Though often portrayed as a tiny, fragile spinster who dressed in gowns of pure white, Emily Dickinson lived a life of extraordinary defiance, refusing to convert to Christianity, shunning society in her later years, and breaking all boundaries of literary and grammatical convention to write poetry that is breathtaking in its iconoclasm, inventiveness, complexity, and intensity of feeling.
The one existing daguerreotype of Dickinson, taken when she was 17 and attending Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, fails to capture her vivacity. She had bright red hair and, in a time when Christian revivals were sweeping the country, the audacity—inspired by her love of knowledge—to call herself Eve.
While attending Mount Holyoke, Dickinson wrote to her friend Abiah Root: “Miss Lyon and all the teachers seem to consult our comfort and happiness in everything they do and you know that is pleasant.”
As Dickinson’s intellectual life grew in breadth and depth, her social circle diminished. By the late 1860s, she was seeing almost no one beyond family members. Her home and her imagination were her universe, and she was extremely busy writing, cooking, baking, and caring for her parents.
Love, death, and immortality were her main subjects, which she often explored through metaphors about nature. Her passionate expressions of love have excited intense speculation about her romantic life. Before her death at 55, Dickinson wrote 1,775 poems, many of which she carefully copied onto sheets and then hand sewed into neat booklets. Only 11 of her poems were published in her lifetime.
Considered one of the greatest poets ever, Dickinson is revered worldwide. Her life and work have been the subject of hundreds of literary and biographical studies, as well as plays, novels, music, and art.