Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Fast Facts

"beauty is nature's fact" (Fr895/J1775)
"Fast Facts" is designed to answer some frequently asked questions about the poet and her work quickly. Are you new to Emily Dickinson? You will probably learn something new on this page. Have you been reading Dickinson for awhile? Well, you may also learn something new! Take a look!
Which Edition?
Many readers ask which edition they should use out of the many different versions of Dickinson's poems available. For today's readers and students, I recommend the paperback anthology of the complete poems edited by Ralph W. Franklin--THE POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON: READING EDITION. ISBN: 0674018242.

Most of today's Dickinson scholars prefer the Franklin. Poems or lines from poems quoted on this website will usually refer back to this edition with "Franklin numbers," designated with an "Fr." If you see "J numbers," in other work about Dickinson, this is referring to the poems as they are listed in the Thomas H. Johnson edition that was produced in the 1950s (this edition is still used in some schools, but most Dickinson scholars I know would recommend that schools use the Franklin.

Also, teachers and schools, for AP and IB classes, for example, should NOT prepare class sets of the poems based on Dickinson poems found on the Internet. Most of these are out-of-date, poorly edited, versions that do not reflect the poems of Emily Dickinson as she actually wrote them).
Facts & Fictions about Emily Dickinson's Life
FACT: Emily Dickinson was born at the Homestead on December 10, 1830, and died there on May 15, 1886, at the age of 55.
FICTION: Emily Dickinson never left her house or lived anywhere else other than the Homestead her entire life.

FACT: Dickinson wrote many poems and letters in her second floor bedroom at the Homestead. FICTION: Dickinson never wrote anywhere but in her Homestead bedroom.

FACT: Emily Dickinson never married.
FICTION: Dickinson never received a marriage proposal.

FACT: Emily Dickinson was a middle child. She had an older brother and a younger sister. FICTION: The poet was a spinster who did not like children.
Facts about Emily Dickinson's Publications
It's true that only 11 of Dickinson's poems are currently known to have been published during her lifetime. It is thought that many of these 11 may have been sent to newspapers or other publishers by friends or relatives without her consent, but a couple of the poems may have been submitted by the poet herself. For example, the poem in DRUM BEAT may have been sent by her in response to a request for a fund-raising publication project during the Civil War.

Most of the poems published with titles were given them by others and not the poet. Dickinson did not typically title or date her short lyrics (she did put titles on a very small handful of poems in her manuscripts). (Notice how the title "The Snake," added, most likely, by the editor, takes away from the reader's surprise in the poem, "A narrow Fellow in / the grass." How disappointing for a poet--she was not pleased!). This poor editing of Dickinson's unusual poetry was likely a contributing factor, among others, to why she refused to send out more of her work for publication. The published poems (as currently known) are:
"Magnum bonum," (valentine), Amherst College INDICATOR, February, 1850.
"Sic transit Gloria mund," SPRINGFIELD REPUBLICAN, February 20, 1852. (Fr 2)
"Nobody knows this little Rose - " SPRINGFIELD REPUBLICAN, 1858. (Fr 11)
"I taste a liquor never brewed - " SPRINGFIELD REPUBLICAN, May, 1861. (Fr 207)
"Safe in their Alabaster Chambers" SPRINGFIELD REPUBLICAN, March 1, 1862. (Fr 124)
"Flowers - Well - if anybody" DRUM BEAT, March 2, 1864; also SPRINGFIELD REPUBLICAN and BOSTON POST. (Fr 95)
"These are the days when Birds come back" DRUM BEAT under the title "October," March 11, 1864. (Fr 122)
"Some keep the Sabbath going to church - " THE ROUND TABLE under the title "My Sabbath," March 12, 1864. (Fr 236)
"Blazing in Gold - and" DRUM BEAT and SPRINGFIELD REPUBLICAN, March 30, 1864. (Fr 321)
"Success is counted sweetest," BROOKLYN DAILY UNION, 1864; also later, in A MASQUE OF POETS edited by Helen Fiske Hunt Jackson in 1878. (Fr 112)
"A narrow Fellow in / the grass" SPRINGFIELD REPUBLICAN under the title "The Snake," February 14, 1866. (Fr 1096)
"Franklin numbers" (that is, numbers where the poems appear in the Franklin reader's edition of the poems) are included above, where available.
Readers should note that the poems may have appeared in a different form in their original publication (where they were heavily, usually grossly, edited) compared to how they appear in the original manuscripts. The Franklin edition attempts to be more faithful to the poems as they appear in manuscript.
Emily Dickinson's Correspondences
Did you know that besides her hundreds of poems, Emily Dickinson also wrote hundreds of letters to family and friends? I'm always surprised to hear that many readers still do not know these letters exist. The letters have survived and have been published for all to read.

The letters contain poems, cartoons, jokes, fragments, news, gossip, and biographical information about the poet, among a lot of other things! I encourage you to check out the letters if you are trying to learn more about what this private, and sometimes mysterious, poet was like. You can check out a collection of the letters in book form from the library, or you can also access them online at:

RESEARCH TIP: At the website above, you may need to provide a username and password to see all of the letters that are currently on the site. If you are serious about using this site, email me for the username and password at: (p.s. This is NOT an invitation for you to write to me to do your homework for you!). Good luck with your research!
For Students--Need Help with a Dickinson Poem?
Here are some tips for making your own interpretation of an Emily Dickinson poem:
1.) Read the poem more than once.
2.) Read the poem aloud.
3.) Look up words you don't know. Some words had different meanings in the 1800s than they do now.
4.) Talk with others about the poem.
5.) Think about the imagery (words that engage the senses) in the poem--What does the poem suggest to you in terms of pictures, sounds, tastes, touch, and smells?
6.) Much of Dickinson's poetry happens "inside the brain." Could that be the case with the one you are reading?
Make some good, honest effort on your own. The poem will mean more to you that way. It's also fair to read what others think of the same poem and consider their opinions in light of your own reading.

Here is one suggestion:
Respected scholar, Helen Vendler, has compiled a discussion of several of the poems in her book, DICKINSON: SELECTED POEMS AND COMMENTARIES (Belknap Press, 2010).
For Students--Need to Cite EMILY DICKINSON: A BIOGRAPHY or this site?
If you are a student using material from either my biography of Emily Dickinson or from this companion website, you need to cite your sources.
Here is how you would cite my biography in MLA documentation style (if your teacher/prof requires APA style, you'll have to look that up!):
Kirk, Connie Ann. EMILY DICKINSON: A BIOGRAPHY. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004. Print. 
You should consult with your teacher, professor, or campus Learning Center or school library for help with documenting this site.
Good luck with your paper/essay!

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