December 10, 1830
Born In: Amherst, Massachusetts
Died On: May 15, 1886
An intensely private and reclusive writer, yet one of America’s most eulogized poet, Emily Dickinson was probably the most misunderstood and mythologized writers of English literature. Her works were inspired by the events of her time, starting from the Civil War to the suffrage movement and the more rapid industrialization. These events not only fashioned her writings, but unveiled her barely-known spiritualist humor. Born to a confluent parentage, Emily’s early life was nestled in the confines of her mansion and school, from where she imbibed her hunger for knowledge and a deep understanding of man. Her works, an epiphany of love, religion, faith, friendship and community, stood out as a complex tapestry of her mind and its workings. Touted as America’s finest poets, Emily’s repertoire wasn’t just restricted to writing. In fact, she went on to portray a ferociously independent intellect and a unique talent for writing poetry far ahead of her time.
Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born on December 10, 1830, in Amherst, Massachusetts, to an affluent lineage that boasted of Congressmen father Edward Dickinson and a more humble mother, Emily Norcross Dickinson. Born to an affluent pedigree that vaunted of a rich educational, religious and political bloodline, Emily’s early influences came from her potent ancestry and her dogmatic environment and insincere gild. Second of three children, Emily was a bright, fun-loving, imaginative and instinctive child who grew up in the loving company of her brother Austin and younger sister Lavinia. Emily’s primary education was something that was considered too ambitiously classical for a Victorian girl. However, hailing from an educationally prosperous background, one couldn’t have expected any better from her. Her father was strict about his children schooling and education and kept a strong eye on how they prospered.
In 1840, Emily and her sister Lavinia started together at Amherst Academy. Emily mastered English and classical literature, geology, Latin, botany, history, "mental philosophy" and arithmetic when in school. From a tender age, Emily was distressed by a "deepening menace" of death. She was especially traumatized by the loss of her personal relatives and friends, something that left a deep impression on her life. As a result, Emily grew up to become melancholic and her parents had to send her away to Boston to recover. She came back to Amherst Academy and resumed her education and there she made her lifelong friends - Abiah Root, Abby Wood, Jane Humphrey, and Susan Huntington Gilbert. Susan Gilbert, her ambitious and witty schoolmate and next-door-neighbor, was her earliest critic with whom Emily shared a close camaraderie. Also, Susan was one of the major influences of Emily’s life before things fell apart between them. Emily graduated from Amherst Academy in 1847 and went on to attend Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in the same year. However, because of her frail health, she preferred to stay back.
One of the formative influences in Emily’s life was her attorney friend Benjamin Franklin Newton. Although their alliance wasn’t a romantic one, Newton did inspire eighteen year old Dickinson in a way that she variously referred to him as her tutor, preceptor and master and introduced her young mind to the writings of William Wordsworth. He gifted her Ralph Waldo Emerson's first book of collected poems that had a liberating effect on young Emily. Dickinson was well-versed with most of the contemporary writings of her time and grew up reading Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Kavanagh, Shakespeare and others, which definitely inspired the poetess in her.
During the mid 1850s, Emily's mother became effectively bedridden with various chronic illnesses. As a result, at the young age, Emily settled herself into the Dickinson home as a housekeeper and led a life of an observer. Emily belonged to a society that was a far cry from the more English beau monde society, where dancing, theater, concerts were rare and unheard of. Her only source of recreation was long walks on hills with her dog or friends and books. She found herself closely withdrawn from the lifeless society, something that instigated her deep association with nature. Emily was a visionary and a keen interpreter of human passions, a quality that reeked through most of her later writings.
Little is known or found about Emily Dickinson’s early works of her childhood and youth except for the five poems that are dated before 1858. However, post the 1858, Emily was confirmed of her poetic genius and from there began the journey of one of the greatest legends of English literature. Nevertheless, she faced genuine problems finding a publisher for her works and after four years of struggle, her friend Samuel Bowles, editor of the Springfield Republican published two of her poems, without her name. Dickinson was a poet of unusual merit who never wrote to please her publishers. Only seven of Dickinson’s poems were published during her lifetime. Most of her later works were published posthumously by her friends.
Later Life And Death
Emily Dickinson’s most active years are believed to be between 1858 and 1866, where she is believed to have written more than eleven hundred poems on love, separation, death, nature and God. During the closing years of her life, her poetic churnings started to fag out, possibly owing to her poor sight and more household responsibilities. Dickinson’s father died in 1874 and her mother in 1882. Dickinson suffered a nervous breakdown in 1884 and died on May 15, 1886 at the age of 55. She was interred in the family plot at West Cemetery on Triangle Street.
‘The Poems’ of Emily Dickinson, an anthology of her writings was published posthumously in a series of three volumes in the year 1866. A second volume of her compilations titled as “The Single Hound’ came out in the year 1914 that is till date treated as the ultimate compilation of her works. Many of her poems have been re-issued in anthologies, selections, textbooks for recitation, and they have increasingly found a representation in the lives of those besieged by profound intuition of the miracles of everyday life, love, and death.
1830: Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born.
1840: Emily and Lavinia begin their first year at Amherst Academy.
1844: Friendship with Abiah Root begins (a relationship which lasted through letters for many years).
1847: Graduated from Amherst Academy. She entered Mount Holyoke Female Seminary.
1850: Benjamin Franklin Newton sends Emerson's Poems (publ. 1847) to Emily.
1861: Springfield Republican prints Emily's poem "I taste a liquer never brewed" under the title "The May-Wine"
1862: Springfield Republican prints "Safe in their Alabaster Chambers".
1864: Springfield Republican prints Emily's poem "A narrow fellow in the grass".
1874: Father dies in Boston.
1878: A Mask of Poets prints Emily's poem "Success is counted sweetest."
1884: Emily struck with the first attack of final illness.
1886: Emily left for the heavenly abode.