11 Poetic Facts about Emily Dickinson

American poet Emily Dickinson circa 1850
American poet Emily Dickinson circa 1850
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Emily Dickinson lived nearly her entire life in Amherst, Massachusetts. She wrote hundreds of poems and letters exploring themes of death, faith, emotions, and truth. As she got older, she became reclusive and eccentric, and parts of her life are still mysteries. To celebrate her life, here are 11 things you might not know about Dickinson’s life and work.

1. She wasn't a fan of traditional punctuation.

Dickinson’s approach to poetry was unconventional. As her original manuscripts reveal, she interspersed her writing with many dashes of varying lengths and orientations (horizontal and vertical). Early editors cleaned up her unconventional markings, publishing her poems without her original notations. Scholars still debate how Dickinson’s unusual punctuation affected the rhythm and deeper meaning of her poems. If you’re interested in seeing images of her original manuscripts, dashes and all, head to the Emily Dickinson Archive.

2. She was a rebel.

Besides punctuation, Emily Dickinson rebelled in matters of religion and social propriety. Although she attended church regularly until her 30s, she called herself a pagan and wrote about the merits of science over religion. Dickinson neither married nor had children, and she largely eschewed in-person social interactions, preferring to communicate with most of her friends via letters.

3. She never published anything under her own name.

Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Dickinson’s friend and mentor, praised her writing ability and innovation but discouraged her from publishing her poems, probably because he thought that the general public wouldn’t be able to recognize (or understand) her genius. Between 1850 and 1878, 10 of Dickinson’s poems and one letter were published in newspapers and journals, but she didn’t give permission for any of these works to be published, and they weren’t attributed to her by name. Although Dickinson may have tried to get some of her work published—in 1883, for example, she sent four poems to Thomas Niles, who edited Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women—she instead let her closest friends read her poems, and compiled them in dozens of homemade booklets. The first volume of Dickinson’s poetry was published in 1890, four years after her death.

4. She had vision problems in her thirties.

In 1863, Dickinson began having trouble with her eyes. Bright light hurt her, and her eyes ached when she tried to read and write. The next year, she visited Dr. Henry Willard Williams, a respected ophthalmologist in Boston. Although we don’t know what Williams's diagnosis was, historians have speculated that she had iritis, an inflammation of the eye. During her treatment, the poet had to eschew reading, write with just a pencil, and stay in dim light. By 1865, her eye symptoms went away.

5. She lived near family for her entire life.

Although Dickinson spent most of her adult life isolated from the world, she maintained close relationships with her brother and sister. Her brother, Austin, with his wife and three children, lived next door to her in a property called The Evergreens. Dickinson was close friends with Austin’s wife, Susan, regularly exchanging letters with her sister-in-law. And Dickinson's own sister, Lavinia, also a spinster, lived with her at the Dickinsons’ family home.

6. The identity of the man she loved is a mystery.

Dickinson never married, but her love life wasn’t completely uneventful. In the three "Master Letters," written between 1858 and 1862, Dickinson addresses "Master," a mystery man with whom she was passionately in love. Scholars have suggested that Master may have been Dickinson’s mentor, a newspaper editor, a reverend, an Amherst student, God, or even a fictional muse. Nearly two decades later, Dickinson started a relationship with Judge Otis Lord, a widowed friend of her father’s. Lord proposed to the poet in 1883, didn’t get an answer, and died in 1884.

7. She may have suffered from severe anxiety.

Historians aren’t sure why Dickinson largely withdrew from the world as a young adult. Theories for her reclusive nature include that she had extreme anxiety, epilepsy, or simply wanted to focus on her poetry. Dickinson’s mother had an episode of severe depression in 1855, and Dickinson wrote in an 1862 letter that she herself experienced "a terror" about which she couldn’t tell anyone. Mysterious indeed.

8. It’s a myth that she only wore white.

Due to her reclusive nature, legends and myth about Dickinson's personality and eccentricities spread. Before her death, Dickinson often wore a white dress and told her family that she wanted a white coffin and wished to be dressed in a white robe. But the widespread rumor that she only wore white was false. In a letter, she made a reference to owning a brown dress, and photos of her show her wearing dark clothing. For several decades, the Amherst Historical Society and Emily Dickinson Museum have displayed the poet’s well-known white dress (as well as a replica).

9. Her brother’s mistress edited and published her poetry.

In 1883, Dickinson’s brother started an affair with a writer named Mabel Loomis Todd. Todd and Emily Dickinson exchanged letters but never met in person. After Dickinson’s death, her sister asked Todd to help arrange Dickinson’s poems to be published. So Todd teamed up with Higginson to edit and publish Dickinson’s work, creating an awkward family dynamic between Dickinson’s brother, sister, and sister-in-law. After publishing the first volume in 1890, Todd and Higginson published a second collection of Dickinson’s poetry the next year. Todd even wrote articles and gave lectures about the poems, and she went on to edit Dickinson’s letters and a third volume of her poems.

10. She had a big green thumb.

Throughout her life, Dickinson was a major gardener. On her family’s property, she grew hundreds of flowers, planted vegetables, and cared for apple, cherry, and pear trees. She also oversaw the family’s greenhouse, which contained jasmine, gardenias, carnations, and ferns, and she often referred to plants in her poetry. Today, the Emily Dickinson Museum, located on the Dickinsons’ former property, is leading a restoration of Dickinson’s garden and greenhouse. Archaeologists have restored and replanted apple and pear trees on the property, and they’re hoping to find seeds from the 1800s to use for future planting.

11. Her niece added "called back" to her tombstone.

Poet Emily Dickinson's gravestoneMark Zimmerman, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

On May 15, 1886, Dickinson died at her home in Amherst of kidney disease or, as recent scholars have suggested, severe high blood pressure. Her first tombstone in Amherst’s West Cemetery only displayed her initials, E.E.D. (for Emily Elizabeth Dickinson). But her niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, later gave her deceased aunt a new headstone, engraved with the poet’s name, birth and death dates, and the words "Called Back," a reference to an 1880 novel of the same name by Hugh Conway that Dickinson enjoyed reading. In the last letter that Dickinson wrote (to her cousins) before she died, she only wrote "Called Back."

This piece first appeared in 2016 and was republished in 2019.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

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Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

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Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

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11 Brilliant Gifts for the Cocktail Enthusiast in Your Life

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Libbey/Amazon

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Cocktails are an art form. Each drink has a unique history. Why does a margarita have salt? How is the garnish chosen for each drink, especially when you’re creating one spontaneously? What’s the best way to make an old fashioned? If there is someone in your life that has the answers to these questions, they are probably a cocktail enthusiast. This holiday season, treat that person to goodies that will help enhance their craft. 

1. Cocktail Shaker Set; $18

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Whether they like their drinks shaken or stirred, amateur mixologists can make all kinds of cocktails with this kit. It includes all the essential tools: a muddler, jigger, shaker, and more. They’ll feel like an expert in no time.

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2. The Carry On Cocktail Kit—Old Fashioned; $24

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For the traveler who demands a good drink, these kits come with everything but the booze. But if they are going to pack their own mini bottles, remind them to check the airline’s regulations—rules vary on whether it’s legal to drink your own booze in-flight. Also available in Moscow Mule, Champagne Cocktail, and Gin & Tonic.

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3. The Spirit Infusion Kit; $42

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One of the best parts about making cocktails is that experimentation is rewarded. This infusion kit, including instruction and recipe book, bottle, strainers, and more, will help your cocktail enthusiast turn average vodka into a berry explosion or take tequila to the next level by infusing it with jalapeño peppers.

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4. Tovolo Sphere Ice Molds; $10

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Instead of filling their glass with plain cubes, cocktail fans can use this set of two ice molds to craft spherical, uh, cubes. Each piece will melt slowly in a drink and add flair to their home bar. 

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5. The Bitter Truth Travelers Set; $20

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Any cocktail aficionado worth their salt should have a few bottles of bitters. To spice things up, give them this sampler set that includes five complex flavors: celery bitters, classic old time aromatic bitters, orange bitters, Creole bitters, and Jerry Thomas bitters.

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6. Homemade Gin Kit; $50

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Though some home bartenders have a house cocktail, few can say they make their gin in-house. Help your loved one mix it up and make 750 ml of homemade gin with this collection that includes one tin of juniper berries, one tin of the company's secret botanical blend, one stainless steel funnel, one fine stainless steel strainer, and two 375-ml glass bottles. All that’s missing is your giftee's label—time for them to brush up on those Photoshop skills.

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7. The Cocktail Chronicles: Navigating the Cocktail Renaissance with Jigger, Shaker, and Glass; $15

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Whether the recipient is a seasoned bartender or a cocktail newcomer, Imbibe editor Paul Clarke’s book has something for everyone. From modern cocktails to obscure classics, the snapshots in this 200-page book show how far the cocktail scene has come—and where it’s going.

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8. Glencairn Whisky Glass Set; $30

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Whiskey drinkers know that the type of glass can dramatically change the smell, taste, and experience of the drink. This set of four award-winning glasses would make any cocktail enthusiast swoon.

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9. Fancy Paper Straws; $5

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Almost any drink looks fancier with the addition of a patterned paper straw. Gussy up your loved ones' bars with a box of these beauties. The stocking stuffers are biodegradable, compostable, printed with food grade ink, and available in a variety of colors and patterns.

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10. Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail; $25

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This 416-page book should be a prerequisite for all science nerds who want to make better cocktails. Dave Arnold of Booker & Dax breaks down the facts and recipes to make any bar more interesting.

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11. Libbey Mixologist 18-Piece Cocktail Glass Set; $39

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If your cocktail enthusiast likes to experiment with different drinks, then they need the glasses that go with them. They can’t have a martini in a margarita glass, nor drink tequila from a whiskey balloon, after all. Libbey’s set will instantly upgrade their bar cart.

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Bonus: Vintage Fernet Poster; $50

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Bartenders call a shot of Fernet a "handshake." The bitter, minty liqueur is an acquired taste, but there's much to appreciate. Deck out the wall of the Fernet fan in your life with this reproduction vintage ad.

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