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Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), who was born and died in Amhert, Mass., is known for her deceptively short and simple verses -- deceptive in that her ideas are actually quite eloquent. Complete Poems[ Click to Order The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (soft $$) ]

She attended Amherst Academy and Mount Holyoke Female Semi- nary, and began to write in the 1850s -- keeping her poems in small, hand-bound booklets. While her early poems were simple in form and sentiment, her later poems became more experimental and complex. Her efforts toward concision often meant stripping her sentences and lines to their most basic form. Also of note, she greatly experimented with the use of off-rhyme (near-rhyme).

Her poems were not published until after her death. Not knowing her motives, editors "revised" her works by adding punctuation -- mistakes that still haunt many published editions of her poems.

XVIII. The Woodpecker

His bill an auger is,
His head, a cap and frill.
He laboreth at every tree,--
A worm his utmost goal.
---
    1896. Poems (from "Book III")

"The Woodpecker" exemplifies some of her simpler, early work, but already her experimentation with off-rhyme can be seen as well as a sense of whimsy found lacking in many of her more famous and somber pieces.

Wild Nights! Wild Nights!

Wild Nights! Wild Nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
our luxury!

Futile the winds
To a heart in port,--
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart.

Rowing in Eden!
Ah! the sea!
Might I but moor
To-night in thee!
---
    From Poems

"Wild Nights, ..." speaks of the security and comfort of loving someone, comparing the heart with a ship in port. What is interesting about this poem is that it could so easily have made a comparison to someone waiting for a ship to finally come home, bringing a loved one who has been off to sea.

However, DIckinson creates a slight paradox, in which the ship is already at harbor, anchored, and yet she and her love are "rowing" in Eden -- in bliss. The poem also uses the conditional tense, indicating a longing for her loved one -- who is absent.

Links of Interest:

Emily Dickinson
Resource page gives brief biography of the poet, selected e-texts, and links to other sites for further study.
Emily Dickinson
Links to reviews and criticism, along with more than 350 of her poems; also features biographical notes and mailing list.
Emily Dickinson
University of Maryland presents 100 of Dickinson's poems online, including 'her final summer' and other classics.
Emily Dickinson
Great site with pictures, in-depth biography, and literary analysis on following subjects: The Impact of the Words, Love in Dickinson's Poetry, and Nature in Dickinson's Poetry.


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