11 Poetic Facts about Emily Dickinson

American poet Emily Dickinson circa 1850
American poet Emily Dickinson circa 1850
Three Lions/Getty Images

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.

8 Great Gifts for People Who Work From Home

World Market/Amazon
World Market/Amazon

A growing share of Americans work from home, and while that might seem blissful to some, it's not always easy to live, eat, and work in the same space. So, if you have co-workers and friends who are living the WFH lifestyle, here are some products that will make their life away from their cubicle a little easier.

1. Folding Book Stand; $7

Hatisan / Amazon

Useful for anyone who works with books or documents, this thick wire frame is strong enough for heavier textbooks or tablets. Best of all, it folds down flat, so they can slip it into their backpack or laptop case and take it out at the library or wherever they need it. The stand does double-duty in the kitchen as a cookbook holder, too.

Buy It: Amazon

2. Duraflame Electric Fireplace; $179

Duraflame / Amazon

Nothing says cozy like a fireplace, but not everyone is so blessed—or has the energy to keep a fire going during the work day. This Duraflame electric fireplace can help keep a workspace warm by providing up to 1000 square feet of comfortable heat, and has adjustable brightness and speed settings. They can even operate it without heat if they just crave the ambiance of an old-school gentleman's study (leather-top desk and shelves full of arcane books cost extra).

Buy It: Amazon

3. World Explorer Coffee Sampler; $32

UncommonGoods

Making sure they've got enough coffee to match their workload is a must, and if they're willing to experiment with their java a bit, the World Explorer’s Coffee Sampler allows them to make up to 32 cups using beans from all over the world. Inside the box are four bags with four different flavor profiles, like balanced, a light-medium roast with fruity notes; bold, a medium-dark roast with notes of cocoa; classic, which has notes of nuts; and fruity, coming in with notes of floral.

Buy it: UncommonGoods

4. Lavender and Lemon Beeswax Candle; $20

Amazon

People who work at home all day, especially in a smaller space, often struggle to "turn off" at the end of the day. One way to unwind and signal that work is done is to light a candle. Burning beeswax candles helps clean the air, and essential oils are a better health bet than artificial fragrances. Lavender is especially relaxing. (Just use caution around essential-oil-scented products and pets.)

Buy It: Amazon

5. HÄNS Swipe-Clean; $15

HÄNS / Amazon

If they're carting their laptop and phone from the coffee shop to meetings to the co-working space, the gadgets are going to get gross—fast. HÄNS Swipe is a dual-sided device that cleans on one side and polishes on the other, and it's a great solution for keeping germs at bay. It's also nicely portable, since there's nothing to spill. Plus, it's refillable, and the polishing cloth is washable and re-wrappable, making it a much more sustainable solution than individually wrapped wipes.

Buy It: Amazon

6. Laptop Side Table; $100

World Market

Sometimes they don't want to be stuck at a desk all day long. This industrial-chic side table can act as a laptop table, too, with room for a computer, coffee, notes, and more. It also works as a TV table—not that they would ever watch TV during work hours.

Buy It: World Market

7. Moleskine Classic Notebook; $17

Moleskin / Amazon

Plenty of people who work from home (well, plenty of people in general) find paper journals and planners essential, whether they're used for bullet journaling, time-blocking, or just writing good old-fashioned to-do lists. However they organize their lives, there's a journal out there that's perfect, but for starters it's hard to top a good Moleskin. These are available dotted (the bullet journal fave), plain, ruled, or squared, and in a variety of colors. (They can find other supply ideas for bullet journaling here.)

Buy It: Amazon

8. Nexstand Laptop Stand; $39

Nexstand / Amazon

For the person who works from home and is on the taller side, this portable laptop stand is a back-saver. It folds down flat so it can be tossed into the bag and taken to the coffee shop or co-working spot, where it often generates an admiring comment or three. It works best alongside a portable external keyboard and mouse.

Buy It: Amazon

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12 Very Haunted Roads

Don't get caught on these roads at night.
Don't get caught on these roads at night.
Pixabay, Pexels // CC0

What could be scarier than driving down a dark road at night? Driving down one of these dark roads at night. If any of the below routes—compiled by Commercial Truck Trader—pop up on your GPS this spooky season, consider finding an alternate way to your destination.

1. Jeremy Swamp Road // Southbury, Connecticut

Jeremy Swamp Road and several other streets in southwestern Connecticut are said to be frequented by Melon Heads, creatures that, according to the New England Historical Society, live in wooded areas and “look like small humanoids with oversized heads” that “survive by eating small animals, stray cats and human flesh, usually the flesh of teenagers.” Some say the Melon Heads are the result of inbreeding, with others theorizing that they escaped from local hospitals or asylums.

2. Owaissa Street // Appleton, Wisconsin

Legend has it that every full moon, a tombstone in Owaissa Street’s Riverside Cemetery bleeds. The tombstone belongs to Kate Blood, who, according to some stories, was either a witch who killed her husband and children with an ax, or was a woman murdered by her husband. (Local historians, however, say Blood died of tuberculosis.) Visitors also report seeing a creepy hooded figure roaming the cemetery.

3. Prospector’s Road // Garden Valley, California

Driving along this hilly, three-mile stretch of road is not for the faint of heart: It’s supposedly haunted by the spirit of a tall, bearded prospector who was murdered after he drunkenly bragged about his claim. According to Weird California, those who run into the entity—who is supposedly responsible for many an accident along the road—will hear him whisper: “Get off my claim.”

4. Sandhill Road // Las Vegas, Nevada

The flood tunnels beneath Sandhill Road between Olive Avenue and Charleston Boulevard in Las Vegas are said to be haunted by a dead couple. People have also reported hearing creepy, ghostly moans coming from the darkness and being chased by the specter of an old woman.

5. Bloody Bride Bridge // Steven’s Point, Wisconsin

Drivers on Highway 66 in Steven’s Point, Wisconsin, might get a glimpse of the ghost of a bride who was supposedly killed on her wedding day in a car accident on the bridge. Legend has it that if those drivers park on the bridge at midnight and look in their rearview mirrors, they’ll see the bride, in her bloody wedding dress, sitting in the backseat.

6. Boy Scout Lane // Steven’s Point, Wisconsin

Also located in Steven’s Point, the isolated Boy Scout Lane is supposedly where a group of Boy Scouts died, although no one quite seems to know why or how—some say they were killed while camping when their fire raged out of control; others say it was a bus accident; and some say they simply disappeared. Whatever the reason, visitors to the area now say they can hear footsteps and calls for help coming from the woods.

7. Route 66 // Villa Ridge, Missouri

Located on Route 66, the abandoned Tri-County Truck-Stop is a hotbed of ghostly activity. Before the restaurant shut down, employees reported hearing strange noises, seeing apparitions, and watching as coffee pots were thrown across the room by invisible forces.

8. Stagecoach Road // Marshall, Texas

On this red dirt road—which once served as a route for stagecoaches traveling to the town from Shreveport, Louisiana—paranormal investigators have snapped photos of ghosts and had the batteries of the equipment they were using to investigate drain inexplicably. Others who have driven down the road and turned off their cars said they felt a presence stepping on the bumper; when they went home, they discovered tiny handprints in the red dust on the back of the car. The road is supposedly haunted by the spirit of a Voodoo priestess.

9. Route 666 // Douglas, Arizona

The road formerly known as Route 666 may now be part of Route 491 [PDF], but some still call it The Devil’s Highway. Drivers traveling on this section of highway have recounted being pursued by a pack of terrifying dogs or a phantom semi-truck, among other strange and scary encounters.

10. Goatman's Bridge // Denton, Texas

Old Alton Bridge is an iron-truss structure built in 1884 that got its unsettling moniker from local legends. Fifty years after the bridge was built, a successful Black goat farmer named Oscar Washburn—who went by the nickname “Goatman”—put a sign on the bridge that read “This Way to the Goatman.” The sign incensed the Ku Klux Klan, who hanged Washburn on the bridge. But according to Legends of America, “when they looked over to make sure he was dead, they could see only the rope. Washburn was gone and was never seen again.” Some report seeing a man herding goats across the bridge, which was decommissioned around 2001, while others say they’ve seen a half-man, half-goat creature there.

11. Route 375 // Rachel, Nevada

Entertaining the idea of a close encounter? Drivers on this road—which runs near the Nevada Test and Training Range, home of Area 51—have reported hundreds of strange, potentially alien sightings from Alamo to Tonopah, leading to the route’s nickname: “The Extraterrestrial Highway.”

12. Ortega Ridge Road // Montecito, California

This road is haunted by Las Ters Hermanas, or The Three Sisters—three nuns who, it’s said, were murdered more than a century ago. They can be seen standing on the side of the road, arms crossed, their eyes bright blue and their faces glowing.