Unveiling Emily Dickinson: Life, Poetry, and Legacy

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Updated: Mar 31, 2023
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Emily Dickinson’s Poems

Emily Dickinson was an isolated American Poet who was unknown during her time. She was born on December 10, 1830, in Amherst, Massachusetts. Emily’s family had deep roots in New England. Samuel Dickinson was her grandfather. He was a well-known founder of Amherst College. Emily’s Father, Edward Dickinson, worked at Amherst College as a state legislator. Her mother and father were married in 1828 and had three children, William, Emily, and Lavinia. They lived an isolated life on the family homestead.

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Emily was an excellent student, and she attended Amherst Academy for seven years. Then went to Mount Holyoke Female seminary for one year. She had left school as a teenager, the reasons why are unknown. It has been said that her emotional and fragile state may have played a role in the reason; some say that it was her father who pulled her from school.

After leaving school, she began to write; Leonard Humphrey was her first influence, the principal of Amherst Academy, where she used to attend. The classes Emily took at Amherst Academy are what gave her the richness in detail that was found in her poems. She also learned that her poetry allowed her to channel her inner thoughts and express herself regardless of the limitations on women in the 1800s. Benjamin Franklin Newton, who was a family friend along with others, gifted her with volumes by many poets such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Wadsworth, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Then came the tragedies of her early influence. Leonard Humphrey and her mother were diagnosed with chronic illness, which worsened her isolation. Much so that she became more and more unsociable until she barely left the house or even her room. Emily and her sister Lavinia were both there to take care of their ailing mother, Susan, until she passed away in 1882. It has been thought that Emily Dickinson suffered from depression and anxiety due to her devoted responsibilities as the guardian of her sick mother. Around the time of the late 1850s to mid-1860s, Emily was the most productive in her writing.

She created bundles of verse that were known as fascicles without her family’s awareness. Emily later on, died of kidney disease on May 18, 1886, at the age of 55. She was buried in a plot at West Cemetery, which was a family plot. At the time of her death, little of Emily’s works had been published. The few that were published had been edited and changed to fit the standards of the time. In much of Emily’s works, there was the power of her unusual use of syntax and form. After Emily passed, her sister Lavinia discovered countless amounts of poems that Emily had written over the years. The work’s first volume was published in 1890. A full collection, The Poems of Emily Dickinson, wasn’t published until 1955, although previous iterations were released. Emily is most known for her moving and compressed verse. This deeply influenced how poetry was written in the 20th century.

“I heard a Fly buzz — when I died” was one of the most mysterious and fascinating poems written by Emily Dickinson. This poem consists of four stanzas, the first-person speaker of the poem is speaking from beyond the declaring that she had heard a fly buzz when she died. The speaker then goes on to describe the moments that led to the event of her death. First, describing the silence in the room before her death then describes the people who were there while she was on her deathbed. These people were also quiet, like the room. They were watching and preparing for the loss. Finally, she makes her last wishes known that the fly “interposed.” The fly then absorbs all the light, and then all light is gone leaving her still conscious but blinded.

In this poem, the fly serves great meaning and purpose. The fly is the death of the speaker. The speaker begins the poem by stating, “I heard a fly buzz – when I died,” then goes on to paint the reader an image of her deathbed and all the silence around her. Emily Dickson used figurative language to portray the picture of her death. After painting this image on her deathbed, she then leaves the fly out of the poem. When the fly comes back, it symbolizes that she is ready to die. Right before the final appearance of the fly, Dickson is speaking of all the people surrounding her. They are preparing themselves for the final goodbye of their loved one. Dickson, at this moment, is using figurative language to her advantage in creating this sad moment. As she is lying on her deathbed, making her last wishes, the fly then comes into the room. The fly symbolizes her time is up, and she is ready to say goodbye. He takes over all of the light, and she then sees nothing in black yet is still conscious. She may now take her final goodbye within herself.

Death is a theme that is often used in Emily Dickinson’s poems. This poem is not just about death but about the event of death and the moment of dying. The speaker in this poem is already dead, now describing the event in the past tense. The death in this poem is painless, though the way death is presented horrifying. Dying is the last momentous event in a person’s life. Dickson wants us to know what happened during this last momentous event. She also wants us to know about the people who were there on the deathbed, the mourners. They had been crying and weeping, just knowing that they would have to say a final goodbye to a loved one. Then they would dry their eyes and come to terms with the fact that this is it, and they must say goodbye as it gets still and even more silent in the room. The final line in the poem is the last seconds of death. “And then the Windows failed – and then I could not see to see –” The speaker describes that her eyes finally close, and she can only see darkness. We are left with the last thought of a fly buzzing and total darkness.

“Emily Dickinson was strongly religious, but not devoutly Christian” I defend and believe this statement to be true. Dickinson was brought up in a Calvinist home and attended religious services with her family. As she was growing up, like most Amherst families, hers held daily religious observances at their house. She was given her first Bible by her father at the age of 13; Church Ministers was regular guest at her home. One by one, her family members and friends choose the profession in the Church and belief in Christ. She herself did not join the Church, not because she did not believe. She stated, “I feel that the world holds a predominant place in my affections. I do not feel that I could give up all for Christ, where I called to die.” She struggled with faith and doubt, considering her society’s diverse perceptions of God, nature, and humankind. Emily’s truth-seeking was a spiritual quest that ruled her inner life and naturally came out through her works. She wrote poetry of great power, questioning the nature of immortality and death. When Dickinson wrote, like most writers, she wrote about what she knew and what interested her.

Many of Dickinson’s works deal with the themes of death and immortality. Throughout her life, Emily Dickinson wrote poems reflecting concentrating teachings of Christ. As for the letters she wrote, many were addressed to him. Emily’s portrayal of the members of the clergy is no different than her beliefs as the speaker. Even though she did not take a profession in the Church, this did not mean that she had lost all belief. Emily Dickinson’s poetic works may seem to conflict with Protestant doctrine, and they contain different views and descriptions of death that surrounds emotional responses to the body and soul to eternity. Even though the ideas she represents in her poems may seem contradictory, they all emphasize to her the many ways to die. One can argue that any of Dickinson’s poems are “sacrilegious,” meaning profane or sinful. A very religious person who follows a certain belief system may consider her many forms of death to be irreligious. Emily Dickinson created her writing to express what was possible but not yet realized.

Emily’s poem’s themes about death may stem from the tragic events that occurred in her life. The poems “I heard a fly buzz—when I died,” “My life closed twice before its close,” and “I felt a Funeral in my brain” all reflect her way of life and emotions towards death. In “I heard a fly buzz—when I died,” she describes the last moments and emotions that come along with death. She also describes the feelings and emotions of the loved ones who surround her in these last moments.

In “My life closed twice before its close,” Dickinson uses the metaphor of death to describe the suffering of two current events. The pains caused by these events were so keen that she felt as if she had died and her life had ended. Dickinson uses the words “see” and “unveil” as a metaphor for a vision for disclosure. She is comparing what she reveals as pain that she has suffered not once but twice before. Dickinson uses the word “close” to represent death and heartbreak at the same time. We do not know if it was a loved one who passed or a heart broken by someone, but we do know that she now feels a void in her life that she associates with her own death. In the last two lines, she presents a very powerful contradiction, parting from both heaven and hell. When someone dies, we have to part ways with them, hoping they will go to heaven, though we are left behind with the suffering and pain of their deaths.

In “I felt a Funeral in my brain,” Dickinson describes her own funeral in such detail. The title allows us to believe that she is feeling the emotions all in her brain.

Thorough out this poem, she describes in perfect detail how she is slowly dying; in a sense, this may be her portrayal of death. The speaker can feel herself at her funeral inside her brain, and she says she can feel her loved ones who were there in mourning pace back and forth. When they all are seated and the service begins, there is a drum-like beating, which makes her feel like she is going numb in her mind. She explains every detail and sound that is happening at this “funeral.” These poems may lead us to believe that Dickinson was either afraid of death or very curious.

Emily Dickinson’s poems were most recognizable in the 19th century. What makes her poems stand out is her use of capitalization and punctuation. In her poems, she capitalizes words that are not normally capitalized. She is also noted for her repeated use of the dash. Some would say it was a part of her penmanship, and others believed that this was her conscious effort in how she wrote. Her poems were edited and published in a standardized form. Emily most often punctuated her poems using dashes, more than normally using periods, commas, and other punctuation marks. She then would capitalize words that were in the middle of the line, not just at the beginning. Dickinson used dashes and capitals to stress and symbolize common nouns. These capitalized words draw the reader’s attention. Her use of dashes would often stand in for more diverse punctuation.

They would serve as a bridge between sections of the poem and, at other times, used for pauses.
There was a poem that I found showed good use of punctuation from Emily Dickson. “The soul that Hath a guest” was a letter found written to her best friend, Susan. In this poem, there are different lengths in the dashes she uses. There are larger dashes that seem to have more emotion. This is seen in the second and ending line. “Doth seldom go abroad—and the Emperor of Men” These two lines with the large dashes explain that Emily is completing her full thought. It can also mean that these lines have more emotional meaning to them. Susan and Emily were very close and had a very strong relationship, and some would say “soul sisters.” “the soul that hath a guest” refers to Emily having Susan in their heart, hence because this poem was found in a letter to her friend Susan. “Doth seldom go abroad—” can be explained that her heart will never leave because it is filled with this love.

The dash at the end of this line explains that Emily’s soul will never leave Susan. Emily had strong emotions when writing, especially in the first two lines. This changed her penmanship. The smaller dashes used in the middle of the poem are basically just there to separate the lines. The most stress and emotion are on the lines mentioned above.

Emily Dickson was a great American Poet, and she can be remembered because of her published works. She was once isolated from the world yet full of color and light. Though she was not well known during her time after her death, people took a liking to her works, and they were published. Emily’s life was very interesting in itself, but her life poems may have changed American Literature. Her unique life emotionally attached her to her writing, and she wrote many poems that influenced others in poetry. She had a morbid yet beautiful way of expressing her thoughts. Her writing leaves the reader wanting to know more about why she would write these poems about death. Emily Dickinson is seen as one of the most enigmatic figures of the world.

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Unveiling Emily Dickinson: Life, Poetry, and Legacy. (2023, Mar 31). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/unveiling-emily-dickinson-life-poetry-and-legacy/