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Presented by State Library Victoria

Emily Dickinson

How about we rewind back to a time before drinking straws and electric trains? To a place in Amherst, Massachusetts, where a recluse locked herself away inside with a good book and all the things a poet needs to write?

Emily Dickinson (her name might ring a bell) was definately a homebody and a bookworm, especially in her adult life. She was fairly sociable as a child, but as she grew up she retreated into isolation. Reasons for it are unknown. It is speculated by scholars that she could’ve suffered from a poor psychological condition or been confined to the home because of a sick mother. She read several works, including those written by Robert and Elizabeth Barratt Browning and John Keats. Reading poetry inspired her to write her own.

Personally, I would recommend checking out poetry, not just Dickinson’s, but from a variety of other poets. You too, might be inspired to write.

I wasn’t a huge fan when I first read her poetry. I found her to be too obsessed with death. She wrote over 500 poems about it. 500!

But looking further into her life, I found that her words weren’t all darkness and gloom. She was shedding light on something that had taken from her, so she could assure herself that it wasn’t something she should be afraid of. Having lost several loved ones, she needed poetry to help her cope. As dim as it sounds, we are mortal, and we should not be afraid of that. It’s all the more reason we should live our lives to the fullest. That’s her most prominent message and one you readers out there might be interested in exploring.

Many describe her as an eccentric writer. That is what makes her stand out even over 130 years later.

That’s why I’ve listed below a few of her poems:


Hope is the thing with feathers

Simply put, she compares hope to a bird. Admittedly, I love this poem because she lets go of her usually pessimistic approach and doesn’t mention death. It’s a big step for a writer to change their style and another big step to describe hope so beautifully.


Because I could not stop for death

This was one of her first poems I read and probably one that originally set my expectations that her work was so grim. It personifies death as a friendly guide, which I had thought was kinda strange, but then I realised how she wrote to cope with death. If she saw death as a kinder thing then maybe it’s easier to deal with her losses. When I found that out, her poem started to sound different to me. Her words became meaningful for me.


I’m nobody! Who are you?

It’s often seen as depressing to feel like a nobody, but Dickinson seems to think it’s a luxury in this poem compared to being a somebody. I believe that everybody is a somebody, but deep down I think there is that feeling that exists amongst many that makes us feel less than what we are. In this digital age many of us are pressured to be what we are not, so we can feel like a somebody. But that just isn’t honest. The message I took out of this piece was to be happy with who we are and not compare ourselves to others. Her work doesn’t exactly address these messages directly, but I think she did bury them under the surface.


I heard a fly buzz

It’s not often that poets decide to write about lying on their deathbed, but Dickinson did. She describes the moment with minor details, focusing less on the big picture, which I do like in writing, as it really leaves a lot open to interpretation. So, do your own interpretation. Tell me what you think in the comments.


If I can stop one heart from breaking

Although it’s a very simple poem, it is well written and conveys a positive message: if you do all you can to help others, then your life won’t be in vain. Dickinson, back at it again with the positivity! I like it!


There are so many more of her poems out there on the web. Check ’em out!



You seem dedicated, its really cool what you can find out online, isn't it? Do you write poetry? And what do you like more, reading poetry or writing it (if you do)?

30th Dec, 19

I've been writing (freestyle mostly) but my poems can't match the classics. I like both reading and writing poetry equally. Reading inspires and drives me forward so I can write. Writing poetry gives me the freedom to express myself and my opinions. They run alongside each other and that's why I can't choose to like one more than the other.

31st Dec, 19

That is inspiring. Thank you for answering my questions, I find most people like writing poetry than reading it. But like you I cant decide. Reading poetry inspires me to write it and writing it makes me want to read it. I would love to read some of your poetry sometime, from the way you describe them, in your reply to me and your post, I can tell you care about it and, The flow of your writing makes you sort of sound like a poet? I don't know, that's what I hear. I think poetry is one of the best ways to express emotion, and not enough people are involved in reading or writing poetry. You are very inspiring.

31st Dec, 19