“Saying nothing…sometimes says the most.”
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born on this day in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1830. Today is the 182 anniversary of her birth.
Emily was the second of three of three children born to Edward and Emily Norcross Dickinson. Her brother William Austin Dickinson was born a year before her, her litter sister Lavinia (“Vinnie”) three years after. Her father was a lawyer who served in the Massachusetts State legislature and Senate and the US House of Representatives.
Emily was a proper Victorian girl and was well-educated in English, History, Science (especially Botany), the Classics, Literature, and Math at Amherst Academy.
“By Emily Dickinson’s account, she delighted in all aspects of the school—the curriculum, the teachers, the students … At the academy she developed a group of close friends within and against whom she defined her self and its written expression. …the time at school was a time of intellectual challenge and relative freedom for girls, especially in an academy such as Amherst, which prided itself on its progressive understanding of education.” [Poetry Foundation. org]
At 16 she entered Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. She found her time at the Seminary less agreeable and less challenging and she only stayed a year.
In February, 1852 the Springfield Daily Republican published “Sic transit gloria mundi,” Dickinson’s first published work.
The speakers in Dickinson’s poetry, like those in Brontë’s and Browning’s works, are sharp-sighted observers who see the inescapable limitations of their societies as well as their imagined and imaginable escapes. [Poetry Foundation. org]
Only 20 of her 1700 poems were published in her lifetime. She collected her writing in notebooks and shared her poems with her family and close friends, especially her sister-in-law Susan Gilbert Dickinson.
In 1864 and 1865 she went to stay with her Norcross cousins in Boston to see an eye doctor whereupon she was forbidden to read or write. It would be the last time she ventured from Amherst. [Online-Literature.com]
By 1870 she and Lavinia were staying at home to care for their bed ridden mother. In 1872 “Dickinson enjoyed a romance with Judge Otis Phillips Lord, a friend of her fathers.” [Emily Dickinson Museum.org]
In 1874 her father died unexpectedly. At that point Emily stopped going out in public. She lost her nephew Gib in 1883. Judge Lord died in 1884. And her dear friend Helen Hunt Jackson passed in 1885. Death seemed to surround her. Emily herself was very ill with an sickness “affecting the kidneys, Bright’s Disease, symptoms of which include chronic pain and edema, which may have contributed to her seclusion from the outside world.” [Online-Literature.com]
To make the abstract tangible, to define meaning without confining it, to inhabit a house that never became a prison, Dickinson created in her writing a distinctively elliptical language for expressing what was possible but not yet realized.[Poetry Foundation. org]
“She remained in poor health until she died at age 55 on May 15, 1886. She was buried four days later in the town cemetery, now known as West Cemetery.” [Ibid]
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.
We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.
Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.
We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.
Since then ’tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward eternity.
- Emily Dickinson: celebrating a soul who selected her own society (acpladult.wordpress.com)
- Saturday Review: Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson (tomatoesandespresso.com)