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Saturday, 25 October 2014

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson was born on December 10, 1830 at the family's homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts into a prominent, but not wealthy, family.

Emily started attending Amherst Academy with her sister Lavinia on September 7, 1840. It was a former boys' school that had opened to female students just two years earlier.

Dickinson spent seven years at the Academy, taking classes in English and classical literature, Latin, botany, geology, history, "mental philosophy," and arithmetic.

Daniel Taggart Fiske, the school's principal at the time, later recalled that Dickinson was "very bright" and "an excellent scholar, of exemplary deportment, faithful in all school duties.”

In 1845 Emily Dickinson was touched by a religious revival which swept through Western Massachusetts. The teenager was moved by the experience to start writing poetry.

Dickinson never made a formal declaration of faith and attended services regularly for only a few years. After her church-going ended, about 1852, she wrote a poem opening: "Some keep the Sabbath going to Church.  I keep it, staying at Home".

In 1849 her father gifted Emily her first and only dog, a Newfoundland, to accompany her on the long walks she enjoyed in the woods and fields of Amherst.

She named her pet pooch Carlo after the pointer of St. John Rivers in her favorite novel at the time, Jane Eyre.

Dickinson spoke in a soft childlike voice.

During a 1855 visit to Philadelphia, Emily and her mother met the well-known, romantic but married preacher the Reverend Charles Wadsworth. Dickinson and the minister forged a strong friendship which lasted until his death in 1882.

Dickinson studied botany from the age of nine and, along with her sister, tended the garden at Homestead  During her lifetime, she assembled a collection of pressed plants in a sixty-six page leather-bound herbarium. It contained 424 pressed flower specimens that she collected, classified, and labeled using the Linnaean system. The Homestead garden was well-known and admired locally in its time

From the mid-1850s, Emily's mother became effectively bedridden with various chronic illnesses until her death in 1882. Emily took it upon her self to look after her and from then on she confined herself within the Homestead.

Emily began in the summer of 1858 what would be her lasting legacy. Reviewing poems she had written previously, she began making clean copies of her work, assembling carefully pieced-together manuscript books.

The phrase "The Heart Wants What It Wants" was first coined by Emily Dickinson in 1862 in the opening lines of a letter she wrote to a Mrs. Mary Bowles on the occasion Mr. Bowles had to travel away from his wife. ("When the Best is gone- I know that other things are not of consequence - the Heart wants what it wants - or else it does not care").

A few of Dickinson's poems appeared in Samuel Bowles' Springfield Republican between 1858 and 1868. They were published anonymously and heavily edited.

From 1867, Dickinson began to talk to visitors from the other side of a door rather than speaking to them face to face.

Dickinson acquired local notoriety; she was rarely seen, and when she was, she was usually clothed in white.

While Dickinson was diagnosed as having "nervous prostration" by a physician during her lifetime, some modern scholars and researchers believe she may have suffered from illnesses as various as agoraphobia and epilepsy.

On May 15, 1886, after several days of worsening symptoms, Emily Dickinson died at the age of 55. Dickinson's chief physician gave the cause of death as Bright's disease.

Dickinson was buried, laid in a white coffin with vanilla-scented heliotrope, a Lady's Slipper orchid, and a "knot of blue field violets" placed about it. The funeral service, held in the Homestead's library, was simple and short.

Emily Dickinson's tombstone in the family plot

During her lifetime, only ten of her poems were published, although upon Emily Dickinson's death, she had written nearly 1,800. Many of these were not finished.

Her younger sister Lavinia discovered her collection of poems in a locked chest, Dickinson's first volume was published four years after her death.

Dickinson didn't use traditional punctuation in her poems, so the editors often "fixed" it, changing the rhythm and meaning of her work.

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