The verses of Emily Dickinson belong emphatically to what Emerson
long since called "the Poetry of the Portfolio,"--something produced
absolutely without the ...
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The Collected Poems

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The verses of Emily Dickinson belong emphatically to what Emerson
long since called "the Poetry of the Portfolio,"--something produced
absolutely without the thought of publication, and solely by way of
expression of the writer's own mind. Such verse must inevitably
forfeit whatever advantage lies in the discipline of public criticism
and the enforced conformity to accepted ways. On the other hand, it
may often gain something through the habit of freedom and the
unconventional utterance of daring thoughts. In the case of the
present author, there was absolutely no choice in the matter; she
must write thus, or not at all. A recluse by temperament and habit,
literally spending years without setting her foot beyond the
doorstep, and many more years during which her walks were strictly
limited to her father's grounds, she habitually concealed her mind,
like her person, from all but a very few friends; and it was with
great difficulty that she was persuaded to print, during her
lifetime, three or four poems. Yet she wrote verses in great
abundance; and though brought curiously indifferent to all
conventional rules, had yet a rigorous literary standard of her own,
and often altered a word many times to suit an ear which had its own
tenacious fastidiousness.

Miss Dickinson was born in Amherst, Mass., Dec. 10, 1830, and died
there May 15, 1886. Her father, Hon. Edward Dickinson, was the
leading lawyer of Amherst, and was treasurer of the well-known
college there situated. It was his custom once a year to hold a large
reception at his house, attended by all the families connected with
the institution and by the leading people of the town. On these
occasions his daughter Emily emerged from her wonted retirement and
did her part as gracious hostess; nor would any one have known from
her manner, I have been told, that this was not a daily occurrence.
The annual occasion once past, she withdrew again into her seclusion,
and except for a very few friends was as invisible to the world as if
she had dwelt in a nunnery. For myself, although I had corresponded
with her for many years, I saw her but twice face to face, and
brought away the impression of something as unique and remote as
Undine or Mignon or Thekla.

This selection from her poems is published to meet the desire of her
personal friends, and especially of her surviving sister. It is
believed that the thoughtful reader will find in these pages a
quality more suggestive of the poetry of William Blake than of
anything to be elsewhere found,--flashes of wholly original and
profound insight into nature and life; words and phrases exhibiting
an extraordinary vividness of descriptive and imaginative power, yet
often set in a seemingly whimsical or even rugged frame. They are
here published as they were written, with very few and superficial
changes; although it is fair to say that the titles have been
assigned, almost invariably, by the editors. In many cases these
verses will seem to the reader like poetry torn up by the roots, with
rain and dew and earth still clinging to them, giving a freshness and
a fragrance not otherwise to be conveyed. In other cases, as in the
few poems of shipwreck or of mental conflict, we can only wonder at
the gift of vivid imagination by which this recluse woman can
delineate, by a few touches, the very crises of physical or mental
struggle. And sometimes again we catch glimpses of a lyric strain,
sustained perhaps but for a line or two at a time, and making the
reader regret its sudden cessation. But the main quality of these
poems is that of extraordinary grasp and insight, uttered with an
uneven vigor sometimes exasperating, seemingly wayward, but really
unsought and inevitable. After all, when a thought takes one's
breath away, a lesson on grammar seems an impertinence. As Ruskin
wrote in his earlier and better days, "No weight nor mass nor beauty
of execution can outweigh one grain or fragment of thought."

---Thomas Wentworth Higginson


As is well documented, Emily Dickinson's poems were edited in these
early editions by her friends, better to fit the conventions of the
times. In particular, her dashes, often small enough to appear
as dots, became commas and semi-colons.

In the second series of poems published, a facsimile of her
handwritten poem which her editors titled "Renunciation" is given,
and I here transcribe that manuscript as faithfully as I can,
showing _underlined_ words thus.

There came a day - at Summer's full -
Entirely for me -
I thought that such were for the Saints -
Where Resurrections - be -
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Product Details

  • BN ID: 2940012352934
  • Publisher: SAP
  • Publication date: 4/3/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 1,211,642
  • File size: 105 KB

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