The Complete Poems 1850-1870

Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1830, Emily Dickinson lived an unusual poetic life. She wrote thousands of letters to family and friends in which she shared her poetry and her active mental and emotional life, but was otherwise a recluse. Many scholars have speculated about the love-object in Dickinson’s poems, as well as the intended recipient of the enigmatic letters written to “Master.” Some possibilities include Judge Otis Lorde, Samuel Bowles, and her sister-in-law and close friend Susan Gilbert.

Only eight of her poems were published during her lifetime, primarily submitted by family and friends without her permission. In 1890, four years after her death, the first published selection of her poems appeared; however, it was significantly altered and edited by editors seeking to "normalize" her language, punctuation, and rhythms. Publication of other volumes of poetry continued until her complete poems were published in three volumes in 1955, collected and chronologically arranged by Thomas H. Johnson. In 1960, her complete work appeared for the first time in one complete edition, with all 1,775 poems restored to the original, unaltered versions that Dickinson had intended.

Frequently anthologized poems include, "Because I could not stop for Death, " "I’m Nobody! Who are you? " and "I heard a Fly buzz. " Of the many poems Dickinson wrote about grief and loneliness, "There’s a certain Slant of light" and "I Measure Every Grief I Meet" are excellent examples.

Her poetry reflects her loneliness and the speakers of her poems generally live in a state of want; but her poems are also marked by the intimate recollection of inspirational moments that are decidedly life-giving and suggest the possibility of future happiness. Her spare, abstract meditations were heavily influenced by the Metaphysical poets of seventeenth-century, as well as by her Puritan upbringing. Equally as influential as Walt Whitman, Dickinson’s verse inspired the branch of American poetics that emphasizes line breaks, abstraction, and precision.