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Emily Dickinson



A Reclusive Poet of the 19th Century

Emily Dickinson

The Belle of Amherst The Nun of Amherst

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born in Amherst, a small town in the state of Massachusetts. on December 10, 1830. She was born to an extremely Religious, puritanical family. Her father was a very wealthy, successful and prominent lawyer and politician. But she was very passive about any social and political activities. Dickinson was educated at Amherst Academy and Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, Massachusetts

Went to DC with her father, a congressman, because she had fallen in love with a married lawyer, who soon died of TB. There fell in love with another married man, a minister. About this time she wrote, “I sing as the boy does by the burying ground, because I am afraid.”

because of the failure of her love affairs, she began to isolate herself from others and lived a solitary life. The only contact she had with family was in whimsical, epigrammatic letters. She often lowered snacks and treats in baskets to neighborhood children from her window, careful never to let them see her face. She almost always wore white. Dickinson seldom left her house and visitors were scarce. All through her life, she did not get married and lived a very quiet, lonely life in a village.

In her family library, she had access to many religious works as well as books by Emerson, other transcendentalists and current magazines about 20, began to write poems The first person to notice Dickinson’s talent was Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Higginson became a life long correspondent and a mentor. Dickinson had contact with few people, but one was Reverend Charles Wadsworth. Dickinson also befriended novelist Helen Jackson.

Higginson advised Dickinson not to get her poetry published because of her violation of contemporary literary convention. Helen Jackson tried to convince her to get her work published but her requests were unsuccessful. She never approved of publishing her poems and requested her sister Lavinia to destroy all of her pomes Before her death, only seven poems were published. But after her death, her sister found that she left a large number of poems, altogether, it was about 1800 poems. After Dickinson’s death, her sister, Lavina, had Emily’s poetry published and then burnt the original copies, because that was her sister’s wish.

Emily Dickinson

The Homestead 1813

The Homestead

Repainted Homestead

The Dickinson Homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts (bedroom)

Dickinson’s Room

Dickinson’s Room

The Dickinson Homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts (Dress)

Newly Discovered Photo

Her Grave

Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson

Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson were two major poets in late 19th century. The two are of entirely different visions, styles and personalities. Whitman, in his poems, he expressed his strong love toward his country, his nation and his people, he showed great optimism and confidence towards the future of America.

Because Emily Dickinson withdraw herself from the society and lived like a hermit, so any political and social things did not influence her. she just focused her attention on the inner world. Her themes ranged from love, death, religion, nature, immortality, pain and beauty, especially about the exploration of death. She was a pessimistic writer. But posthumously the greatness of both was firmly established and they proved to be the genuine precursors to the most serious modern American poetry.

Poems Apprehension

I’m Nobody

I’m Nobody!
I'm Nobody! Who are you? Are you-Nobody-too? Then there's a pair of us! Don't tell! they'd banish us-you know! 我是无名之辈,你是谁? 你,也是,无名之辈? 这就有了我们一对!可是别声张! 你知道,他们会大肆张扬!

I’m Nobody!
How dreary-to be-Somebody! How public-like a FrogTo tell your name-the livelong June To an admiring Bog! 做个,显要人物,好不无聊! 像个青蛙,向仰慕的泥沼—— 在整个六月,把个人的姓名 聒噪——何等招摇!(江枫译)


1. Who are the “they” in line 4? The “admiring bog” in line 8? 2. Do you prefer solitude to public life? Give your reasons.

Metaphor: A comparison. Example: “A frog is a celebrity.” Simile: A comparison using like or as. Example: “How public—like a frog…”

我是无名之辈, 我是无名之辈, 我是无名之辈,你是谁? 你也是无名之辈? 那么,咱俩是一对——且莫声张! 你懂嘛,他们容不得咱俩。 做个名人多无聊! 象青蛙——到处招摇—— 向一洼仰慕的泥塘 把自己的大名整天宣扬!) (汪义群译 孙梁校;《英美名诗一百首》,北京: 中国对外翻译出版公司,1987)

I heard a Fly buzz—when I died— I heard a Fly buzz—when I died— The Stillness in the Room Was like the Stillness in the Air— Between the Heaves of Storm— The Eyes around—had wrung them dry— And Breaths were gathering firm For that last Onset—when the King Be witnessed—in the Room— (2) I willed my Keepsakes—Signed away What portion of me be Assignable—and then it was There interposed a Fly— With Blue—uncertain stumbling Buzz— Between the light—and me— And then the Windows failed—and then (3) I could not see to see—

In this first stanza, the scene of a deathbed is set. The second stanza discusses the state of mind of those waiting by the deathbed of the speaker. They have obviously been crying by the suggestion that their eyes had "wrung them dry.” What does the “king” refer to? The king may be God, Christ, or death; The King is probably God in this context and they are all awaiting his entering the room to take the soul of the speaker. What’s the meaning of “last onset" ? "Last onset" is an oxymoron; "onset" means a beginning and "last" means an end. For Christians, death is the beginning of eternal life.

The third stanza How to understand “I willed my Keepsakes”? These keepsakes could be material goods that the speaker collected during life. There will be no use for these goods in heaven so this line discusses the tradition of willing away property and material belonging. The fly "interposed“ which means to come between or intervene The vision of death it presents is horrifying, even gruesome. the central image is the fly What do does the fly suggest ?

Questions for discussion Flies feed on carrion (dead flesh).

Does this association suggest anything about the dying woman's vision of death? or the observers' vision? Is seeing the future death as physical decay only? any realities of death--smell, decay? Does the fly indicates that death has no spiritual significance, that there is no eternity or immortality for us?
The uncertainty of the fly could be symbolic of the speaker's own unsure feelings about death.

Poetic Form
trimeter and tetrameter iambic lines (four stresses in the first and third lines of each stanza, three in the second and fourth, a pattern Dickinson follows at her most formal); rhythmic insertion of the long dash to interrupt the meter; rhyme scheme: abcb. Interestingly, all the rhymes before the final stanza are halfrhymes (Room/Storm, firm/Room) while only the rhyme in the final stanza is a full rhyme (me/see). Dickinson uses this technique to build tension; a sense of true completion comes only with the speaker's death.

Because I could not stop for Death—
Because I could not stop for Death— He kindly stopped for me--The Carriage held but just Ourselves— And Immortality. We slowly drove—He knew no haste And I had put away My labor and my leisure too, For His Civility— We passed the School, where Children strove At Recess—in the Ring— We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain--We passed the Setting Sun—

Or rather—He passed Us— The Dews drew quivering and chill— For only Gossamer, my Gown— My Tippet—only Tulle--We paused before a House that seemed A Swelling of the Ground— The Roof was scarcely visible— The Cornice—in the Ground— Since then—tis Centuries—and yet Feels shorter than the Day I first surmised the Horses’ Heads Were toward Eternity—

The first stanza
The opening of the poem has an understated casualness of tone : In the first line the persona is too busy and too contented as she lives her life to both to stop for the gentleman’s call; but, through his kindness and consideration, she is compelled at last to go with him. In the third line, the dramatic scene is set in the carriage. The situation is one of intimacy---- “the carriage held but just ourselves.” He has called on her as a beau; and, like a true gentleman, he has included a chaperon, “Immortality.”

The second stanza
The first line of the second stanza indicates the peacefulness and pleasantness surrounding an appointment with a beau. He drives leisurely, without haste---- ironically, as if they had all the time in the world. She who could not stop for Death in the first stanza is completely captivated by him in the second and third lines of this stanza. He is such an artful charmer that she needs neither labor nor leisure, for in his “Civility” he has taken care of everything.

The third stanza
By the third stanza, they are nearing the edge of town. The three elements summarize the progress and passage of a lifetime. Children strove on the playground-------youth the Fields of Gazing Grain----adulthood The setting sun-----old age As critic Charles R. Anderson described in them, “The seemingly disparate parts of this are fused into a vivid reenactment of the mortal experience. It includes the three states of youth, maturity, and age, the cycle of day from morning to evening, and even a suggestion of seasonal progression from spring through ripening to decline.”

The Fourth stanza
the lady is getting closer to death; for “The Dews” now grow “quivering and chill” upon her skin, the traditional associations of the coldness of death. In the third line, however, the lady is still holding onto life by offering a rational explanation about her chill. She is not really dying, she seems to say: she is cold simply because her gown is thin. But she cannot escape her death, for she reveals even in her garments the dying influence: her gown is gossamer, a substance associated with spirits and other worldliness, and her tippet made of lace is something one might expect to see around the shoulders of a deceased woman lying in repose.

The fifth stanza
In the fifth stanza, they have arrived at a country cemetery. The House is the House of death, a fresh grave, sketched only with a few details. The roof is a small tombstone, and the cornice, the molding around a coffin’s lid, is already placed “in the Ground.” The lady is alone now, her gentleman friend has vanished unexplained.

The sixth stanza
In the sixth stanza the words “first surmised” contribute a note of ironic surprise. All along, then, she did not realize where her kind, intimate, slow driving, civil suitor was taking her. It was not until after the school children, the “Gazing Grain,” the “Setting Sun,” and the “Swelling of the Ground” that she began to realize where she was heading. She had, therefore, apparently been tricked, seduced, and then abandoned. In these terms: then Dickinson is being terribly ironic throughout the poem. She is saying “kindly,” “slowly drove,” and “Civility” in retrospect through clenched teeth.

The Conclusion
In its depiction of Death on one hand as the courtly suitor and on the other as the fraudulent seducer, the poem reflects a basic ambiguity about death and immortality. Is death a release from a lifetime of work and suffering? Is it the gateway to a lasting peace in paradise? Or is it simply a cold, mindless annihilation?

I Died For Beauty But Was Scarce
I died for beauty but was scarce Adjusted in the tomb, When one who died for truth was lain In an adjoining room. He questioned softly why I failed? "For beauty," I replied. "And I for truth, the two are one; We brethren are," he said. And so, as kinsmen met a night, We talked between the rooms, Until the moss had reached our lips, And covered up our names.

The speaker : died for Beauty a man laid in a tomb next to her : died for Truth. When the two softly told each other why they died, the man declared that Truth and Beauty are the same so he and the speaker were "Brethren." "and talked as Kinsmen" between their tombs until the moss reached their lips and covered up the names on their tombstones.

bizarre, allegorical death fantasy

its manner of presentation belongs uniquely to Dickinson. "Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty" -----Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn the macabre physicality of death , the high idealism of martyrdom ("I died for Beauty. . . One who died for Truth") a certain kind of romantic yearning combined with longing for Platonic companionship ("And so, as Kinsmen, met a Night--"), and an optimism about the afterlife (it would be nice to have a friend) with terror about the fact of death (it would be horrible to lie in the cemetery having a conversation through the walls of a tomb).

As the poem progresses, the high idealism and yearning for companionship gradually give way to mute, cold death, as the moss creeps up the speaker's corpse and her headstone, obliterating both her capacity to speak (covering her lips) and her identity (covering her name).
The ultimate effect of this poem is to show that every aspect of human life--ideals, human feelings, identity itself-is erased by death. But by making the erasure gradual--something to be "adjusted" to in the tomb--and by portraying a speaker who is untroubled by her own grim state, Dickinson creates a scene that is, by turns, grotesque and compelling, frightening and comforting.

Poetic forms
This poem follows many of Dickinson's typical formal patterns: --the ABCB rhyme scheme, the rhythmic use of the dash to interrupt the flow-but has a more regular meter the first and third lines in each stanza are iambic tetrameter, while the second and fourth lines are iambic trimeter, creating a four-three-four-three stress pattern in each stanza.

殉美/ 我为美死去
我为美死去,但是还不曾 安息在我的墓里, 又有个为真理而死去的人 来躺在我的隔壁。 他悄悄地问我为何以身殉? “为了美,”我说。 “而我为真理,两者不分家; 我们是兄弟两个。” 于是象亲戚在夜间相遇, 我们便隔墙谈天, 直到青苔爬到了唇际, 将我们的名字遮掩。

译/青裳 《我为美而死》

我为美死去,却还不曾 在墓中安息, 又来一位为真理而死的人 栖身我的隔壁。 他悄言问我何以逝去 “为了美。”我回答。 “而我为真理。真与美是一体; 我们是兄弟。” 就这样,像亲人在夜里相遇 我们隔墙倾谈 直到苍苔爬至我们的唇际 掩没掉,我们的名字

Dickinson often brought dazzling originality to overwrought topics.
Life Love Nature Time and Eternity Death and Mourning Religion and Faith Isolation and Depression Poetry and Language

A: Her poems have no titles, hence the first line of each poem is always quoted as the title of each poem. B: particular stress pattern: dash“— ” C: Capital letters as a means of emphasis; D: Language: brief, direct, and plain; E: Poem: short, always on original images or symbols F: Conventional meters, iambic tetrameter, offrhymes. G: Short poetic lines, condensed by using intense metaphors and by extensive use of ellipsis.

H: Regular meter—hymn meter and ballad meter, also known as Common meter Quatrains Alternating tetrameter and trimeter Often 1st and 3rd lines rhyme, 2nd and 4th lines rhyme in iambic pentameter Visual and audible effects, great imagination, sincere emotions. I: Her poems tend to be personal and meditative (e.g. “Because I could not stop for Death”).

This Is My Letter To The World
This is my letter to the World That never wrote to Me— The simple News that Nature told— With tender Majesty Her Message is committed To Hands I cannot see— For love of Her—Sweet—countrymen— Judge tenderly—of Me

这是我给世界的信 因为它从来不写信给我—— 那是温柔崇高的存在 自然在把简单的信息诉说 她的信是交付给 一双我无法看见的手—— 因为她的爱——亲切的同乡 ——请温柔地评判我

On Poetry
She thought that poetry should be powerful and touching. The inspiration of the poet came from his inner world or intensity of his emotions and the past literary traditions and the noble heroes. Like Emerson, she thought that only the real poet could understand the world. Truth, virtue and beauty are all the one thing. The most dignified beauty was embodied by the active, affirmative dignity. Poetry should express ideas through concrete images. It was the poet’s duty to express abstract ideas through vivid and fresh imagery. She was against the restriction of the traditional doctrines and argued for the depiction of one’s inner world.

On nature
Dickinson observed nature closely and described it vividly but never with the feeling of being lost in it, or altogether part of it, nor was she surprised when its creatures also kept their distance. She thought that nature was both kind and cruel, which was similar to Tennyson.

On Death
She wrote about nearly 600 poems on death. Her attitude toward immortality was contradictory. It is clear always that for Dickinson life and consciousness are inseparable. To be transmuted into grass or transcendentally made one with the ocean or the over-soul are as irrelevant and meaningless to this individualist as the idea would have been to her puritan ancestors.

在脑中, 我感受到--葬礼 在脑中 我感受到 葬礼

在脑中, 我感受到--葬礼, 哀悼者来来去去 不停地踩着,踩着,直到 意义像似快要有所突破 当他们都坐定位后, 葬礼仪式, 像只鼓 不停地敲打,敲打,直到 我心已麻木为止 然后我听到他们抬起棺木 再次地,以那些同样的鉛鞋 倾踩过我的灵魂 然后空间,开始敲起丧钟

所有的天堂就像个铃铛 存在, 就像是只耳朵 而我和静默是某种奇怪的族类 翻覆于此, 孤单寂寞 然后理性的支架, 崩裂, 我掉落, 又掉落 猛然地撞到一个世界 然后豁然开朗透彻明白

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