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Introduction to Emily Dickinson: Home

Born in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1830, Emily Dickinson is one of the most prominent 19th century American poets. Unrecognised and largely unpublished in her own time, she produced nearly 1800 poems in private which were discovered upon her death.

Welcome

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Hope is the thing with feathers, by Evan Robertson in 'Hope is the thing: A Collection of Poem by Emily Dickinson', Obvious State (New York), 2020

Welcome to an Introduction to Emily Dickinson. This guide is designed to introduce undergraduate English Literature students to the works of Emily Dickinson, and provide a range of resources to help them critically engage with and evaluate her poems, including primary material, biographies, commentaries, databases, audio-visual material, and academic support resources.

Featured Poem

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –
’Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –

Manuscript Gallery

"There's a certain slant of light" manuscript (c.1861)

(Source: Emily Dickinson Archive)

"Twas late when Summer went" manuscript (c.1873)

(Source: Emily Dickinson Archive)

"Wild nights" manuscript (c.1861)

(Source: Emily Dickinson Archive)

Letter to Austin Dickinson (brother) (c.1850)

(Source: Amherst College Digital Collection)

"I am nobody" manuscript (c.1861)

(Source: Emily Dickinson Archive)

"Hope is the thing with feathers" manuscript (c.1858-1862)

(Source: Emily Dickinson Archive)

About Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson, daguerreotype, ca. 1847. (Amherst College Archives & Special Collections, gift of Millicent Todd Bingham, 1956)

 

Emily Dickinson was born on December 10, 1830, in Amherst, Massachusetts. She was extremely prolific as a poet and regularly enclosed poems in letters to friends. However, she only published seven of her poems anonymously in the public domain, and was not publicly recognized during her lifetime. She never married, and died in Amherst in 1886. 

Upon her death, her family discovered nearly 1800 poems among Dickinson's belongings, some of which were personally sewn and bound in sets known as 'fascicles'. The first volume of her work was published posthumously in 1890, and was initially edited and redacted according to nineteenth century aesthetics by Dickinson's personal acquaintances. The original content and order of the poems was not restored until editions by Thomas H. Johnson in 1975 and Ralph W. Franklin in 1981 were published, which endeavored to restore the original text and establish a chronology. 

Emily Dickinson is known for her use of vivid imagery, lyricism and musicality, intense thematic explorations of love, death, and the self, and her unique writing style. She used extensive dots, dashes, and uncustomary capitalisation in her poems, and favoured trimeter and tetrameter over the conventional pentameter. One of the most distinctive aspects of her poetry was the use of slant rhyme, which defied the conventions of perfect rhyming schemes popular in the nineteenth century. Dickinson was mythologised as a recluse, and given the moniker 'Woman in White' in her later years due her preference for wearing white dresses. Recent scholarship shows that she had a rich social life and connections, exemplified through her surviving letters and her intimate relationship with her sister-in-law, Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson.

 

This summary was written by the librarian drawing on the resources contained in this Library Guide. 

Useful Links

Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium: A Facsimile Edition. The Belknap Press of Harvard UP (Cambridge and London), 2006

Academic Support

RMIT Library

The RMIT Library offers a range of resources and databases to students. Take time to explore the library website, and discover the library cataogue, online study support workshops, how-to recordings, study guides, referencing tools, databases, and more. You can even chat to a librarian online! Make sure you login using your RMIT institutional credentials to be able to access the full range of resources available.

https://www.rmit.edu.au/library

Study Support

If you need help with developing your research skills or with referencing, writing essays or preparing for exams, access the RMIT Study Support Centre. You can access support online or in-person. 

https://www.rmit.edu.au/students/study-support 

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity means acting with honesty, fairness, trust, respect and responsibility in learning, teaching and research. There are severe penalties for academic misconduct. Make sure you understand what academic integrity is, that you are conducting your own work and research, and that you are referencing your sources correctly.

You can read more about academic integrity by visiting the page linked below.

https://www.rmit.edu.au/students/student-essentials/assessment-and-exams/academic-integrity

 


All images and audio-visual material included in this guide are copyrighted and remain the intellectual property of the creators.