“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?”
Born this day in 1830: Emily Dickinson (1830–1886), poetic genius of the 19th century
Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, and lived there with her family her entire life. She was a bright and promising student, showing a strong facility for not only composition, but for Latin and science as well. As a young woman she became increasingly, now famously, reclusive. She left school and retired to her family home. She kept a social life of sorts, however, through prolific letter writing.
Dickinson wrote hundreds of short, lyrical poems, startling in their originality. Only a handful were published, without her consent, during her lifetime. After Emily died in 1886, her sister, Lavinia, found hundreds of Dickinon’s poems stashed away in a box. Writer Mary Loomis Todd, a family friend, edited them for publication.
Much has been written about the enigmatic poet’s life, with speculation abounding about her personal life and her inner landscape. What is not disputed, however, is her place as one of the finest poets in the English language. Enjoy!
I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one's name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —
Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
At her low Gate —
Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat —
I've known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —
I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl—
Life's little duties do—precisely—
As the very least
Were infinite—to me—
I put new Blossoms in the Glass—
And throw the old—away—
I push a petal from my gown
That anchored there—I weigh
The time 'twill be till six o'clock
I have so much to do—
And yet—Existence—some way back—
We cannot put Ourself away
As a completed Man
Or Woman—When the Errand's done
We came to Flesh—upon—
There may be—Miles on Miles of Nought—
Of Action—sicker far—
To simulate—is stinging work—
To cover what we are
From Science—and from Surgery—
Too Telescopic Eyes
To bear on us unshaded—
For their—sake—not for Ours—
Twould start them—
But since we got a Bomb—
And held it in our Bosom—
Nay—Hold it—it is calm—
Therefore—we do life's labor—
Though life's Reward—be done—
With scrupulous exactness—
To hold our Senses—on—
You can find Dickinson’s poetry free online from many sources. More recently published scholarly editions, however, reflect the poems in their original, unedited form. Visit the Emily Dickinson Museum for a list of resources.
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