A Week for Emily

Emily Dickinson’s poems are not my favorite poems, but Emily is one of my favorite poets.


When I first read her in high school, I liked some lines but the entire poems didn’t really make a lot of sense to me.

May 15 is the day she died in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1886. She had been in ill health for about two and a half years and was confined to her bed for the last seven months of her life. Medical historians now believe that she was suffering from severe high blood pressure because she complained of headaches and nausea and, near the end of her life, she struggled to breathe. Eventually, she lapsed into a coma. She would not allow her doctor to come to her bedside but would only consent that he could walk past the doorway. He listed her cause of death as “Bright’s disease,” which was a catchall diagnosis that included kidney disease as well as hypertension.

Emily was very close to her sister-in-law Susan Gilbert Dickinson wrote the poet’s obituary. Emily left specific instructions for her burial including that her casket was carried by the family’s six Irish hired men on a route that wound its way past her flower garden, through the barn and a field of buttercups.

Very few of her nearly 1,800 poems were published during her lifetime and what was published was done so anonymously. Emily wanted her poems and letters to be burned. After Emily’s death, her sister, Lavinia, discovered hundreds of poems that Emily had written over the years. The first volume, The Poems of Emily Dickinson, was published in 1890 but it was severely edited and changed to fit current fashion and not to follow Emily’s unique style.

I have a half dozen poems on this site related to Emily. Only one has been made into a podcast – “A Lock of Emily Dickinson’s Hair” – so this week I am going to revisit those other poems and create podcast versions. It’s a week for Emily.

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