Emily Dickinson Poetry analysis and explanations

Emily Dickinson's poetry has intrigued and enthralled generations ever since her death in 1886. She lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, in a succesful family with strong community ties, but leading a mainly reclusive and introverted existence, exploring her own world of emotions and feelings through her poetry.

The poems of Emily Dickinson cover a wide range of topics. In fact her work does not fit conveniently into any one genre. She is now regarded as an innovative, pre-modernist poet. Fewer than a dozen of her nearly eighteen hundred poems were published during her lifetime. 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.

In this major work by Classics teacher David Preest, an explanation is offered for each one of her 1789 poems. Available as a completely free pdf file, this is essential reading and reference for anybody interested in the poetry of Emily Dickinson.

  • Emily Dickinson's House, Amherst, Massachusetts, U.S.A. Emily Dickinson's House, Amherst, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
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Emily Dickinson: notes on all her poems by David Preest

Welcome to this web site. On it you will find attempted explanations of all Emily Dickinson’s 1789 poems.

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I have been reading the poems of Emily Dickinson since 1974, when I came across The Life of Emily Dickinson by Richard B. Sewall, a book which is still probably the best introduction to the poet. As I read her poems, first in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson by Thomas H. Johnson of 1970 and later in The Poems of Emily Dickinson by R.W. Franklin of 1999, and at the same time read books about her life and poetry, there seemed one gap in this literature. There was no commentary of brief notes attempting to explain all her poems. This is the gap which this guide attempts to fill.

In making these notes I have consulted the works of previous scholars, explained the context of those many poems which were originally parts of letters written by her, and, where necessary, made my own guess at the meaning of a poem. I believe the facts are correct, even if the guess at an interpretation is wrong. But as Emily herself once said in a letter to her sister-in-law, ‘In a life that stopped guessing, you and I should not feel at home (L586).’

Click here to download the free pdf (1.2mb)

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How to use this guide

  • The first line of each poem is written out as a title to the notes on that poem. The poems are set out with the numbers which they have in Johnson’s edition, but ‘F’ in the title of a poem is followed by the number of that poem in Franklin.

  • To access the notes on a poem, use the search facility on the pdf and type in the first line of the poem. 

  • In the notes ‘L’ stands for ‘Letter.’ For example (L586) refers to the letter with that number in The Letters of Emily Dickinson (see bibliography).


Bibliography



Thomas H. Johnson The complete poems of Emily Dickinson (London, 1970)
R.W.Franklin The poems of Emily Dickinson (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1999)
Thomas H. Johnson, The Poems of Emily Dickinson, 3 vols (Cambridge, Massachussets 1963)
Thomas H. Johnson and Theodora Ward, The Letters of Emily Dickinson, 3 vols
(Cambridge, Massachussets 1958)
[in the notes (L209), for example, means letter 209 in these 3 vols]
Judith Farr, The Passion of Emily Dickinson (Cambridge, Massachussets 1992)
Judith Farr, The Gardens of Emily Dickinson (Cambridge, Massachussets 2004)
[in the notes a reference to the Gardens book has (G) after Judith Farr]
Ruth Miller, The Poetry of Emily Dickinson (Middletown, Conneticut 1968)
Jane Donahue Eberwein, Dickinson: Strategies of Limitation (Amherst 1985)
Roger Lundin, Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief (Michigan 1998)
Charles R. Anderson, Emily Dickinson’s Poetry (New York 1960)
Helen McNeil, Emily Dickinson (London 1986)
Paula Bennett, Emily Dickinson, Female Poet (Iowa 1991)
Rebecca Paterson, The Riddle of Emily Dickinson (Orlando 1951)
George Whicher, This was a Poet, Emily Dickinson (New York 1931)

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  • Author David Preest outside Emily Dickinson's house Author David Preest outside
    Emily Dickinson's house
  • Emily Dickinson's House, Amherst, Massachusetts, U.S.A. Emily Dickinson's House

About the Author

David Preest read Classics at Oxford University, and since retiring from teaching Classics he has had two translations of medieval Latin texts published: William of Malmesbury’s The Deeds of the Bishops of England and Thomas Walsingham’s Chronica Maiora, the second of which won an Outstanding Academic Title award from the USA journal Choice. Alongside Classics, he has pursued his interest in Emily Dickinson, recently visiting her house in Amherst, and reading all the books he could find which would help with the compilation of these notes.

Contact: info@emilydickinsonpoems.org

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