Week Three: June 4-10

Emily Dickinson: The Soul Selects



There is much about Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) that remains a mystery to us despite many hundreds of extant letters, dedicated scholarship, and rabid postmortem pathologizing of the “Myth of Amherst.”  Why did she keep so many of her poems out of the public eye? What led to her famous reclusion from social interaction, something that her sister Vinnie saw simply as a “happening”? What spurred the mind-boggling outpouring of poems when she was about 30? Who were her (physical or emotional) lovers? What logic guided the creation of her hand-sewn collections of work known as fascicles? How did she see herself as accepting the burden of forging an American poetry as Emerson (a man she declined to meet when he visited next door at her brother’s house!) desired? Over time thinking about Dickinson has shifted from a fetishization of the death-and-nature obsessed spinster who wrote charming feminine lyrics (“We are all half in love with that dead girl,” said the poet Archibald MacLeish, of the brilliant poet who lived into her fifties) to a serious reckoning with Dickinson as a philosopher of religion/the divine; the natural world; gender, sexuality, and passion; mental illness; the power of poetry; violence; death; and much more. Complicating our access to Dickinson has been the editing process her works have undergone (as your reading this week will illuminate), a process that has involved not only personal enmity and a struggle for control among those who knew her but, for decades, editorial “correction” of her idiosyncratic but clearly intentional punctuation, capitalization, and use of slant rhyme. One of the things that must compel us about Dickinson is her commitment to indeterminacy (“choosing not to choose” is what the scholar Sharon Cameron calls it): in the blurred genre lines of her poems and letters; in the word choices and lineation of her poems; sometimes even in the syntax and meaning of her sentences. Our task is to read and interpret even while we honor that indeterminacy.



  • Take my screencast tour of the Emily Dickinson Archive (in which I mistakenly call Mabel Loomis Todd “Mabel Todd Loomis”—forgive me.)
  • Explore this archive on your own until you feel comfortable with its layout. If you skip this, you will regret it later!


  • Reminder: review the VoiceThread on poetic forms if you rushed it!
  • Emily Dickinson Museum, ED Biography and About ED’s Writings. Click through all of the links on each subpage until you’ve exhausted this information.
  • Recommended: Tips for reading ED’s poetry and ED Special Topics
  • Dickinson Electronic Archive: images of ED (watch the brief video too!)
  • Smith, Editorial History (pdf on Readings page of blog or in Canvas module)
  • Dickinson poems from the archive, in Franklin numbers/suffixes unless otherwise specified: 5A, 7A, 12A, 14A, 17A, 22A, 26A, 39A, 62A, 68A, 77A, 80C, 91A, 112D, 120B, 121A, 122C, 128B, 134A, 144A, 185C, 188A, 194B, 202C, 225A, 267A, 268A, 269A, and Johnson 288  NOTE: please try to read some of these in the manuscript version, or at least view them there.


  • Free blog! A lot!




  • Brainpickings Feature on ED’s Herbarium
  • Marcellin, “ED’s Civil War Poetry” (pdf on Readings page of blog or in Canvas module)
  • Dickinson poems from the archive, in Franklin numbers/suffixes: 278A.2, 292A, 307A, 312A, 314B, 316A, 318B, 320A, 336B, 337A, 339A, 340A, 348A, 355A, 358A, 360A, 367A, 370A, 372A, 373A, 393A, 403B, 407B, 409A, 423A, 437B, 442C, 445A, 446A, 448A


  • Free blog!
  • When you have completed your reading for Week Three, take the Canvas quiz.
  • Comment on Week 3 focal artifacts in VoiceThread.