Emily Dickinson – A Poet in Private

Day 217 of Colourisation Project – December 10

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

“Few events in American literary history have been more curious than the sudden rise of Emily Dickinson into a posthumous fame only more accentuated by the utterly recluse character of her life and by her aversion to even a literary publicity.”

So wrote Emily Dickinson’s literary mentor and correspondent, Thomas Wentworth Higginson in 1891.  Today, Emily Dickinson is considered one of the towering figures of American literature.

Emily Dickinson 1847

Amherst Coll. Archives & Spec Collections – Emily Dickinson 1847 – Colourised by Loredana Crupi

It was Higginson who published Dickinson’s first collection of poetry in 1890, four years after her death. However a full compilation, The Poems of Emily Dickinson, did not appear until 1955

Born this day, December 10, 1830, in Amherst, Massachusetts, Emily Elizabeth Dickinson lived a mostly introverted and reclusive life. Considered an eccentric, most of her friendships were carried out by correspondence.

Unrecognized in her own life-time, Dickinson is known posthumously for her unusual use of form and syntax. Dickinson was prolific as a poet but no-one really knew the extent of her body of work. She was ostensibly a poet in private. She regularly enclosed poems in letters to friends.  Many of them dealing with two recurring topics, themes of death and immortality.

There has been much scholarly speculation that Dickinson suffered from conditions such as agoraphobia, depression and anxiety.  After the mid 1860s, she rarely left the confines of her home, ‘The Homestead’ . It was also during this time that Dickinson was most productive as a poet, filling notebooks with verse unbeknownst to her family.

Rather extraordinarily, it wasn’t until after her death, that Lavinia Dickinson, Emily’s sister discovered the cache of poems in the many notebooks that Emily had filled over the years –forty hand-sewn books, or ‘fascicles’ as they are sometimes called, containing nearly 1,800 poems. What a bounty of poetic treasure for future generations.

Dickinson died of kidney disease in Amherst, Massachusetts, on May 15, 1886 at the age of 56 and was laid to rest in the family plot at West Cemetery.

‘The Homestead’ where Dickinson was born is now a museum.

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“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry.”     Emily Dickinson

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