“Success is counted sweetest / By those who ne'er succeed.”
Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886) was an American poet. With the possible exception of Walt Whitman, Dickinson is now recognized as the most important American poet of the 19th century.
- Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts. Although part of a prominent family with strong ties to its community, Dickinson lived much of her life in reclusive isolation.
- After studying at the Amherst Academy for seven years in her youth, she briefly attended the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary before returning to her family’s house in Amherst.
- Considered an eccentric by locals, she developed a noted penchant for white clothing and became known for her reluctance to greet guests or, later in life, to even leave her bedroom.
- Dickinson never married, and most friendships between her and others depended entirely upon correspondence. Dickinson was a recluse for the later years of her life.
While Dickinson was a prolific private poet, fewer than a dozen of her nearly 1,800 poems were published during her lifetime.
- The work that was published during her lifetime was usually altered significantly by the publishers to fit the conventional poetic rules of the time.
- Dickinson’s poems are unique for the era in which she wrote; they contain short lines, typically lack titles, and often use slant rhyme as well as unconventional capitalization and punctuation.
- Many of her poems deal with themes of death and immortality, two recurring topics in letters to her friends.
Although Dickinson’s acquaintances were most likely aware of her writing, it was not until after her death in 1886—when Lavinia, Dickinson’s younger sister, discovered her cache of poems—that the breadth of her work became apparent to the public.
- Her first collection of poetry was published in 1890 by personal acquaintances Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd, though both heavily edited the content.
- A complete, and mostly unaltered, collection of her poetry became available for the first time when scholar Thomas H. Johnson published The Poems of Emily Dickinson in 1955.
- Despite some unfavorable reception and skepticism over the late 19th and early 20th centuries regarding her literary prowess, Dickinson is now almost universally considered to be one of the most significant of all American poets.