The Great Poet Emily DickinsonThe Great Poet Emily Dickinson    

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“Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.”

(Emily Dickinson)

Emily Dickinson is one of my favourite poets, and certainly an idiosyncratic, enigmatic, moving, eccentric and inspired one. She is a poet who defies easy categorisation, and whose works - which to my mind stood alone largely without precedent nor successor - were unknown in her lifetime, which she lived out in recluse in her family home in New England, USA. She composed thousands of poems, most of which were found in her bedroom drawers after she died.

At first viewing I have found some of her poems to be a little difficult to understand, but when this is so I've usually found it helps to slow down my mind. Then it's easier to get onto her wavelength, and to relate to her use of language. Likewise, it's good to read a poem several times, alighting on different words each time, until it all begins to come together in the mind and heart. For this, too, it can be helpful to have them in the hand as a book, or to print these poems out to read later on at leisure.

A different mode of reading is required to that employed, for example, when reading newspapers and magazines with a mind that fishes superficially and quickly in and out of pages: with Emily Dickinson (as well as much other poetry) this shallow net fishing doesn't work - it's better to stop and dive down deep, or at least stop to tread water for a while, taking in the sky and the ocean view in each direction. Her poems for me epitomize everything poetry aspires to be - performing the function of distilling the essence of themes and feelings - and as such, they tend not to be very long, and yet contain words chosen with tremendous precision.

As if to further highlight this notion, it is characteristic of her poetic style that the syntax is often clipped, and interspersed with plenty of dramatic long hyphens which amplify the principle of focus in her poems, while words of key poetic significance are usually assigned an otherwise grammatically arbitrary Capital Letter in mid-phrase. When her selected works were first published, these idiosyncracies were carelessly ironed out, and even today it is necessary to search with care to ensure you are reading versions of her poems (like those on this page) which maintain the original unchanged linguistic trademarks of her art - eccentric dashes, capital letters and all!

I also feel that with poetry in general (and never more so than with Emily Dickinson's) it works well to approach the words instinctively, listening with the heart; to allow the sounds and meanings both to ring in the head and to penetrate the heart, whether or not the exact rational meaning of every word is clear: this is part of the beauty of poetry, which could perhaps be described as the essence of the mind expressed through the language of the heart.

Emily Dickinson's favourite topics were broad-ranging. Even a cursory glance through the small sample selection of poems below will reveal that hers were the universal human themes of all times and places, the very soul of poetry and of humanity: life, death, love, nature, time, emotion, wonder, ecstasy, pain, heart, soul. Rarely have these timeless matters been dealt with in such a sensitive, focused, wise, passionate, paradoxical and beautiful way. Introductory Comments by Simon Rees, March 2007

A Small Sample Selection of Favourite Poems by Emily Dickinson

A Wounded Deer — leaps highest

I taste a liquor never brewed

My life closed twice before its close

After great pain, a formal feeling comes

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain

I measure every Grief I meet

A Wind that rose

Wonder — is not precisely Knowing

The Soul selects her own Society

Our journey had advanced

Because I could not stop for Death

'Twas just this time, last year, I died

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© Copyright 2007 Simon Rees, Kevin Eakins and SYY Integrated Health Systems, Ltd.  

Disclaimer: The information at this website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. The content of this website comprises only the observations and opinions of the authors and contributors: it does not constitute medical advice to readers.


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