It is amazing yet difficult to believe for as much wisdom, passion, vigor and desire that one could instill into her poetry, Emily Dickinson was actually a recluse.
In fact, she rarely even left the confines of her own bedroom. The publication of one of her first poetry collections, Favorite Poems of Emily Dickinson, was actually after her death, mainly at the urging of her sister.
Emily did not want any of her work to be published, but thankfully two of her closest friends, Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd, saw her poetry as amazing and resolved to publish a collection containing some of her best pieces.
About The Book
This version of Favorite Poems of Emily Dickinson was published in 1978; however, several different forms were available to the general public in the late 1800’s. In 1890 this collection was released as Poems, and then renamed and republished in 1891 as Poems, Second Series.
This collection is divided into four sections, or “books”–Life, Love, Nature, and Time and Eternity. Each section represents that particular aspect of life. I really like how the material is presented here, because each book stands on its own and has its own thoughts and ideas separate from the rest of the other books. However, any poem from any given section could probably “fit” in any four of the sections available. So, you could essentially say the divided sections are somewhat arbitrary.
Each “book” contains approximately 15-35 poems on that particular subject, but Time and Eternity is by far the largest section, mainly because it encompasses many different subjects–it’s not just time itself, but about the passage of time, life, and death.
Content Breakdown–Poetic Samples and Analysis
Some of Emily’s favorite companions were books, and she enlightens us about their significance in her poem “A Book” by giving us a mental picture of a man who has just made a new lifetime acquaintance. Her use of the lines “He ate and drank the precious words, / His spirit grew robust; / He knew no more that he was poor, / Nor that his frame was dust” show us just how edifying to the spirit a book can be. To think a book could be just words on paper would be heresy to Emily, and indeed, we all can learn from Emily by searching for a deeper meaning in what we read.
While Emily may not have played the lead role in life, she bore the marks of a great scriptwriter. Imagine watching a heart wrenching romance film when the lines– “These fleshless lovers met / A heaven in a gaze, / A heaven of heavens, the privilege / Of one another’s eyes” dance across your ears. Two souls uniting with a fixed, determined gaze in their eyes is the ultimate in an intimate relationship.
These lines are perfect for any romantic soul; bursting with love and emotion, they would make anyone with a soft heart melt in their chair. Had our world been graced with Emily Dickinson’s presence today, we would have a much grander story to tell, not only in terms of romance, but also through the eyes of history. There is no doubt the candle of her legacy would have burned much brighter.
Being the well-rounded person she is, Emily easily jumps from love to nature. Some people find it difficult to take time out of their day to stop and observe nature in its delicate process. Emily, however, realizes the importance of the outdoors in her daily activities, using the gleeful lines in “The Grass” to express her lighthearted enthusiasm. “The grass so little has to do, — / A sphere of simple green, / With only butterflies to brood, / And bees to entertain” .
So powerful it is to capture the essence of a blade of grass, holding it as a simple sphere of green, and taking into account the grass from a bee’s perspective! How many people could expound upon the purposes of what we walk on every day? Emily’s attention to detail is magnificent, no stone is left unturned. Even the seemingly most insignificant points in life are given full thought, from many angles and viewpoints.
Having covered other aspects of daily life, another occurrence that must be discussed is death. Emily does not give death any undertones, rather, she stares it in the face and accepts it for what it is. Even so, she does not let death bottom out in her soul–instead, she lifts it up. The lines in “Setting Sail” ring true as she states “Exultation is the going / Of an inland soul to sea, — / Past the houses, past the headlands, / Into deep eternity!”
It is interesting to notice the link between death and the sea in this poem, almost as though the open waters are liberating for the soul, while the living soul is imprisoned in a landlocked area. The use of the word “deep” is also very impressive, as she crafts a double meaning using the word deep to describe the water level, and as a final resting place for the soul.
Emily Dickinson may have been a recluse, but her expression of knowledge about life through her poetry makes me feel as though she experienced everything in life one would need to experience. She captures the essence of grass, love, life, death, and everything in between simply by observing.
One thing I have learned from reading Emily’s poetry is that sometimes looking is the best form of perception. Gaining understanding does not always involve talking–there are many other ways to interact with nature and what surrounds me–touching, feeling, smelling, or just staring into the open sky and letting my mind run wild. Emily gives me a desire to calm my inner spirit, get back to the basics of life and assess its value, and I can do it all by watching it unfold before me. How easy it is to feel that life now springs eternal!
I recommend Emily Dickinson’s works to anyone who is interested in reading poetry for simplicity, style, and magnificent attention to detail–Emily Dickinson is one of my favorite poets, and after reading some of her works, I’m sure you’ll appreciate her as well.
For more information on Emily Dickinson and her works, and to view the Dickinson Electronic Archives, please visit