Posted by: Adam Roper | April 16, 2009

Emily Dickinson : A Case Study

I’m starting a new series on this blog, examining the work of great poets more closely. This first article will introduce you to Emily Dickinson.

Emily Dickinson, as one commentator explains, “was of the part of life that is always youth, always magical. She wrote of it as she grew to know it, step by step, discovery by discovery, truth by truth—until time merely became eternity. She was preeminently the discoverer—eagerly hunting the meaning of it all; this strange world in which she wonderingly found herself,—“A Balboa of house and garden,” surmising what lay beyond the purple horizon. She lived with a God we do not believe in, and trusted in an immortality we do not deserve, in that confiding age when Duty ruled over Pleasure before the Puritan became a hypocrite.
Her poems reflect this direct relation toward the great realities we have later avoided, covered up, or tried to wipe out; perhaps because were they really so great we become so small in consequence. All truth came to Emily straight from honor to honor unimpaired. She never trafficked with falsehood seriously, never employed a deception in thought or feeling of her own”.

I encourage you to read the whole article sometime. The author says it much more articulately than I could even attempt to ;).

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

The poetry of Dickinson reflects a mystical, though simple, quality- like watercolor on a hand-made canvas. Stylistically, her poetry is similar to the academically influenced classic poets, though her work reflects the the heart of the poet deeply underlying the words.

IF you were coming in the fall,
I ’d brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly.

If I could see you in a year,
I ’d wind the months in balls,
And put them each in separate drawers,
Until their time befalls.

If only centuries delayed,
I ’d count them on my hand,
Subtracting till my fingers dropped
Into Van Diemen’s land.

If certain, when this life was out,
That yours and mine should be,
I ’d toss it yonder like a rind,
And taste eternity.

Love, death, eternity- all the vast emotions of the human soul are discussed deeply, if not touched upon, in the whole of Dickinson’s work.

THE SUN just touched the morning;
The morning, happy thing,
Supposed that he had come to dwell,
And life would be all spring.

As well, her love of the natural world is reflected in her work. To read descriptions of nature by authors like Anne Dillard and Donald Miller is to become acquainted with the same natural world brought to life in Dickinson’s descriptions.

I ’LL tell you how the sun rose,—
A ribbon at a time.
The steeples swam in amethyst,
The news like squirrels ran.

The hills untied their bonnets,
The bobolinks begun.
Then I said softly to myself,
“That must have been the sun!”

But how he set, I know not.
There seemed a purple stile
Which little yellow boys and girls
Were climbing all the while

Till when they reached the other side,
A dominie in gray
Put gently up the evening bars,
And led the flock away.

To conclude, this is a poem I wrote about a month ago, after actually sitting down to read Emily Dickinson for the first time. Enjoy 🙂

watercolor rainstorms
on green trees and light blue patches of light
gather in the sidewalks
and small ponds.

a creator potters about
in the afternoon,
moving the water in his hands
like a narrative in pieces on a desk.

this weather is
flowered dresses and yellow slippers,
beautiful characters for fairy tales
playing the story out with love.

I also encourage you to comment here- tell me what you think. Who are some poets you enjoy? What do you like about them? I am always down for a discussion.




  1. Very informative. Thanks for pointing me back towards Emily Dickinson. It’s been too long and she deserves my attention.

    Great use of color in your original piece. One of my favorite things to do is to study a poet and then write a poem in their spirit.

    The Gods of Poetry for me are Plath, Whitman, and Ginsberg.

    Thanks for the unexpected enlightenment!

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