by Ellie White
On this, the 130th anniversary of her death, it seems fitting to offer a few thoughts on the life of one of the most influential poets in the English language, Emily Dickinson. Born December 10th, 1830, Emily Dickinson lived her entire life in Amherst, Massachusetts (save for the year she spent at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary). A pioneer among the poets of her time, Dickinson’s writing style was completely her own. She disregarded convention, and produced poems that were unique in both voice and form. And Dickinson did all this without ever leaving her father’s home.
Famous for her reclusiveness, which was only made more obvious by her father’s prominent political career, Emily Dickinson did not leave the house and declined interaction with the many visitors who frequented her family’s home. Very few people outside her immediate family knew her, and because of this, the best (and perhaps only) window into her life is through her writing. In her lecture, “My Emily Dickinson,” the poet Mary Ruefle writes passionately of her relationship with Dickinson’s poems:
My Emily Dickinson is nobody’s business but my own. I will not share her with anyone. I would no more tell you about my relationship with her poems than I would tell you about a love affair. If she is yours, I hope you feel the same way.
And no doubt many of us do. Dickinson’s lively (and often sarcastic) voice caught my attention as a teenager, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate how much it must have set her apart from her family and friends. Emily Dickinson, like many other great women writers, was a woman who was not afraid of her own opinion. Though she was never someone to speak her thoughts aloud to an audience, her unique perspective on the world continues to live on in her writing:
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –