Learn 8 Facts About American Poet Emily Dickinson


Daguerreotype portrait of Emily Dickinson, c. 1847 (Picture: Wikimedia CommonsPublic domain)

Unlike novels where a story unfolds over hundreds of pages, poets communicate themes and feelings in just a few lines. One of the most beloved masters of this craft is the 19th century writer Emily Dickinson. His unique style of writing used unconventional punctuation and structure that was extremely modern for the time.

Although she is one of the most famous poetesses in American literature, not much is known about her private life. Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, she has spent most of her life in relative isolation at home. She never married or had children, and most of her important relationships were maintained through written correspondence. Throughout these years of isolation, Dickinson continued to write his poetry, accumulating 1,800 poems by the time of his death at the age of 55.

Scroll down to discover 8 facts about the American poet.

Discover 8 facts about 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson.

Portrait of Emily Dickinson and her family

Otis Allen Bullard, “Portrait of Emily Elizabeth, Austin and Lavinia Dickinson”, c. 1840 (Picture: Wikimedia CommonsPublic domain)

His family had close ties to Amherst College.

Dickinson spent most of his life in Amherst, Massachusetts, at the family home. The impressive property – which is now a museum dedicated to Emily Dickinson – was built by her paternal grandfather, Samuel Dickinson, one of the founders of Amherst College. Dickinson’s father, Edward was a trustee of the institution in addition to being a practicing lawyer.

She was reclusive.

Dickinson never traveled very far from her hometown, but she did not begin to withdraw from society until the 1850s. It is still unclear why she isolated herself. A doctor diagnosed Dickinson with “nervous prostration” during his lifetime, but modern researchers have offered agoraphobia and epilepsy as other possible causes.

By the late 1860s, Dickinson’s isolation had become well known in his hometown. She corresponded with her friends and family primarily by letter, rarely left the house, and spoke to visitors through the door rather than face to face.

Facts About Emily Dickinson

Daguerreotype portrait of Susan Dickinson, Emily Dickinson’s sister-in-law, c. 1913 (Picture: Wikimedia CommonsPublic domain)

She had a close relationship with her sister-in-law.

Dickinson’s older brother Austin married Susan Gilbert in 1856, and the couple moved into a new house next to the Dickinson Homestead called the Evergreens. Susan and Dickinson became very close and exchanged countless letters during Dickinson’s lifetime.

Susan was one of Dickinson’s great sources of literary support and provided commentary on his poems. “With the exception of Shakespeare, you have spoken to me of more knowledge than anyone alive,” Dickinson wrote to Susan in a letter.

She wore a lot of white (but not all the time).

One of the most famous myths surrounding Dickinson is that she wore exclusively white. And although she wore a large amount of white clothing – and in fact, the most detailed description of Dickinson by her friend and literary critic, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, places her in white piqué – there is evidence to support that she wore other colors as well, like brown and black. The only conclusive portrait of Dickinson features her in a dark colored dress.

Facts About Emily Dickinson

Photo of the Emily Dickinson Museum, formerly the Dickinson family farm (Photo: Daderot via Wikimedia CommonsPublic domain)

She dedicated poems to an unknown love.

A group of Dickinson poems were addressed to an unnamed character whom she referred to as “Master”, “Sir”, and “Signor”. Several theories have circulated around Master letters. While some believe they are describing a person or several individuals, others propose that Dickinson is talking about a muse or even God.

She was an avid gardener.

The Dickinson Homestead was famous for its abundance of flowers and plants. Dickinson and his sister were educated in botany as children and are very knowledgeable about gardening. Even when she didn’t see anyone in person, Dickinson was known to send flowers and a poem in her place.

She kept a collection of pressed flowers.

In addition to growing exotic flowers in the Homestead garden, Dickinson also maintained a herbarium, which is a collection of plants preserved for scientific study. Inside the 66-page leather-bound book were 424 pressed flowers, cataloged with detailed written notes on each species.

Facts About Emily Dickinson

Cover of the first edition of Emily Dickinson’s ‘Complete Poems’, published in 1890, four years after her death (Photo: Wikimedia CommonsPublic domain)

His first book of poetry was published posthumously.

After Dickinson died in 1886 at the age of 55, his collection of 1800 poems was discovered by his younger sister, Lavinia. Four years later, in 1890, Dickinson’s Complete poems was published by Thomas H. Johnson.

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