You, like me, probably had to study Emily Dickinson’s poetry as part of your English literature course in high school. You probably read her poem “Hope is a thing with feathers,” “Because I could not stop for death,” or “My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun,” as those are the most famous- and for a good reason, they’re brilliant. And so when you read the title of this article and saw Emily Dickinson’s name you probably said in your head, “Yeah I’ve heard of her.” Well, her poetry is just as relevant as it was in the 1890s when it was first published, and here’s five reasons why:
1. Emily Dickinson’s poems have the feeling of profoundness trapped – just the way we like our poetry.
Emily Dickinson’s poetry contemplates the big questions of life. They often ruminate death and immortality, which to be honest, Emily knew way more about than we do in modern day America. In the 1800s, death was all too common. Without our medical innovations of today, women often died from childbirth, and many children and the eldery died from the common cold. It was a difficult time, a painful time to be alive – and Emily had both the time, experience, and education to contemplate and capture her thoughts into poetry.
2. Emily Dickinson’s poetry has been very influential on the American writing style, and is often regarded as Aunt Em’ within the literary family tree.
Until Emily, poetry was less personal and more academic or religious. It was how societies told epic historical stories, or churches taught values or lessons. Emily, alongside Walt Whitman, was responsible for making first person poetry the thing to do in America. Emily also, like Walt, did not stick to form. She experimented with rhyme, rhythm, and beat. She is one of the first to break from the path of the Shakespearean and Petrarchan sonnet, one of the first to not rhyme and still call her writing a poem. She has been read and reread by so many writers, her style seeping into their voices including Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton. Emily Dickinson demonstrates the American values of individuality, directness, and freedom in both her style and her content.
3. Emily Dickinson’s poetry has had greatly impact the way women are seen in society.
Emily’s poetry was smart, well-written, and thoughtful. Her intelligence and skill demonstrated to society that a woman could also contemplate important questions. At this time, books or poetry written by women were either about flowers, love, or how to be the perfect wife. They very rarely talked about things like death, power, or science. Yet Emily did both, and in such a way that she impressed three prominent literary men in her lifetime, and many more after – including the literary critic Harold Bloom who listed her as central to the Western canon alongside Shakespeare, Joyce, and Tolstoy. Yeah bitch, Emily D up there with Shakespeare; she is one of four women on the list.
4. Read this poem – she could literally be talking about the climate crisis today except she wrote this in the 1800s:
Faith is a fine invention
For gentlemen who see;
But microscopes are prudent
In an emergency!
5. Emily Dickinson’s life and poetry is the perfect example of the creation of the author myth (read The Death of The Author) in order to sell books at the expense of the reader.
In reality, Emily Dickinson was human, no more special than you or me. She was not an eccentric, she was a person that had mental, spiritual and physical challenges to overcome who used writing as a tool to manage her emotions and give her life meaning and purpose in a time that thought that the woman’s place was in the house. It was also a way to communicate and connect with friends and family. Emily Dickinson led the way into making poetry not just a propaganda tool for governments, wealthy families, and the church – but a walking stick for an individual on their personal journey.