The Life of Emily Dickens


Emily Dickinson was raised in a traditional New 
England home in 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 non-conformist." 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 in 
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, her family was also putting enormous 
amount of pressure for 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 a 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 Emily's feelings for him she 
sealed herself 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 into their lives they never were married. 
When Lord passed away Emily's health condition which has 
been hindered since childhood worsened.
 In Emily's life the most important things to her 
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 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 
 Emily also went against the Church which was an 
extreme rarity of the time. Similar to many other 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 other she felt that nature was beautiful and must be 
 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 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 out 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.


Quotes: Search by Author