Monday, February 27, 2012

Sheroes: Emily Dickinson

SHERO: Emily Dickinson, poet
LIFE: December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886
FAME: Regarded as one of America's greatest poets.

Emily Dickinson was one of the greatest poets in American history. She is famous for dressing in all white and becoming a total recluse by her late twenties. She secretly wrote nearly 1800 poems while locked in her room refusing visitor after visitor. Only a few of her poems were published anonymously during her lifetime. It wasn't until after she died that her younger sister, Vinnie discovered her massive collection of hand bound books of poetry.

Her works challenged the existing definitions of poetry. She experimented with expression. Many of her poems contain short lines, typically lack titles and use slant rhyme as well as unconventional capitalization and punctuation. Death and mortality were common themes in her writing. 

"Hope" is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea,
Yet never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

GROWING UP: Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts into a well-known family, long established in New England. She grew up in a house called "the Homestead," built by her grandfather in 1813. Her father was strict in her upbringing and believed that his children should be well-educated. Emily was a bright student and an original thinker. 

In 1845 Amherst experienced a religious revival in the community. Emily stood out as an eccentric, when as a young girl, she refused to join the church officially or even call herself a Christian.

After primary school, she attended the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, where she was able to study a wide range of subjects including both Latin and English literature. Due to ill health, she returned home after only one year.

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us - don't tell!
They'd advertise - you know!

How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog
To tell one's name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

LIFE IN SECLUSION: Around 1850, something changed in her life, and much mystery surrounds what exactly what that change was. Because of her discomfort and shyness in social situations, Emily gradually reduced her social contacts, going out less and less. By her late twenties she lived in almost complete seclusion, locking herself in her room for days at a time, refusing all visitors. Her sister explains this wasn't a sudden decision, but a gradual process that happened over a period of time. 

Despite her reclusive lifestyle, Emily was a prolific letter writer and much of what we know about her life has been learned through her correspondences with a select group of people. Emily died at age 56 of Bright's disease. Her first book of poetry was published in 1890, four years after her death.

Resources: sparknotesbiographyonline.netwikipedia.orgpoets.orgRemarkable American Women, Life Magazine, 1976.

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