Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts to Edward Dickinson and Emily Norcross Dickinson on December 10, 1830 when America was only 55 years old and just a few years after the first railroad began operating in the U.S.
The Dickinsons were among the earliest settlers in America. They arrived from England in the 1630s and settled in Massachusetts. She attended Amherst Academy, which her grandfather helped found, studying Latin, French, history, rhetoric, botany, geology, and philosophy.
During the first decade of her life, events occurred that barely registered in Amherst. The anti-slavery movement was ignited, pro-slavery mobs south and north rioted in the streets and meeting halls to suppress abolitionist voices and in Virginia, Nat Turner led a slave revolt.
The 1830s saw the systematic removal of eastern Indian tribes to territories beyond the Mississippi River. Under President Andrew Jackson, 25,000 Cherokee Indians were forced out of their homes and driven on a "Trail of Tears."
In 1847, Dickinson entered Mount Holyoke Female Seminary and engaged in the study of history, chemistry, Latin, physiology, and English grammar, but only for one year.
In October 1856, she won second prize and 75 cents for her rye and Indian bread at the local cattle show. She baked bread, made puddings, attended to her knitting, wrote hundreds of poems and letters, played the piano. In the garden she had a green thumb, growing the Daphne odora, violet, and the day lily.
Although Emily Dickinson’s calling as a poet began in her teen years, she came into her own as an artist during a short but intense period of creativity that resulted in her composing, revising, and saving hundreds of poems.
She dressed only in white and developed a reputation as a reclusive eccentric. Dickinson selected her own society carefully and frugally. During the last twenty years of her life she rarely left the house.
She died in Amherst in 1886 and was not publicly recognized during her lifetime.
Some time after her death, her sister Lavinia found a locked box containing more than 1,700 short poems bound together in bundles of four or five sheets. She wrote her drafts on scraps of paper, grocery lists, and the backs of recipes and used envelopes.
Poems by Emily Dickinson was eventually published in 1890, a selection of 116 poems. The original order of her poems was not restored until 1981 when Ralph W. Franklin used the physical evidence of the paper itself to restore her intended order. The Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson is the only volume that keeps the order intact.
Her poetry was heavily influenced by the Metaphysical poets of 17th century England, as well as her reading of the Book of Revelation and her upbringing in a Puritan New England town. She admired the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, John Keats.
Other favorite authors would include Emily and Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and William Shakespeare.
When I was a little girl, I thought that words were cheap and weak. Now I don't know anything so mighty...
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