Question: Why Emily Dickinson was not more widely published in her lifetime?
The poems of Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson was a prolific poet that kept to herself and had few of her poems published during her lifetime even though she wrote close to eighteen hundred poems. The poems that were published in her era were significantly altered to fit the rules of poetry of those days (Christophersen). Dickinson had a unique style in her poems as they used to lack titles, have short lines and often featured slant rhyme. Immortality and death were some of the most recurring themes in her poetry. It was later after she died that most of her poems were published. Some of the reasons for the lack of publishing could be attributed to her seclusion and hiding her poem book or even to the style of her poetry that was uncommon in those days.
The life of Emily Dickinson was characterized by much death and the loss of loved ones that contributed to her solitude and seeking silence in writing. The first death that really shook her was the death of her cousin Sophia Holland; she wrote a letter wishing she would die too (Wineapple). It was after the death of Leonard Humphrey from brain congestion that she became melancholic, and this is expressed in the letter to Abiah Root when she talks about some of her friends having gone while others being asleep in the churchyard. It was until her mother’s sickness that she took over the daily house chores, and when her mother eventually died she withdrew to herself and immersed herself in poem writings. This is said to be the period that she produced her best work (Anderson).
Wolosky says it was when the Dickinson’s family befriended Bowles an editor in chief and also the owner of Springfield Republican, that some of Emily’s intense writings which were later published some year’s later in Bowles journal and they were known as “The Master Letters”. Mr. Higginson acknowledges that Dickinson’s writing was new and could not be placed in any category of literature thus it eluded criticism. The white alabaster chambers was one poem that Higginson held that he explains to be the new, yet complicated nature of Dickinson’s poems. He explains that her rhymes drifted and tilted, and her meters were like the protestant hymns but usually derailed. Dickinson was rigid to suggestions on how to improve her poems terming such suggestions as “surgery”. Higginson describes Dickinson as one who responded to nature intensely and not one that “had education”. She wanted to keep her secrets form the world but wanted people to know she had secrets (Woodbridge).
Dickinson in her time was more known as a gardener and not a poet. She used to send posies of flowers with a note that had poem verses. However, it seemed people valued the flower bunches that were sent to them and paid little or no attention to her poem verses. This could have contributed to keeping most of the poems she wrote to herself and not opting for publishing of the poems. When Dickinson got sick and her health continued to decline, she stopped editing and her poems organizing them and she even made her sister promise to burn her papers and poems after she died. This seemed as her wish of her private poems remaining private even in death (Wargacki).
Therefore, it can be said that Emily Dickinson was a poet ahead of her time who carved a niche in American poetry even though she did not get to see all her works published. She is regarded as the pioneer of the modernist poetry even when most of her poetry was published many years later.
Anderson, Julian. “From Bedroom to Concert Hall Composer Julian Anderson Explains how the Poems of the Reclusive Emily Dickinson Invite Interpretation through Music.” Financial Times Aug 05 2006: 36. ABI/INFORM Complete. PROQUESTMS. 26 Sep. 2012 .
Christophersen, Bill. “WEEKEND JOURNAL; Books — Review: Emily’s Ambassador; the Reclusive Dickinson had a Worldly Mentor and Friend.” Wall Street Journal Aug 16 2008: 6. ABI/INFORM Complete. PROQUESTMS. 26 Sep. 2012 .
Wargacki, John P. “Emily Dickinson’s Midrash Of Jacob And The Angel: Construction Of A “Counter Typology..” Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal Of Jewish Studies 30.3 (2012): 62-83. Academic Search Premier. Web. 26 Sept. 2012.
Wineapple, Brenda. “Her Own Society: When Emily Dickinson And Her Radical Friend Thomas Wentworth Higginson Met For The First Time.”American Scholar 77.3 (2008): 81-87. Academic Search Premier. Web. 26 Sept. 2012.
Wolosky, Shira. “Emily Dickinson: Reclusion Against Itself.” Common Knowledge 12.3 (2006): 443-459. Academic Search Premier. Web. 26 Sept. 2012.
Woodbridge, Kim. “Emily Dickinson and Her Contemporaries: Women’s Verse in America, 1820-1885.” Library Journal 123.7 (1998): 81-. ABI/INFORM Complete. PROQUESTMS. 26 Sep. 2012 .