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Emily Dickinson

Why is she important?
She’s a forerunner of modernism. Only seven poems
were published during her lifetime with the complete
volume of her works not published until 1960.
How does she fit in with
her time?
• To a large extent, she seems to ignore the
social issues around her in her work, as there
is no mention of the abolitionist movement or
the Civil War in her poetry.
• Caught in a time between Puritanism
(strictness is morality that verges on
intolerance and that man is placed on earth for
the purposes of obedience to God and glorifying Him. They believed in predestination,
the absence of free will and the arbitrary division of humans into the elect and the
damned) Transcendentalism (a rejection of the strict Puritan religious attitudes, faith in
the worth of the individual and reliance on the goodness of nature. They saw a
connection between the universe and the individual soul). There is religious struggle in
her work, which may have mirrored the religious conflicts of her time
How does she differ from her contemporaries?
• She was a forerunner of modern poetry, refusing to write in the strict form of the poetry of
her time;
• She refused publication when her friend and literary critic Thomas Wentworth Higgins
tried to get her to revise her work so that it better resembled the florid contemporary style
What are the literary characteristics that
define her work?
• She employs the ballad form
o Stanzas of four iambic lines, with the first and third line with four stresses and the
second and fourth lines three stresses;
o The rhyme scheme is XAXA instead of ABAB
• She also uses the hymn form—a quatrain with three iambic feet
• Language inspired by King James Bible and Shakespeare
• Idiosyncratic form
o Slant or off-rhymes and rhythms
o Neologism, like “gianture” and “dimnuet” for conciseness
o Dashes and capitalization for emphasis
• Themes: death and immortality, nature, religion, humanity, the power and limits of
language, intellectual doubt, struggle, and creativity.

“Soul, Take Thy Risk,” by Joyce Nower:

“Religious Influences on Emily Dickinson: Puritanism and Transcendentalism in Her Poetry,” by
Jennifer Gage Edison: http://itech.fgcu.edu/faculty/wohlpart/alra/edidwell.htm
“Dashing Genius: Emily Dickinson and the Punctuation of Cognition,” Elizabeth Howell Brunner,