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Selected Poetry of Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)


from Representative Poetry On-line
Prepared by members of the Department of English at the University of Toronto
from 1912 to the present and published by the University of Toronto Press from 1912 to 1967.
RPO Edited by Ian Lancashire
A UTEL (University of Toronto English Library) Edition
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries
© 2005, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto

Index to poems

Wild nights--wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!
        (Wild nights!--wild nights! (249), 1-4)
  1. As imperceptibly as grief
  2. The bustle in the house (1078)
  3. The Chariot (Because I could not stop for Death)
  4. Dying (I heard a fly buzz when I died)
  5. Exclusion (The soul selects her own society)
  6. "Faith" is fine invention (185)
  7. The heart asks pleasure first
  8. "Hope" is the thing with feathers (254)
  9. I felt a funeral in my brain
  10. I never hear the word "escape" (77)
  11. I'm nobody! Who are you?
  12. It was not death, for I stood up (510)
  13. A little east of Jordan (59)
  14. The Railway Train (I like to see it lap the miles)
  15. Retrospect ('Twas just this time, last year, I died)
  16. Safe in their alabaster chambers
  17. The Snake (A narrow fellow in the grass)
  18. Success (Success is counted sweetest)
  19. Surgeons must be very careful
  20. There's a certain slant of light
  21. Tie the strings to my life, my Lord
  22. A toad can die of light!
  23. Wild nights!--wild nights! (249)


Notes on Life and Works

Important Copyright Notice

"The copyright situation pertaining to the poetry of Emily Dickinson is extremely complex since nearly all the poems were published after her death and the circumstances surrounding the earliest publication resulted in versions of the poetry that were in many cases significantly different than the form of the poems as penned by Emily Dickinson.... The following poems are in the public domain and we have no objection if you include the following poems on the Web-site [nos. 59, 77, 185, 249, 254, 510, 1078]" (Melinda Koyanis, Manager of Copyright, Harvard University Press, personal correspondence to the editor, April 21, 1997).

Regrettably, permission has not been granted RPO to present the following poems in the way Dickinson wrote them.

These RPO poems are based on editions of Emily Dickinson's poetry in 1890, 1891, and 1896, published after her death. These texts, edited by her friends, evidently differ in minutiae (punctuation, lineation) as well as occasionally in wording from the originals on which they were based. Her friends numbered these poems under general thematic subsections (the names of which are omitted in this edition). The words of the existing manuscripts remain in copyright to Harvard University Press, evidently because they have only been published in the past 75 years. Any substantial variation from the existing manuscripts is noted in textual notes to these poems. Readers should pay careful attention to these changes.

Emily (Elizabeth) Dickinson (1830-1886) lived and died, unmarried and intensely retired, in Amherst, Massachusetts. The daughter of Edward Dickinson, a lawyer, Emily attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley and afterwards retired to a quite private life that, although without event, was rich in creativity. She developed close, if corresponding relationships with several men who encouraged her to write poetry, including Benjamin F. Newton, the Reverend Charles Wadsworth, and T. W. Higginson. A good introduction to her life is through her letters, edited by Thomas H. Johnston and Theodora Ward in three volumes (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap University Press, 1965). Her discovery of a power to write poetry--in the late 1850s--gifted an astonishing inner life to her nation, which has chosen her to be one of its greatest poets.

Dickinson published only seven of her nearly 2,000 poems, but several hundreds were edited after her death in three very popular volumes in the 1890s. These exist in facsimile in Poems (1890-1896) by Emily Dickinson: A Facsimile Reproduction of the Original Volumes Issued in 1890, 1891, and 1896, with an Introduction by George Monteiro (Gainesville, Florida: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1967). Twentieth-century editors have re-edited these and others of her poems from manuscript bundles in her hand. The most authoritative is The Poems of Emily Dickinson Including variant readings critically compared with known manuscripts, edited by Thomas H. Johnson in three volumes (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963).

The Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson, edited by R. W. Franklin in two volumes (Cambridge, Mass., and London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1981) shows that Emily wrote her poems in batches and bound them together in fascicles or little packets. Her hand is easily legible, although her habits of punctuation--a heavy use of dashes and periods--makes her manuscripts sometimes a challenge to read. Her capitalization, punctuation, and spelling are normalized here, "as surely she would have expected had her poems been published in her lifetime" (Johnson, I: lxii). Readers who come to love the mind in Dickinson's poems will want to read her manuscript copy, in part for its punctuation. Where the manuscript versions remain in copyright, the text of her poems in Representative Poetry On-line comes from the early editions of the 1890s.

Biographical information

Given name: Emily
Family name: Dickinson
Birth date: 1830
Death date: 1886