Digitally restored black and white daguerrotype of Emily Dickinson, c. early 1847
Emily Dickinson -- born this week in history on December 10, 1830 -- has long been considered one of the greatest American poets. Indeed, she is among the earliest iconic American voices. Her writing tested the boundaries of poetic convention and offered a profound and original style of observation. With uncharted passion and emotion, she permanently altered the first-person narrator in literature.
Though she studied at Amherst Academy for seven years and briefly attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, Dickinson lived the majority of her life shut away in her family’s home in Amherst. Even then she was considered reclusive and certainly eccentric, and the majority of her friendships, such as with Helen Hunt Jackson, were almost exclusively via correspondence. True to form, with many of her letters she would enclose a poem.
It was not until her death in 1896 that the full extent of her writing was discovered by her sister. Over the course of a lifetime, she had amassed a collection of almost 1,800 poems. Many of these were contained in "fascicles" made up of finalized drafts collected into hand-stitched booklets. This system, along with her omission of titles, has led to a fierce debate over the intended order of her work. There are two "definitive" numeric identifications of her poems: one from 1955, compiled by Thomas H. Johnson; and a second put together in 1998 by Ralph. W. Franklin, based on testing the age of the paper Dickinson used.
For consistency's sake, the listing below used Johnson’s numbering system. And since the majority of her poetry was published posthumously, we've included the first known date of publication.
The Brain—is wider than the Sky
For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include
With ease, and you beside—
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all –
Unable are the Loved to die
For Love is Immortality,
Nay, it is Deity
The Soul should always stand ajar
That if the Heaven inquire
He will not be obliged to wait
Not knowing when the Dawn will come,
I open every Door.
Luck is not chance—
Fortune’s expensive smile
Forever – is composed of Nows –
‘Tis not a different time –
Except for Infiniteness –