Emily Dickinson Writing a Poem

  A biographical commonplace about the nineteenth-century American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) is that she was a recluse who wrote in complete solitude. However, the manuscripts presented in this sampler of her writings show that such stories about her life and writing process are not true or are, at most, partial truths. In these screens, browsers can see Dickinson sending one of her poems to a correspondent and then rewriting the poem in consultation with that reader, Emily's sister-in-law Susan Dickinson. Their exchange about this poem raises questions of identity central, really, to all practices of reading:

· How do these documents alter conceptions of who Emily Dickinson the poet was (i.e., the biography of the author)?

· How isolated was Dickinson in her writing practices?

· What is the identity of "Safe in their Alabaster Chambers," the poem under Emily and Susan's consideration here?

· Is it a two-stanza poem with four different second stanzas, as their writings and the contemporaneous printing that Dickinson saw suggest?

· Is it a three-stanza poem, as rendered in its 1890 posthumous printing? Or is it in fact five one-stanza poems?

· This is one of four poems that Dickinson enclosed when she initiated a correspondence with Thomas Higginson. Why might she have chosen the particular version of Safe in their Alabaster Chambers in response to his Atlantic Monthly lead article, Letter to a Young Contributor?
As you examine the manuscripts and notes featured here, many other questions and insights will surely arise, and we would greatly appreciate your comments and inquiries.

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Images reproduced by permission of the Houghton Library,
Harvard University. Not to be reproduced in whole or in part
without permission. Transcription and commentary copyright 1999 by
Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved.
Maintained by Jarom McDonald <jmcdon@glue.umd.edu>
Last updated on April 8, 2003

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