Emily Dickinson was born on December 10, 1830 in Amherst Massachusetts. She had a younger sister named Lavina and an older brother named Austin. Her mother Emily Norcross Dickinson, was largely dependent on her family and was seen by Emily as a poor mother. Her father was lawyer, Congressman, and the Treasurer for Amherst College. Unlike her mother, Emily loved and admired her father. Since the family was not emotional, they lived a quiet secure life. They rarely shared their problems with one another so Emily had plenty of privacy for writing.
During her childhood, Emily and her family attended The First Congregational Church on a regular basis. Emily did not like going to church because she didn’t think of herself as being very religious. She refused to believe that Heaven was a better place than Earth and eventually rebelled from the church. Emily saw herself as a woman who had her own way of thinking, a way of thinking shaped neither by the church or society.
By the time she was twelve, her family moved to a house on Pleasant Street where they lived from 1840 to 1855. Emily was already writing letters, but composed most of her poetry in this home. Emily only left home to attend Mount Holyoke Female Seminary for two semesters.
Though her stay there was brief, she impressed her teachers with her courage and directness. They felt her writing was sensational.
At the age of twenty-one, Emily and her family moved to the Dickinson Homestead on Main Street. This move proved to be very difficult for Emily. This was difficult for Emily because she became very attached to her old house, which shaped her writing and personality for fifteen years. They now lived next door to her brother Austin and his wife Susan and their daughter Martha. Emily and Susan became so close that many people believe they may have been lovers. A rumor perpetuated by the fact that Emily was known to have written many love letters and poems to Susan. Martha attempted to protect both of their images and suppress the rumors. It became common knowledge that Emily had some type of very strong feelings for Susan.
At the age of thirty-one Emily sent some of her poems to a publisher, Thomas Higginson, from whom she got a very good response and a strong friendship developed. He acted as her mentor but she never seemed to have taken any of his advice. It became evident that she didn’t like the idea of having her works published, she made 40 packets of about twenty poems apiece from 814 poems. She placed these in a box along with 333 other poems.
Emily died on May 5, 1886 at the age of 56. She had planned her own funeral. It was held at the mansion on Main Street and ended at the family plot near the house on Pleasant Street. At her request, her casket was covered with violets and pine boughs, while she herself was dressed in a new white gown and had a strand of violets placed about her neck. Before she died, Emily left specific instructions for her sister and a housemaid, Maggie to destroy all the letters she had received and saved. The box of packets and poems was found with these letters, but Emily had not said anything about destroying them. Her sister Lavina was determined to have these published, but Susan kept them for two years before they were released to Higginson.
In 1890 and 1891, some of the poems were published. They received a great response, but no more were released until 1955, when the rest of her poems were published. Though she was not religious many of her poems do reflect Protestant and Calvinistic views. She wrote many of her poems on pain, but unlike most Protestants she refused to believe that she deserved this pain. Though she is viewed by many as a hermit who spent much of her life in isolation, she also is admired for her style in writing. She chose her words for her poems in a way that allows the reader to choose the meaning. In conclusion, she wrote nearly eighteen hundred poems, most ignoring rhyme and punctuation. Emily’s poems did not have titles because she never wanted them to be published. Many of her poems are dark and mysterious but all are true works of art.