Emily Dickinson’s Defiance

Jun 5, 2019

Emily Dickinson is one of the most well-known poets of our time. Dickinson’s poetry encompassed many themes, such as nature, death, life, and spirituality. She is known for her unconventional style of writing that only became known to the wider public years after her death. Although her work was published posthumously, many of her friends and family read her poetry, which she often enclosed in her correspondences. Emily Dickinson is often considered as a modernist poet, with heavy influences from romanticism. Emily Dickinson is often depicted as an unconventional woman, and this is because she lived a life that did not conform to the norms of society. Her defiance is reflected in her poetry, which, even today refuses to adhere to a particular literary period.

Independent thinking came naturally to Dickinson, but it contributed to her isolation. Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1830 to a prominent family. Her father was a lawyer who had a prominent position in politics and religion. Emily Dickinson’s life was entrenched in religion, as Amherst saw a revival of Calvinist beliefs. The Dickinson family converted to Calvinism except for Emily. Emily Dickinson rejected the Calvinist beliefs, and never converted. Although she had strong convictions about why she did not want to convert to Calvinism, she still felt alone. Emily Dickinson felt removed from her community. She must have received pressure to convert not just from her family but also from school. This isolation, as well as faith, informed her poetry in a lot of ways. Her poem 248 (1861) asks why she was shut out of heaven and whether it was because she was “too loud,” implying the kind of attitude of the faith on opinions and perhaps opinionated women. Furthermore in this poem, she speculates that if she were the authority in heaven, she would have allowed an innocent one inside. This poem not only shows that Emily did not fit into the community, but that she also did not quite agree with their beliefs.

During that time, prominent families often welcomed guests into their homes to maintain their social standing. As the daughter of a prominent individual, a politician, it is a surprise that Emily Dickinson is a well-known recluse. She did not like participating in welcoming visitors, so she limited the visits she received, until she was able to completely withdraw from the responsibility. Emily Dickinson was incredibly uncomfortable in social settings, and even expressed her aversion for fame in her poems. For example, her poem 288 (1861), expressed both an invitation for a friendship to another Nobody as well as mocking of those who seek fame or who are famous. Despite her shy and reclusive nature, Dickinson was able to forge and maintain numerous relationships. She was very close to a number of these individuals, although most are family friends. She cherished these friendships, and she grieved the loss some during her lifetime, as is reflected in her poetry.

It is clear that it was not fame or fortune that drove Emily Dickinson to write thousands of poems and letters, but her love for language, and perhaps for her friends as well. Her poems do not exhibit any attempts to copy or adhere any literary style common during that time. A lot of them were even vague, that even now, scholars can’t totally ascertain what they mean. Although she did not particularly desire fame, Dickinson did try to get her poems published. However, Thomas Wentworth Higgins refused to publish her twice. It is possible that his critique was that her work is “uncontrolled” for in her letter to Higgins, Dickinson stated that she cannot and refuses to be controlled, and that if that means she will not be published that she will gladly remain unpublished. She stayed true to this statement by asking her sister to burn her poetry after her death—a wish that was never granted. Even in the aspect of writing, Emily Dickinson refused to be boxed and directed simply to attain something. She valued her truth over anything else. 

To a lot of people, especially in the nineteenth century, it must have seemed like Emily Dickinson did not live a full life. However, her poetry and letters suggest otherwise. She refused to do anything that she did not agree with or wanted, despite the consequences. As a result, her life was unconventional for her time. Not only did she have a rich and colorful imagination, but she also had deep relationships with numerous people whom she valued. She lived her truth to the fullest through her poetry.

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