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Emily Dickinson

Biography • Take away everything but not poetry

Born December 10, 1830 in Amherst (Massachusetts) Emily Elizabeth Dickinson, second son of Edward Dickinson, esteemed lawyer destined to become Congressman, and Emily Norcross, a woman with a fragile personality, received from the family a rather free and complete education for the its era

From 1840 to 1947 she attended the Amherst Academy and subsequently enrolled in high schools in South Hadley from which she was withdrawn by her father after a year. It manifests a contradictory and complex character, veined by an irreducible pride. For reasons still unclear at the age of twenty-three he decides to choose a solitary and secluded life. The numerous scholars who after his death had to wonder about the real reasons for his long and obstinate segregation, came to the almost unanimous conclusion that it could not be “love disappointments”, much less physical disability.

Thus the mystery of Emily Dickinson remains unsolved, entrusted to the unfathomability of her deepest consciousness.

The studies of the great poetess take place mostly as self-taught, oriented in the readings also by an assistant of the father, Benjamin Newton, with whom he will later remain in correspondence. Writing letters will be a fundamental activity for the poet, an intimate way to get in touch with the world: not surprisingly many of her poems will be attached to them.

In 1852 he met Susan Gilbert, with whom he made a strong bond, testified by important letters.

During the following years he made some rare trips. Meet Reverend Charles Wadsworth, a married man, with whom (apparently) he will fall in love in vain.

In 1857 he made another important meeting, the one with the transcendalist writer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, a guest of Austin and Susan, who had just been married for a few months.

The poet becomes friends with Samuel Bowles, editor of the “Springfield Daily Republican” newspaper on which some of her poems will appear (starting from 1861). He also knows Kate Anton Scott. With both Bowles and the latter he establishes a deep personal and epistolary relationship, as usual for the sensitive Emily. The Dickinsons’ house is practically the center of the cultural life of the small town, therefore a continuous stimulus to the intelligence of the poet, who in this period begins to secretly collect her verses in booklets.

1860 is the year of poetic and sentimental fury. He composes something like about four hundred lyrics and vainly pines for a love that historians of literature identify with Bowles. In the same year he started a correspondence with the colonel-writer Thomas W. Higginson, to whom he entrusts himself for a literary judgment: he will be impressed by the exceptional nature of the spirit, intelligence and genius of the poetess, while considering his “unpublishable” works. On the other hand, she never intended to print her own verses.

Between 1864 and 1865 Emily Dickinson spent a few months in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a guest of the Norcross cousins, to treat an eye disease. The tendency to self-close becomes more and more acute, decreasing human contacts, especially those that are merely superficial.

Instead, it keeps correspondence alive with friends and admirers, becoming increasingly demanding and seeking, at the same time, intensity and essentiality.

Meanwhile, he continues to write poetry. Its production, although not reaching the quantity of 1862, remains conspicuous.

In 1870 he received the first highly anticipated visit by Higginson, who returned to find it in 1873.

A very hard period begins from the following year. In fact, he saw his father disappear after a few years, then his beloved Bowles (in the same period in which the mother had also developed a serious illness). Fortunately it seems that towards the end of 1879 (the year before Bowles had died), Emily recovered thanks to a new love, that for Otis Lord, an elderly judge, widower, friend of her father, although many perplexities remain on their mysterious relationship, fruit more than reconstructions and conjectures.

Meanwhile, she can also enjoy the admiration of the writer Helen Hunt Jackson. In 1881 the Todd couple move to Amherst: Mabel Todd will become Austin’s lover, creating disagreements in the Dickinson family.

The chain of tragedies resumes: the mother dies in Wadsworth (1882), the beloved nephew Gilbert (1883) and the judge Lord (1884).

Emily is prostrate. In 1885 he fell ill; he died on May 15, 1886 in the home of Amherst.

Sister Vinnie discovers the hidden verses and instructs Mabel Todd to arrange for their publication, which will always be partial until the complete critical edition of 1955 edited by Thomas H. Johnson and including 1775 poems.

An editorial revelation that, thanks to the enormous sensory, mental and metaphysical power of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, has given way to a real cult phenomenon.

Love is anterior to life, posterior to death, initial of creation, and the exponent of breath

Emily Dickinson


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