Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson (Modern Library Series)

Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson (Modern Library Series)

Paperback(2000 Modern Library Paperback Edition)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679783350
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/12/2000
Series: Modern Library Classics Series
Edition description: 2000 Modern Library Paperback Edition
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 675,722
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Virtually unknown as a poet in her lifetime, Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) is now recognized as one of the most unaccountably strange and marvelous of the world’s great writers. Unique in their form, their psychic urgency, and their uncanny, crystalline power, her poems represent a mind unlike any other to be found in literature.

Billy Collins is the author of twelve collections of poetry, including The Rain in Portugal, Aimless Love, Horoscopes for the Dead, Ballistics, The Trouble with Poetry, Nine Horses, Sailing Alone Around the Room, Questions About Angels, The Art of Drowning, and Picnic, Lightning. He is also the editor of Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry, 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day, and Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds. A Distinguished Professor of English at Lehman College of the City University of New York and Senior Distinguished Fellow at the Winter Park Institute of Rollins College, he was Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003 and New York State Poet from 2004 to 2006. In 2016 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Read an Excerpt

Today Emily Dickinson is recognized not only as a major poet of the American nineteenth century but also as one of the most intriguing poets of any place or time, in both her art and her life. The outline of her biography is well known. She was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1830 and, except for a few excursions to Philadelphia, Washington, and Boston, spent her entire life there, increasingly limiting her activities to her father's house. "I do not cross my Father's ground to any House or Town," she wrote, referring to a personal reclusiveness that was noticeable even to her contemporaries. In the front corner bedroom of that house on Main Street, Dickinson wrote over 1,700 poems, often on scraps of paper and on the backs of grocery lists, only a handful of which were published in her lifetime and then anonymously. She was known to give poems to friends and neighbors, often as an accompaniment to the cakes and cookies she baked, sometimes lowering them from an upstairs window in a basket. Her habit of binding groups of poems together into little booklets called fascicles might indicate she felt her poems were presentable, but most of her poems never went farther than her desk drawer where they were discovered by her sister after Dickinson's death in 1886 of kidney failure. In her lifetime, her poetry remained unknown, and although a few small editions of her poems were published in the 1890s, it was not until 1955 that a reliable scholarly edition appeared, transcribing the poems precisely from the original manuscripts and preserving all of Dickinson's typographical eccentricities (see Note). Convincingly or not, she called publication "the auction of the mind" and compared the public figure to a frog croaking to the admiring audience of a bog.

It is fascinating to consider the case of a person who led such a private existence and whose poems remained unrecognized for so long after her death, as if she had lain asleep only to be awakened by the kiss of the twentieth century. The quirky circumstances of her life have received as much if not more commentary than the poems themselves. Some critics valorize her seclusion as a form of female self-sufficiency; others make her out to be a victim of her culture. Still others believe that her solitariness has been exaggerated. She did attend school, after all, and she maintained many intimate relationships by letter. Moreover, it was less eccentric in her day than in ours for one daughter—she had a brother who was a lawyer and a sister who married—to remain home to run the household and assist her parents. Further, all writers need privacy; all must close the door on the world to think and compose. But Dickinson's separateness—which has caused her to be labeled a homebody, a spinster, and a feminist icon among other things—took extreme forms. She was so shy that her sister Lavinia would be fitted for her clothes; she wore only white for many years ("Wear nothing commoner than snow"); and she rarely would address an envelope, afraid that her handwriting would be seen by the eyes of strangers. When asked of her companions, she replied in a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, "Hills, sir, and the sundown, and a dog large as myself that my father bought me."

However tempting it is to search through the biographical evidence for a solution to the enigma of Emily Dickinson's life, we must remember that no such curiosity would exist were it not for the poems themselves. Her style is so distinctive that anyone even slightly acquainted with her poems would recognize a poem on the page as an Emily Dickinson poem, if only for its shape. Here is a typical example:

'T is little I could care for pearls
Who own the ample sea;
Or brooches when the Emperor
With rubies pelteth me;
Or gold, who am the Prince of Mines;
Or diamonds, when I see
A diadem to fit a dome
Continual crowning me.

Reading Group Guide

1. Dickinson never published any of her poetry during her lifetime; her work was discovered after her death. As Billy Collins notes in his Introduction, "It is fascinating to consider the case of a person who led such a private existence... as if she had lain asleep only to be awakened by the kiss of the twentieth century." What conclusions can you draw about the relationship of Dickinson's privacy during her life and the nature and texture of her art?

2. Dickinson's poetry continues to be extremely influential and important for twentieth-century readers; she remains one of the most widely read American poets to this day. What accounts for this remarkable, enduring popularity, in your view? What makes her poetry seem, to so many, so contemporary? What influence or legacy do you think her work has had or left?

3. Considering Dickinson in relation to some of the exemplary poetry of her time (for instance, Walt Whitman), what features seem to distinguish Dickinson's work? Are there contemporary poets that you would compare in some way to Emily Dickinson?

4. What innovations-stylistic or otherwise-do you find or notice in Dickinson's poetry? What themes or motifs seem to recur in her work, and what do these signify for you?

5. Which individual poems in this volume do you find most compelling and affecting? Which poems do you find most difficult, obscure, or hard to penetrate?

6. Billy Collins notes that Dickinson's poetry is particularly effective in its ability to "compress wide meaning into small spaces." Discuss this feature of her work in relation to poetry in general.

7. How do you think Dickinson's identity as a woman-in nineteenth-century America-plays into her art?

Foreword

1. Dickinson never published any of her poetry during her lifetime; her work was discovered after her death. As Billy Collins notes in his Introduction, "It is fascinating to consider the case of a person who led such a private existence... as if she had lain asleep only to be awakened by the kiss of the twentieth century." What conclusions can you draw about the relationship of Dickinson's privacy during her life and the nature and texture of her art?

2. Dickinson's poetry continues to be extremely influential and important for twentieth-century readers; she remains one of the most widely read American poets to this day. What accounts for this remarkable, enduring popularity, in your view? What makes her poetry seem, to so many, so contemporary? What influence or legacy do you think her work has had or left?

3. Considering Dickinson in relation to some of the exemplary poetry of her time (for instance, Walt Whitman), what features seem to distinguish Dickinson's work? Are there contemporary poets that you would compare in some way to Emily Dickinson?

4. What innovations-stylistic or otherwise-do you find or notice in Dickinson's poetry? What themes or motifs seem to recur in her work, and what do these signify for you?

5. Which individual poems in this volume do you find most compelling and affecting? Which poems do you find most difficult, obscure, or hard to penetrate?

6. Billy Collins notes that Dickinson's poetry is particularly effective in its ability to "compress wide meaning into small spaces." Discuss this feature of her work in relation to poetry in general.

7. How do you thinkDickinson's identity as a woman-in nineteenth-century America-plays into her art?

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Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I was looking for a book for school, more specifically a certain poem. I think this site would be much more useful if there was some way to link to a list of the poems in the book, it might help customers figure out a little better what they are looking for.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Emily Dickinson¿s poems can be long and boring or so interesting that you just can not put that huge book of poems down. It is all in what type of reader you are and what poems you read of hers. Considering there are thousands of her poems throughout many different books, it¿s impossible to read them all. The book I read (which I felt had a very diverse variety of poems) was ¿The Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson¿; this book I feel had everything you are looking for. For the common reader or the deep poetry person this book contains something for everyone¿s taste buds. It also contains different chapters on different topics such as: life, nature, love, and time and eternity. To anyone who would love to sit down and read a few good poems before going to bed, this book is for you. Dickinson can express herself in many different ways, taking you on a new roller coaster every time. The different topics expressed in this book all have their different ways of being written and no matter how short or long, the writing is just better and better. I found that the first few poems in the book started off slow. I found the first few poems slow because they were all pretty long and very hard for me to comprehend. After that they all flowed nicely together and they got better every time. They were better because they flowed nicely together and were shorter and easier to read one after another. Overall this book was very good. I gave this book four stars for all the reasons mentioned above and because i enjoyed reading it.