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 EMILY DICKINSON was born December 10th, 1830, lived her life apart, and died May 15th, 1886, in the same little college town of Amherst, among the Massachusetts hills, where her grandfather, Samuel Fowler Dickinson — a "poet" and mystic of another sort — had ruined himself for the materializing of his apocalyptic vision: the founding of Amherst College, which he foresaw as "an agency to hasten the conversion of the whole world."
      Unknown during her lifetime, held by an intimate public in peculiar affection after her death as her first posthumous publications reached an outside world, later neglected for many years by public and critics alike and classified in 1912 as "a forgotten poetess", her present eminence is a special triumph, unique in the annals of American letters.  Though her period coincided with the Golden Era of New England literature, "her fame, as pure poet, has outgrown that of every contemporary."1  "She seems to many of us the greatest American poet of the Nineteenth Century."2  "A modern of moderns" in 1936, critics on both sides of the Atlantic do not hesitate now to call her poetry, wholly underivative, "the finest by a woman in the English language."  "Her influence, negligible at first, is now incalculable."
      By inheritance Emily Dickinson was the quintessence of New England.  Of Norman origin, the name de-

      1. American Literature, An Introduction; p. 68. Carl Van Doren.
      2 New York Herald Tribune, September 27, 1936. (XIII- p. 6.) Lewis Gannett.
      3. Modern American Poetry (fifth revised edition). Louis Untermeyer.






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riving from Gautier of Caen (anglicized as Walter de Kenson) who accompanied William the Conqueror in the invasion of England, her first Colonial ancestor was the picturesque and indomitable Nathaniel, whose spirit of adventure — as well as his Puritan political convictions — led him to set sail in 1630, with his wife Anna, "the widow Gull", for the wilds of America, seeking "not conquest or dominion, but freedom and the right to serve, at the dictation of his own conscience, his God before his King."
      With a few others, they soon struck out for the hinterland, leaving the comparative security and companionship of the coast settlements which retained, bleak outposts though they were, a tenuous connection with their old world, and eventually established the town of old Hadley, Massachusetts, some of their descendants crossing the Connecticut river to occupy the district later called Amherst.  Faced by primeval conditions of incredible hardship, surrounded by wild beasts and Indians, these uncompromising idealists wrought out their own Colonial history in blood and shining courage.
      Just two hundred years lay between the birth of Emily Dickinson and the coming of her first ancestor from England.  She shared with the other children of her village the prevailing traditions and standards of her time.  Her father, educated at Yale, followed the family profession of law, served in the State Legislature and also in Congress, and was Treasurer of Amherst College for nearly forty years.  Although habitually reserved in manner, he evidenced the marked individuality and love of independence characteristic of the Dickinsons from the beginning, as well as — under provocation — their proclivity for vivid and original expression. "If Father is asleep on the lounge the house is full", Emily exclaimed.  It revealed their fundamental understanding.





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 The general rise of affluence felt throughout New England in the 1830's was enjoyed by the Dickinsons, and Edward Dickinson was never happier than when dispensing the somewhat stately hospitality of his home, beaming welcome upon his guests and pride in the dainty wife beside him — a lady of the old school long passed into mythology — whose dower of claw-footed and pineapple-cut mahogany and flower-basket silver had been brought by yokes of oxen over the hills upon their marriage in 1828.  The reverses that bore down upon him all too soon were the result of his generosity and taking upon himself the obligations of others, only to be surmounted by years of self-denial and painstaking effort.
      There was no exception to what was expected of any one of the three children — Emily, or her brother Austin and sister Lavinia — all of them possessed of marked ability and varied temperament. Helen Fiske, the daughter of Professor Fiske, and later to be famous as "H. H." (Helen Hunt), the author of Rarnona, was their favorite playmate.  When Emily was sixteen she met Susan Gilbert, just nine days younger than herself, who was to be her brother's wife — and to become the most comprehending and mentally stimulating influence in her own life.
      Emily attended Amherst Academy, and was for a year a student at Mary Lyon's Female Seminary at South Hadley.  As shown in the family letters and diaries of that period, the Dickinson house overflowed with young life, Emily playing a vivid part in it all, giving no hint of her later seclusion.  She made visits in Worcester and Boston, and in 1854 when her father was a member of Congress went to Washington, where her wit and intelligence were quickly remarked.
      It was during the visit in Philadelphia on her way home, that, in the words of her closest contemporaries,





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"Emily met her fate."1  According to them, two predestined souls recognized each other, — the man a powerful preacher, a scholar, a poet, already married. The inevitable renunciation followed.  Its effect, however, was to be enduring. For Emily, all had no codicil.  In the old familiar places and ways she took up her life again, not choosing to withdraw from the world — at least not all at once nor definitely at first — but gradually, irresistibly, as her own work and premonition drew her.  Her poems became her absorbing passion, those poems from whose publication she recoiled, and which were only made known to the world after her death.
      Not until 1890 did a selection of these poems appear, made available by her sister Lavinia, to be followed shortly by two additional selections.  Many years later, in 1914, her niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, presented another volume entitled The Single Hound, composed of poems written by Emily Dickinson to "Sister Sue", her brother's wife.  The war intervened, and in the deluge of free verse which followed, Emily Dickinson was submerged.  For a decade nothing more was published.  The critics, and the general public as well, left her to the devotion of her self-styled initiates.2
      Undeterred by the apathy of public and publishers, however, these enthusiasts imposed it as a duty upon her niece — as the only surviving member of the family, who had lived beside her day by day — to give them some actual recreation of the poet as a woman, and of her unique background. The Life and Letters3 was, therefore, presented in 1924.  Its reception was an overwhelming surprise.  Written at the instigation of and for a limited special public already steeped in her po-

      1 See Emily Dickinson Face to Face, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, Houghton Mifflin Company; pp. 48-53.
      2 See Foreword to Emily Dickinson Face to Face; pp. ix-xiii.
      3 The Life and Letters of Emily Dickinson, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, Houghton Mifflin Company.





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etry — to help them see the flesh-and-blood Emily as she moved about in her own setting, it interested as well an entirely new public that had never known her work.  There was an immediate demand for a collected edition of her poems, thought then to be the Complete Poems,1 which was supplied as rapidly as possible to companion the Life and Letters, being published four months later. Suddenly Emily Dickinson became a figure of international importance.
      The thorough overhauling and minute examination of the papers and letters of three generations of Dickinsons which inevitably followed, resulted in the discovery and the publication in 1929 of the Further Poems2 (which in 1930 were included in the Centenary Edition 3), and of the Unpublished Poems4 in 1935.  The former caused a literary sensation. "No other recent book can be so important to American Literature", in the Atlantic Monthly; "Places Emily Dickinson indubitably and permanently among the enduring poets of the English speaking race", in the New York Times; and "Colossal Substance" in the Saturday Review of Literature, typify the critical consensus at this time. The "forgotten poetess" of 1912 was now acclaimed thus by Mark Van Doren in the Nation: "Emily Dickinson is much the best of women poets and comes near the crown of all poetry."
      The Unpublished Poems, appearing fifty years after Emily Dickinson's death, were "but further proof that she is of the immortals", according to Percy Hutchison in the New York Times Book Review.  "In this libation there are no dregs, no single drop can be spared", is the conclusion of William H. McCarthy in the Yale Review; while in the American Mercury Louis Unter-

      1, 2, 2, 4 Little, Brown and Company.  A limited edition of the Unpublished Poems appeared in November, 1935, the trade edition in February, 1936.  These poems are reprinted at the end of this book under "Additional Poems."





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meyer asserts that the reader can only be grateful for more of the audacious images and dazzling communications "which make Emily Dickinson, with the possible exception of Sappho, the greatest woman poet of all time."
      In the present edition all the poems of the preceding collections of poems are included in a single volume.
      It has been erroneously assumed in a few instances that the chronological order in which Emily Dickinson's verse was written could be without much difficulty determined by the handwriting.  Nothing could be further from the fact.  The poems copied by the poet and included in letters to friends often had no relation to the actual time they were first written, as the first drafts sent to her Sister Sue reveal; while in her own tied packages of manuscript, arranged by herself, the order is arbitrary, even whimsical, and the period of the handwriting displayed is not necessarily the same as that of the original setting down.  The long patient comparison of manuscript with manuscript, as well as their relation to letters and events and dates definitely noted by her family, will be obligatory to insure any credible sequence.  And this remains the absorbing task of her editors.
      Emily Dickinson Face to Face,1 an expansion of the Life and Letters, was brought out in 1932.  It is indispensable for the correction of ignorant and misleading conjecture, as well as for the more than one hundred and fifty letters and notes of the poet unavailable elsewhere.  At the request of teachers and friends of young people the Poems for Youth 2 were selected and published, with many period illustrations, in 1934.
      Emily Dickinson was primarily interested not in form but in what she had to say.  Inevitably her verse form

      1 Houghton Mifflin Company.
      2 Little, Brown and Company.





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has at times proved a stumbling block to some of her admirers.  As her niece has said, "Metaphor is her characteristic figure and paradox her native tongue.  No pedant could convict her of literary sin, nor yet convert her; and as long ago as 1860 Emily was outdating the imagists and writing free verse of her own invention.  Her revolt was absolute; she abandoned rhyme altogether when she chose, and even assonance, writing in metre alone, like a Greek."1  Nevertheless, Ludwig Lewisohn writes, "Her successes are many and varied and extraordinarily high.  She can be of a compactness of expression and fullness of meaning not less than Goethean in Goethe's epigrammatic mood . . . She can add a new and heroic note to the eternal litany of love . . . She can soar like the intense mystical poets of the seventeenth century . . . And she can blend sobriety with vision and exactness with lyric lilt . . . And she can mock as Heine mocked and display the seamy side of the universe as seen by the optimists."2  Louis Untermeyer calls her gnomic imagery "tremendous in implication", her quatrains "lavish with huge ideas and almost overpowering figures."3
      The "summers of Hesperides" are long for Emily Dickinson.  And still she is proving, by our mortal standards at least, that

Eternity will be
Velocity or pause,
Precisely as the candidate
Preliminary was.

A. L. H.

      1 Poems of Emily Dickinson, Centenary Edition.
      2 Expression in America, Harper & Brothers; pp. 359-360.
      3 Modern American Poetry (4th Revised Edition), Harcourt, Brace; p. 39.