Emily Dickenson : Poems - Letters - Biography

Emily Elizabeth Dickenson

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            Emily Dickenson (1830 - 1886) said that she was most influenced by the poetry of Keats and the Brownings and the prose of John Ruskin and Thomas Browne.

            People read Emily Dickenson's poems and letters (she frequently wrote to the minister, reformer, and essayist Thomas Wentworth Higginson). There is no complete works edition. This is a summary of what's out there, so you can decide what meets your needs. (Blue phrases are book store links.)

            The editions available from various publishers are selected poems in paperback or hardcover , a volume of complete poems in paperback or hardcover , a book of selected letters , and a book of selected poems and letters .

            The volume in the Essential Poets series, entitled The Essential Dickenson , is the one that contains the selected poems. Despite the abridgement, it does contain a critically acclaimed analytical and biographical introduction by Joyce Carol Oates.

            Dickenson's poems are numbered rather than titled, and they sometimes appear in more than one revision. For this reason The Essential Dickenson contains 117 poems, but 116 unique poem numbers; i.e., it includes Poem #216 written in 1859 in addition to Poem #216 as revised in 1861.

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            117 poems may sound like a lot, but it isn't, because some Emily Dickenson poems are only four lines or so:

The pedigree of Honey
Does not concern the Bee --
A Clover, any time, to him,
is Aristocracy --

#1627, version 2, by Emily Dickenson

            Due to the short lengths, even with 117 poems, the The Essential Dickenson is only 94 pages, even though it usually costs about half what the huge Complete Poems costs.

            My recommendation : If you just want the poems and not the letters, go with the massive Complete Poems (784 pages). The other editions don't take enough off the price, considering how much they have omitted. If you do decide to go for the Complete Poems , naturally the paperback is cheaper than the hardcover .

            There's also a biography : The Life of Emily Dickinson , by Richard Benson Sewall .

            At the bottom of this page is a summary of all the Amazon.com books links I have mentioned.


#1651 , by Emily Dickenson

A Word made Flesh is seldom
And tremblingly partook
Nor then perhaps reported
But have I not mistook
Each one of us has tasted
With ecstacies of stealth
The very food debated
To our specific strength --

A Word that breathes distinctly
Has not the power to die
Cohesive as the Spirit
It may expire if He --
"Made Flesh and dwelt among us"
Could condescension be
Like this consent of Language
This lived Philology.

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