In 19th century America there were only a few poets that can be considered as brilliant and as prolific as Emily Dickinson. Her output as well as the quality of her work, makes her worthy of the recognition, as one of the greatest American poets who ever lived. Her works are celebrated in the present times and by numerous scholars and casual fans of poetry for they greatly appreciate her numerous contributions. Her work alone makes her an interesting person but the moment her personal life becomes part of the discussion, the admiration accorded her goes to the next level. Her life is an inspiration to many people, especially those who aspire to be as creative as her.
Emily Dickinson’s life is both intriguing and inspiring, created in part by the rapturous recognition of her talent, such as the remark made by a fan who wrote: “The discovery of Emily Dickinson’s poems shortly after her death in 1886 remains one of the major events in American literary history” (Bloom 135). According to biographers “She belonged to a Puritan and moralistic community which was intensely patriarchal … Emily never married; she lived at home all her life, within a narrow family circle” (Zama 190). Her personal background should have provided her an excuse to live a mediocre life. But she rose above her circumstances and created an impact that lasted beyond her earthly life.
Her life is a powerful testimony to the importance of the eager application of talent. She began writing only after her teenage years and yet she was able to produce works that can rival other masters who started early. It is estimated that she wrote a total of 1800 poems including those that she was unable to finish (Zama 190). The discipline and hard work required to even complete a hundred works of poetry is already a formidable challenge to ordinary individuals. But Emily Dickinson did not only work on a few poems, she created hundreds of poems that remained as powerful as the day they were written.
Although a high level of concentration and discipline are important factors that enable her to produce a massive body of work, no one can deny the fact that Dickinson possess a rare talent and it is the ability to create powerful images in the mind of the readers. Her talent in this regard was manifested when she wrote about significant topics such as love, hope, fear and death. There is power and beauty in the way she describes death or the effect of death in the lives of people. This ability was in full display when Dickinson wrote an elegy for Charlotte Bronte and her poignant lines goes likes this:
This bird – observing others,
When frosts too sharp became,
Retire to other latitudes,
Quietly did the same (Smith & Loeffelholz 309).
In a few lines Emily Dickinson was able to pay tribute to a person that she admired and at the same time provided comfort to the bereaved loved ones of the dearly departed. She said that it is just but natural for Charlotte Bronte to leave her earthly life in the same manner that birds migrate to new lands during wintertime. She did only explain the reason for death but she also gave hope saying that dead people are in a place much more desirable than the present.
The reason for her success was attributed to her ability to fuse idea and image (Zama 191). Consider the following passages from Because I Could Not Stop for Death:
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And immortality (Zama 191).
Death is an unpleasant topic of discussion. Many people fear death but with a few strokes of a pen Dickinson was able to defeat the powerful aura of death. She said that she was too busy to contemplate death and that in reality death could not stop her. In this poem the imagery is not only brilliant but the choice of words made the message pleasant to the ear.
The power of imagination enabled her to break free from her physical confinement and psychological prison cell. Consider the lines from Hope is the Thing with Feathers:
I’ve heard it in the chilliest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me (Leiter 88).
It can be argued that she was able to travel beyond the boundaries of her hometown but it is highly unlikely if she was able to cross the borders of Massachusetts, much more travel abroad (Kirk 58). Nevertheless, her physical confinement brought about by the ideals and culture of 19th century America did not impede her soul from soaring above the mental and psychological barriers before her. She was limited to her home in Massachusetts and the provincial surroundings that kept her from the outside world but this did not deter her spirit to break free. It was her own way of saying that there is nothing that can drag her down and prevent her from expressing her talent.
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At first glance it seems ridiculous that a person who was unable to travel beyond her home state can talk about strange seas and ice-frozen lands. But judging from the quality of her work, the effective use of words beyond the validity of her senses is not an act worthy of ridicule but the mark of genius. Reading the works of Emily Dickinson is like discovering a rare and expensive item hidden in the attic. It is a pleasant surprise.
Emily Dickinson can be considered as one of the best poets produced by 19th century America. But a review of her poems forces one to reconsider such conservative assessment of her abilities. Dickinson must not be limited to a century, because her works are timeless. She did not only speak for a generation and she did not simply comment on the events of her time, she talked about love, death, and hope and continues to move people more than a hundred years later.
Emily Dickinson is an inspiration to many people because of her ability to transcend the negative circumstances that surrounded her. She was able to beat the odds stacked heavily against her favor. She had many reasons to live a mediocre life, hidden away in the attic of her simple abode. But instead of allowing depression to weigh her down she triumphed through the power of her talent. Her poems speak to the mind, the heart and the soul. The perfect blending of imagery and rhyme had captured the imagination of many people. Her talent must be celebrated even by those who reside beyond the borders of the United States. Emily Dickinson did not travel beyond her home state but she demonstrated what a powerful imagination can accomplish. She is an inspiration not only to aspiring writers but also to creative people everywhere. For aspiring writers and poets she provided amazing examples of how to economize words and yet able to paint a clear picture of her intended message. At the same time, her poems created an indelible mark to the soul. It is a life worthy of honor.
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