An Introduction to Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts on December 10th, 1830. Her father, Edward Dickinson, was a prominent lawyer who served a term in Congress from 1853-1855. He was also treasurer of Amherst College. Her mother, Emily Norcross Dickinson, was a homemaker. Emily had an older brother, William Austin Dickinson, called Austin, and a younger sister, Lavinia Norcross Dickinson, or Vinnie.


(Dickinson family home, Amherst MA)


Emily attended Amherst Academy and Mount Holyoke Seminary. She never married. She is said to have been enamored of several men, all of them married and all of them older than she was. The names most often discussed in this connection are Charles Wadsworth, a minister she encountered on a visit to Philadelphia when she was twenty-four, Samuel Bowles, a family friend and editor of the Springfield Daily Republican and Judge Otis P. Lord, a business associate of her father’s.


Emily lived her entire life in Amherst. She was born in her father’s stately house on Main Street, where with the exception of 15 years between the ages of 9 and 24 when the family lived on N. Pleasant Street, she remained until her death. She spent her days writing poetry, tending her garden, playing the piano, baking, helping her mother and sister with the housework, writing letters and walking with her Newfoundland dog, Carlo. She suffered debilitating bouts of anxiety, and in the fall of 1861 suffered what appeared to be a severe attack of depression. However, then began an extraordinarily prolific period for the poet. From that time on she became increasingly housebound, rarely leaving the Homestead. She did, however, keep up a lively social connection with friends and relatives by means of copious letter writing in which one could see her thriving sense of humor.


Emily bound her poems in hand-sewn booklets called fascicles, which she kept in a drawer of her bureau. She sent copies of her poems to friends and relatives as gifts and condolences. She died at age 55. The cause of death was listed as Brights Disease. She is considered by many to have succumbed to severe hypertension.


One of America’s foremost poets, all one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine of her known poems have been published in The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by R.W. Franklin. There are countless editions of her poetry in the United States and in many languages around the world.


Only ten of her poems were published during her lifetime.