affluent women did in her day, keeping house and remaining at home. She filled her hours with cooking, gardening and writing. She and her sister in law, Susan, exchanged letters throughout their lives, even though they lived next door to each other. Dickinson's letters were preserved by Susan, Emily herself and others with whom she corresponded, so her life is well documented- if somewhat mundane. Following her college years her communications tended more toward letter writing than toward actual interaction with people.

Emily was indulged in her "eccentricity" by her family. She was a profound and intelligent poet, and her preoccupation with her writing seemed a harmless enough outlet for her peculiarities.

Emily Dickinson wrote some 1800 poems in her lifetime and compiled them along with some of her letters in hand bound books. Throughout the early 1860s she wrote about a hundred poems a year. Problems with her eyes in later years caused her production to diminish. However, she continued to write until 1885 or 1886, just before her death.

Dickinson's poems were written using unusual meter and rhyme schemes that went against the established norms, but she continued to write her poems her way throughout her life time. She had an uncanny sense of expression when it came to the subjects of mortality, love and hope.

Only seven of Dickinson's poems were published during her lifetime. She sent a few of her poems to Thomas Wentworth Higginson for publication, but he disapproved of their unique style, and didn't publish them, but he and Dickinson exchanged letters for a long period of time. Poet and Editor Helen Hunt Jackson repeatedly invited her to submit her poems but she managed to wrest only one from her for anonymous publication. Despite common belief to the contrary, she did have a handful of poems published in her lifetime, but not nearly the complete collection.

In 1882 Emily's brother Austin began an affair with another of Emily's supporters, Mabel Loomis Todd, the wife of an Amherst astronomy professor. The affair continued until Austin's death in 1895 and caused enormous upheaval in both families.

The Homestead, where Emily Dickinson was born was sold out of the family in 1833, but Edward repurchased it in 1855. Dickinson died of Bright's disease, a kidney ailment, in the house where she was born on May 15, 1886.

After her death, Lavinia invited Mabel Loomis Todd to help her edit Emily's work for publication. The two were liberal with their editorial decisions and tried their best to make Dickinson's poems fit into the expected forms. During the process, disagreements brought about because of the affair between Mabel and Austin caused Lavinia and Mabel to have a parting of the ways, with each woman keeping a portion of Emily's manuscripts. At that point only a few had been published. Finally, years later, Austin's daughter, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, took over the work of publishing the work.

In 1955 Dickinson's poems were at last published together in one book, in their original forms, not the edited versions produced by her sister and Mabel. Her work received critical acclaim and popular success. She and Walt Whitman are considered the two greatest American Poets. Ironically, Dickinson was discouraged from reading his work, as it was considered inappropriate.