Emily Dickenson


Emily Dickinson was raised in a traditional New England
homein the mid 1800's. Her father, along with the rest of
the family, had become Christians and she alone decided to
rebel against that and reject the Church. She, like many of
her contemporaries, had rejected the traditional views in
life and adopted the new transcendental outlook. 

Massachusetts, the state where Emily was born and raised
in, before the transcendental period, was the epicenter of
religious practice. Founded by the Puritans, the feeling of
the avenging had never left the people. After all of the
"Great Awakenings" and religious revivals, the people of
New England began to question the old ways. What used to be
the focal point of all lives was now under speculation and
often doubted. People began to search for new meanings in
life. People like Emerson and Thoreau believed that answers
lie in the individual. Emerson set the tone for the era
when he said, "Whoso would be a [hu]man, must be a

Emily Dickinson believed and practiced this philosophy.
When she was young, she was brought up by a stern and
austere father. In her childhood she was shy and already
different from the others. Like all the Dickinson children,
male or female, Emily was sent for formal education to
Amherst Academy. After attending Amherst Academy with
conscientious thinkers such as Helen Hunt Jackson, and
after reading many of Emerson's essays, she began to
develop into a free willed person. Many of her friends had
converted to Christianity, and her family was also exerting
enormous amount of pressure on her to convert. 

No longer the submissive youngster, she would not bend her
will on such issues as religion, literature and personal
associations. She maintained a correspondence with Rev.
Charles Wadsworth over a substantial period of time. Even
though she rejected the Church as an entity, she never did
reject or accept God. Wadsworth appealed to her because he
had an incredibly powerful mind and deep emotions. When he
left the East in 1861, Emily was scarred and expressed her
deep sorrow in three successive poems in the following
years. They were never romantically involved but their
relationship was apparently so profound that his departure
prompted Emily to seal herself off from the outside world.
Her life became filled with gloom and despair until she met
Judge Otis P. Lord late in her life. Realizing that they
were well on in their lives, they never were married. When
Lord passed away, Emily's health condition which had been
frail since childhood, worsened. 

In Emily's life, the most important things were love,
religion, individuality, and nature. When discussing these
themes she followed her lifestyle and broke away from
traditional forms of writing and wrote with an intense
energy and complexity never seen before and rarely seen
today. She was a rarity not only because of her poetry, but
because she was one of the first female pioneers into the
field of poetry. Emily often speaks of love in her poems,
but she did it in such a way that would make people not
want to fall in love. She writes of parting, separation and
loss. This is supported by the experiences she felt with
Wadsworth and Otis P. Lord. 

"Not with a club the heart is broken, nor with a stone;
 A whip so small you could not see it, I've known." 

This seems to be an actual account of the emotions she
experienced during her relationship with Otis Lord.
Individuality played a pervasive role in her life as a
result of her bout with separation. Emily did not conform
to society. She did not believe it was society's place to
dictate to her how she should lead her life. Her poems
reflect this sense of rebellion and revolution against

"From all the jails the boys and girls
 Ecstatically leap,- 
Beloved, only afternoon 
That prison doesn't keep."
In this poem Emily shows her feelings towards formalized
schooling. Being a product of a reputable college, one
would think that she would be in favor of this. But as her
beliefs in transcendentalism grew, so did her belief in
individuality. Emily also went against the Church which was
an extreme rarity of the time. Similar to many others that
shared her beliefs, she too did not think that a set
religion was the way for salvation. 

"Some keep the Sabbath going to Church;
 I keep it staying at home, 
With a bobolike for a chorister, 
With an orchard for a dome." 

According to this poem Emily clearly states that nature is
her source of guidance and she has little need for the
Church as an institution. Like Thoreau, Emily believed that
people need to understand nature before they could begin to
comprehend humanity because humanity was just a part of
nature. Unlike many others, she felt that nature was
beautiful and must be understood. 

"Has it feet like water-lilies? 
Has it feathers like a bird? 
Is it brought from famous countries 
Of which I have never heard? 
Will there really be a morning?..."
Further on in the poem she goes on to ask if the scholar or
"some wise man from the skies" knows where to find morning.
It can be inferred that morning, something so common place
and taken for granted, cannot be grasped by even the
greatest so called minds. 

Emily also saw the frightful part of nature, death was an
extension of the natural order. Probably the most prominent
theme in her writing is death. She took death in a
relatively casual way when compared to the Puritan beliefs
that surrounded her life. Death to her is just the next
logical step to life and she compares it to a carriage
ride, or many other common place happenings. 

"Because I could not stop for Death-
 He kindly stopped for me- 
The Carriage held but just Ourselves-
 And Immortality." 

Life, according to Emily, is brief and the people living
out their lives have little control. 

"In this short life 
That only lasts an hour, 
How much, how little, 
Is within our power!" 

However non-religious she may appear, and however
insignificant she believes life to be, she does however
show some signs in accepting life after death. 

"This world is not conclusion;
 A sequel stands beyond, 
Invisible, as music, 
But positive as sound." 

To Emily the most important things in her life were
religion, individuality, nature and death. She may not have
believed in God, but He did have a profound impact
throughout her childhood. Emily and Emerson alike, felt the
most important thing was to maintain ones individuality as
she did. She was fascinated by both nature and death and
she attempted to explain both in her writings. 


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