Emily Dickinson

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Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson (left). This photograph was only discovered in 2012, but has not yet been authenticated.

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (born December 10, 1830 in Amherst , Massachusetts , † May 15, 1886 there ) is an important American poet . Her poems, first published in 1890 after her death, seem stylistically in many cases to anticipate the 20th century.


Emily Dickinson was one of three children of Edward Dickinson (1803-1874) and his wife Emily Norcross (1804-1882), who married on May 6, 1828. Her siblings were William Austin Dickinson (1829-1895; called "Austin") and Lavinia Norcross Dickinson (1833-1899; called "Vinnie"). Emily lived her entire life in Amherst, Massachusetts. She comes from a long-established, Calvinist family. Her father was a lawyer and treasurer of Amherst College , which her grandfather founded, and was also a member of Congress at times . Emily attended Amherst Academy (1834-1847), where she received classes in classical literature, Latin , history, religion, mathematics, and biology. Then she switched to the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (1847-1848), a conservative - evangelical school for girls. There she was noticed by her teachers because of her intelligence, but she was physically and mentally vulnerable and suffered from depression , so that she dropped out of school after only a year.

Since 1850 she had a fondness for white clothing and withdrew more into solitude. She received few visitors and rarely made visits herself. She was considered shy of people and spent most of the time in her room.

Emily Dickinson was in correspondence with a number of friends and relatives, but she only had personal contacts with a few people. This included her sister Lavinia and her brother Austin and his wife Susan, a childhood friend of Emily, and the clergyman Charles Wadsworth from Philadelphia . In him she saw a soul mate whom she called a dearest earthly friend . Contact broke off when Wadsworth went to San Francisco . The later editor of her works, Thomas Wentworth Higginson , with whom she corresponded for many years, said she only met her face to face twice during that time.

The first poems by Emily Dickinson date from 1850, which she organized and summarized in notebooks from around 1858 . The most fruitful creative phase (1860-1870) was overshadowed by increasing loneliness and illness. Only seven of her 1775 poems were published during her lifetime, but many found their way into the public domain in letters to friends and relatives.

Emily Dickinson died on May 15, 1886. The cause of death is unclear; in the church book of Amherst there is talk of Bright's disease , i.e. a kidney disease . Emily Dickinson's last words were: "I must go in, for the fog is rising."

So far, only two photographs by Emily Dickinson have been identified as authentic: the famous daguerreotype from 1847 or 48, which is in the archives of Amherst College, and a photo from 1859 from a private collection that was discovered in 2012.

Work editions

The interpretation of the poems of Emily Dickinson is sometimes difficult because there is no authorized final version. Some of the poems are available in several versions, some are only available in the draft stage, which the editor of the first complete edition describes in his introduction as "semifinal drafts" (German: semi-final drafts). Emily Dickinson had left some of her poems to the publisher Thomas Wentworth Higginson while she was still alive, but he had advised against publication.

Four years after her death, in 1890, Higginson, along with Emily's sister Lavinia and Mabel Loomis Todd, a friend of Emily's brother Austin, published a selection from the poet's works under the title: Poems by Emily Dickinson . The editors changed the text wherever they felt it was bulky. Another edition of her works from the early 20th century, edited by Emily's niece Martha Dickinson Bianchi, also contains massive interventions in the text.

The first critical complete edition of her works in three volumes under the title The Poems of Emily Dickinson , Ed. Th. H. Johnson (Cambridge, Mass., 1955) follows all known manuscripts in unchanged form and is regarded as the standard work edition. In addition, there is the somewhat more modern complete edition in 3 volumes: The Poems of Emily Dickinson , Ed. RW Franklin, (Cambridge, Mass., 1998) and the one-volume reading edition from 1999 without text variants and without a critical apparatus.

The lyric work

Although Emily Dickinson spent most of her life in her house, her lyric work is characterized by enormous breadth. Emily Dickinson's limited range of experience has not limited her work, but encouraged it, because she was able to use her imagination to transform the small and manageable world in which she lived into one big world.

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
one clover, and a bee,
and revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

As a contemporary of Walt Whitman , Emily Dickinson has been called "an epigrammatic Walt Whitman" and has been called a "puritan metaphysician" because of her closeness to English metaphysical poets , especially George Herbert . Other statements by critics that Emily Dickinson is “a private poet who writes tirelessly like other women cook or knit” (“a private poet, who wrote indefatigably, as other women cook or knit”) or “a volcano that erupting in a block of ice ”(“ a volcano erupting in a block of ice ”) shows how difficult it is to assign Emily Dickinson to a certain direction of the poetry.

Their favorite subjects are nature, love, death and expectation of death, immortality, and also renunciation and renunciation ( "renunciation" ) and the transcendence of the temporal. The dreamy accomplished emergence of a Prairie to endure clover (dt. Clover) and bee (dt. Bee) in the poem line up still in the region of the world immanent, thus gaining in the poem Indian Summer (dt about.: Indian summer ), a usual seasonal or climatic appearance a direct reference to eternity. Although this poem remains in the present, with the invocation of the sacrament of the holy communion ( Oh sacrament of summer days, Oh, last communion of the haze ), the phenomenon of late summer after the failure of an attempted meaning by the lyrical self ( Oh, fraud ) related to the death of Jesus Christ.

What must have seemed to the disciples in the New Testament, such as the end, like a great deception or disappointment and destruction, now appears symbolically as edifying; Destruction is, as Hans Combecher explains in his interpretation of this poem, redemption, and decline is the direct path to exaltation. The season of the Indian summer outshines the “dying nature, with golden glory” in analogy to the act of redemption of Christ. Although the poem remains in the present, it appears directed to both the past and the future. The decay effective in nature becomes in the memory of the past summer in the meantime the promise of an eternally glorious future, which is accessible to all senses in the momentary observation of transience.

The separation of the sacrament from the person and authority of Christ in the poem reflects in Emily Dickinson's poetry, despite the clearly recognizable trait of a Puritan attitude of thought and spirit, the typically American modern detachment from Puritan dogmas ; In Dickinson's poem, the person of Christ is simply assigned as a "transcendent symbol" to a completely different reality. In this regard, Indian Summer offers a prime example of the after-effects of the Puritan- Calvinist faith or thought on the one hand and the secularization of its Christian core on the other - a typical American trait which is mostly astonishing for Europeans.

The phenomena of late summer, in which it heralds its waning, the not-yet-perceivable is felt and the familiar is perceived in the unfamiliar, is also addressed in other Dickinson's poems, for example in As Imperceptibly As Grief . By developing the image of an experienced reality here, which in the apparent calm of its appearances at the same time contains the secret of the moving, of the imperceptibly transient, here too it expresses the incomprehensible and non-descriptive of the process, which the title of the Poem announces.

The break with classical forms of lyric poetry, the numerous dashes and the unfinished thoughts make the interpretation of her lyrical work more difficult.


Dickinson found its way into the visual arts of the 20th century. The feminist artist Judy Chicago dedicated one of the 39 place settings at the table to her in her work The Dinner Party .

Emily Dickinson Museum

Amherst College established an Emily Dickinson Museum in 2003 in The Homestead , where Emily Dickinson was born and lived, and The Evergreens , her brother's home.

Film biographies

Directed by Terence Davies , the feature film A Quiet Passion was made in 2016 , which covers Dickinson's life from school through to her artistic career. Cynthia Nixon took on the role of Dickinson .

In 2018, Wild Nights with Emily was released, directed by Madeleine Olnek. Molly Shannon stars in the role of the adult Emily Dickinson . The focus is on her relationship with Susan Gilbert.

In 2019, a series called Dickinson was released on the Apple TV + streaming service . In this production, Hailee Steinfeld takes on the leading role.


  • Good morning, midnight. Poems and letters. Selected, translated and with an afterword by Lola Gruenthal. Bilingual edition. Diogenes, Zurich 1997, ISBN 978-3-257-22977-6 .
  • Seals. English German. Selected, transcribed and with an afterword by Werner von Koppenfels . Dieterich'sche Verlagbuchhandlung , Mainz. 3rd edition 2005. ISBN 978-3-87162-037-9 .
  • Wild nights. A life in letters. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2006, ISBN 978-3-10-013907-8 .
  • Emily Dickinson - Poems. English and German. Translated and edited by Gunhild Kübler. Hanser, Munich 2006, ISBN 978-3-446-20782-0 .
  • The Poems of Emily Dickinson. Reading Edition. Ed. RW Franklin (Cambridge, 1999).
  • The Letters of Emily Dickinson. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. 3 vols. (Cambridge, Mass. 1958).
  • All the poems. English German. Translated, commented and with an afterword by Gunhild Kübler. Hanser, Munich 2015, ISBN 978-3-446-24730-7 .


  • Michael Bedard , Barbara Cooney: Emily. (= A Doubleday book for young readers. ) Delacorte Press, New York 1992, ISBN 0-385-30697-0 . (Picture book biography for children, with a poem by Emily Dickinson)
  • Hans Galinski: Ways into the poetic world of Emily Dickinsons. In: Gerhard Hoffmann (Ed.): American Literature of the 19th Century - Interpretations Volume X. Fischer Taschenbuchverlag, Frankfurt a. M., ISBN 3-436-01456-7 , pp. 239-268.
  • Lyndall Gordon: Lives like loaded guns: Emily Dickinson and her family's feuds. Virago, London 2010, ISBN 978-1-84408-453-1 .
  • James R. Guthrie: Emily Dickinson's Vision: Illness and Identity in Her Poetry. University Press of Florida, Gainesville 1998, ISBN 978-0-8130-1549-1 .
  • Roland Hagenbüchle : Emily Dickinson. Risk of self-encounter. Stauffenburg, Tübingen 1988, ISBN 3-923721-14-5 .
  • Roland Hagenbüchle: Precision and Indeterminacy in the Poetry of Emily Dickinson , Emerson Society Quarterly, 1974
  • S. Juhasz, G. Grabher, R. Hagenbüchle, C. Miller: The Emily Dickinson Handbook. University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.
  • Connie Ann Kirk: Emily Dickinson: a biography. Westport, Greenwood Press, Conn. [u. a.] 2004, ISBN 0-313-32206-6 .
  • Gunhild Kübler : Emily Dickinson - a soul in white heat. In: Verena Auffermann , Gunhild Kübler, Ursula März , Elke Schmitter (eds.): Passions. 99 women authors of world literature. C. Bertelsmann, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-570-01048-8 , pp. 142-147.
  • Gunhild Kübler : My Business is Circumference. Considerations for the German translation of Emily Dickinson's poetry. In: Marco Baschera, Pietro De Marchi, Sandro Zanetti (eds.): Between languages ​​/ Entre les langues. Aisthesis, Bielefeld 2019, pp. 227–243.
  • Brita Lindberg-Seyersted, The Voice of the Poet. Aspects of Style in the Poetry of Emily Dickinson. (Uppsala 1968).
  • C. Miller, Emily Dickinson: A Poet's Grammar. (Cambridge, 1987).
  • Heike Oeldorf: Positions of Poetic Identity in Emily Dickinson's Poems. Frankfurt am Main, 2002. ISBN 3-631-36848-8 .
  • David T. Porter, The Art of Emily Dickinson's Early Poetry. (Cambridge, Mass. 1966).
  • Jutta Rosenkranz: “The brevity of life makes me bold.” Emily Dickinson (1830–1886). In: Rosenkranz, Jutta: Line by line my paradise. Eminent women writers, 18 portraits. Munich 2014. ISBN 978-3-492-30515-0 .
  • Linda Wagner-Martin: Emily Dickinson: a literary life. Basingstoke [u. a.]; Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, ISBN 978-1-137-03305-5 .


  • Marc Pendzich: 1862 - Homage to Emily Dickinson . Composition, production, vocals: Marc Pendzich. Music album at vadaboéMusic, 2020.

Web links

Commons : Emily Dickinson  - Collection of Pictures, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Emily Dickinson at Amherst College: The Dickinson Daguerreotype. Amherst College, accessed March 6, 2019 .
  2. ^ Alison Flood: Emily Dickinson gets a new look in recovered photograph . In: The Guardian . September 5, 2012, ISSN  0261-3077 ( theguardian.com [accessed March 6, 2019]).
  3. See Thomas H. Johnson: Creating the Poems. In: Thomas H. Johnson (Ed.): The Poems of Emily Dickinson - Including variant readings with all known manuscripts. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1955, pp. XXXiii.
  4. See in detail the interpretation approach by Hans Combecher: Interpretation of English poems - Issue 2. Diesterweg Verlag, 3rd edition, Frankfurt a. M. et al. 1975, ISBN 3-425-06612-9 , pp. 138–141, here in particular p. 140 and p. 142.
  5. ^ Teut Andreas Riese: Emily Dickinson - As imperceptibly as Grief. In: Klaus Lubbers (Ed.): The American Poetry - From Colonial Times to the Present. Bagel Verlag, Düsseldorf 1974, ISBN 3-513-02215-8 , pp. 157-162, here pp. 160 f.
  6. Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: The Dinner Party. Place Setting: Emily Dickinson. Brooklyn Museum, October 23, 2012, accessed April 23, 2014 .
  7. ^ The Museum. Emily Dickinson Museum, accessed October 17, 2015 .
  8. Apple TV +: "Dickinson" Debuts at Tribeca Festival Macwelt Article September 16, 2019, accessed September 17, 2019