Emily Dickinson was raised in a traditional New
England home in the mid 1800’s. Her father along with the
rest of the family had become Christians and she alone
decided to rebel against that and reject the Church. She
like many of her contemporaries had rejected the traditional
views in life and adopted the new transcendental outlook.
Massachusetts, the state where Emily was born and
raised in, before the transcendental period was the
epicenter of religious practice. Founded by the puritans,
the feeling of the avenging had never left the people.
After all of the “Great Awakenings” and religious revivals
the people of New England began to question the old ways.
What used to be the focal point of all lives was now under
speculation and often doubted. People began to search for
new meanings in life. People like Emerson and Thoreau
believed that answers lie in the individual. Emerson set
the tone for the era when he said, “Whoso would be a
[hu]man, must be a non-conformist.” Emily Dickinson
believed and practiced this philosophy.
When she was young she was brought up by a stern and
austere father. In her childhood she was shy and already
different from the others. Like all the Dickinson children,
male or female, Emily was sent for formal education in
Amherst Academy. After attending Amherst Academy with
conscientious thinkers such as Helen Hunt Jackson, and after
reading many of Emerson’s essays, she began to develop into
a free willed person. Many of her friends had converted to
Christianity, her family was also putting enormous
amount of pressure for her to convert. No longer the
submissive youngster she would not bend her will on such
issues as religion, literature and personal associations.
She maintained a correspondence with Rev. Charles
Wadsworth over a subeztial period of time. Even though
she rejected the Church as a entity she never did reject or
accept God. Wadsworth appealed to her because he had an
incredibly powerful mind and deep emotions. When he left
the East in 1861 Emily was scarred and expressed her deep
sorrow in three successive poems in the following years.
They were never romantically involved but their relationship
was apparently so profound that Emily’s feelings for him she
sealed herself from the outside world.
Her life became filled with gloom and despair until
she met Judge Otis P. Lord late in her life. Realizing that
they were well into their lives they never were married.
When Lord passed away Emily’s health condition which has
been hindered since childhood worsened.
In Emily’s life the most important things to her
were love, religion, individuality and nature. When
discussing these themes she followed her lifestyle and broke
away from traditional forms of writing and wrote with an
intense energy and complexity never seen before and rarely
seen today. She was a rarity not only because of her poetry
but because she was one of the first female pioneers into
the field of poetry.
Emily often speaks of love in her poems, but she did
it in such a way that would make people not want to fall in
love. She writes of parting, separation and loss. This is
supported by the experiences she felt with Wadsworth and
Otis P. Lord.
Not with a club the heart is broken,
nor with a stone;
A whip so small you could not see it,
This seems to be an actual account of the emotions she
experienced during her relationship with Otis Lord.
Individuality played a pervasive role in her life as
a result of her bout with separation. Emily did not conform
to society. She did not believe it was society’s place to
dictate to her how she should lead her life. Her poems
reflect this sense of rebellion and revolution against
From all the jails the boys and girls
Beloved, only afternoon
That prison doesn’t keep.
In this poem Emily shows her feelings towards formalized
schooling. Being a product of reputable college one would
think that she would be in favor of this. But as her
beliefs in transcendentalism grew so did her belief in
Emily also went against the Church which was an
extreme rarity of the time. Similar to many other that
shared her beliefs she too did not think that a set religion
was the way for salvation.
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church;
I keep it staying at home,
With a bobolike for a chorister,
With an orchard for a dome.
According to this poem Emily clearly states that nature is
her source of guidance and she has little need for the
Church as an institution.
Like Thoreau, Emily believed that people need to
underezd nature before they could begin to comprehend
humanity because humanity was just a part of nature. Unlike
many other she felt that nature was beautiful and must be
Has it feet like water-lilies?
Has it feathers like a bird?
Is it brought from famous countries
Of which I have never heard?
(Will there really be a morning?)
Further on in the poem she goes on to ask if the scholar or
“some wise man from the skies” knows where to find morning.
It can be inferred that morning, something so common place
and taken for granted, cannot be grasped by even the
greatest so called minds.
Emily also saw the frightful part of nature, death
was an extension of the natural order. Probably the most
prominent theme in her writing is death. She took death in
a relatively casual way when compared to the puritan beliefs
that surrounded her life. Death to her is just the next
logical step to life and compares it to a carriage ride, or
many other common place happenings.
Because I could not stop for Death-
He kindly stopped for me-
The Carriage held but just Ourselves-
Life according to Emily is brief and the people living out
their lives have little control.
In this short life
That only lasts an hour,
How much, how little,
Is within out power!
However non-religious she may appear and however
insignificant she believes life to be she does however show
some signs in accepting life after death.
This world is not conclusion;
A sequel ezds beyond,
Invisible, as music,
But positive as sound.
To Emily the most important things in her life were
religion, individuality, nature and death. She may not have
believed in God but He did have a profound impact throughout
her childhood. Emily and Emerson alike felt the most
important thing was to maintain ones individuality as she
did. She was fascinated by both nature and death and she
attempted to explain both in her writings.