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Literature: Emily Dickinson - Poetry

Who was Emily Dickinson?

American poet Emily Dickinson (1830–86) wrote nearly 1800 poems, though she preferred to focus her attention on her home, health, and family. She recorded about 800 poems in handmade booklets that she showed to no one, and she shared selected poems only with a small circle of family and friends. Those poems that appeared in print were published anonymously or without her consent. It was only after her death that her work began to be known, and she is now recognised as a great poet.

VCAA VCE Literature 2020


  • Women
  • Death
  • Desire
  • Love

Dickinson's poetry style

Dickinson’s poems are frequently concise and invariably commanding in their structure and style. She is celebrated for her use of slant-rhyme, conceits, paradox, and unconventional punctuation, which some scholars believe anticipate modernist poetry of the 20th century. Most of her poems are written in the first person, asserting a sense of self through the frequent use of ‘I’, though the tone and attitude of her speakers is widely varied. Her poems are moving explorations of extremes of emotion, immortality, death, nature, and art. They employ a wide array of images drawn from her familiarity with law, music, religion, commerce, and medicine, yet these everyday references are used to explore abstract ideas in profound and unexpected ways. Dickinson is frequently described as a recluse; however, her wit, sense of humour, and her wide-ranging intellectual interests reveal her engagement with the world. Students will appreciate her originality and the accessibility of her language, and they will find many avenues of analysis.

Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority

Only 10 of Emily Dickinson’s nearly 1,800 poems are known to have been published in her lifetime. Devoted to private pursuits, she sent hundreds of poems to friends and correspondents while apparently keeping the greater number to herself. She habitually worked in verse forms suggestive of hymns and ballads, with lines of three or four stresses. Her unusual off-rhymes have been seen as both experimental and influenced by the 18th-century hymnist Isaac Watts. She freely ignored the usual rules of versification and even of grammar, and in the intellectual content of her work she likewise proved exceptionally bold and original. Her verse is distinguished by its epigrammatic compression, haunting personal voice, enigmatic brilliance, and lack of high polish.

Encyclopedia Britannica

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