Places: The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Edited by Thomas H. Johnson

First published: 1960

Type of work: Poetry

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Amherst

*Amherst. Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, TheMassachusetts town where Dickinson lived, about ninety miles west of Boston. Although her poems mention Amherst by name only twice, it is organic to Dickinson’s poetry. She absorbed the old-fashioned Calvinism of nineteenth century Amherst. At the congregational church she attended in childhood, sermons depicted a wrathful God and threatened everlasting punishment. Dickinson frequently chose religious subjects, and yet, with the contrariety endemic to New Englanders, she rebelled far more than she acquiesced. In a few instances, she seems to have been influenced by the New England Transcendentalists.


*Homestead. Dickinson family home on Main Street in Amherst. Most of Dickinson’s poems employ the imagery of the domestic sphere. Yet she possesses the New England Puritan typological imagination that beholds cosmic meanings in homely images. Everyday events become, through metaphor, intense psychological states. She can comment that “The Bustle in a House/ The Morning after Death/ Is solemnest of industries/ Enacted upon Earth–.” The household imagery used to describe feelings so profound provides much of the impact of her poems. Home was, to Dickinson, her natural place, and to her imaginative vision, the source of the “types” of ineffable psychological states.

*Homestead grounds

*Homestead grounds. Garden and meadow near the Dickinson home. Dickinson’s store of images brims over with the natural phenomena of her gardens. The robin, she declares, is her “Criterion for Tune–/ Because [she] grow[s]–where Robins do–.” Daisies, roses, and bees abound in her poetic garden, as well as berries, carnations, maples, gentians, butterflies, anemones, orioles, whippoorwills, and violets–all found in the immediate surroundings of the house.

*Amherst cemetery

*Amherst cemetery. Community graveyard that is within walking distance of the Homestead. Dickinson must have contemplated the cemetery many times as funeral processions passed, as some of her poems testify. A few are spoken from the grave, as shown in lines “I died for Beauty,” and “I heard a Fly buzz–when I died.”

BibliographyBarnstone, Aliki. Changing Rapture: Emily Dickinson’s Poetic Development. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2006. A study of Dickinson’s poetry that challenges the notion that she wrote at the same level and in the same style throughout her career. This work chronicles her progression as a writer and breaks her poetry into four distinct stages that exemplify her growth and changing style from youth through old age.Bennett, Paula. Emily Dickinson: Woman Poet. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1990. A probing, instructive discussion of feminine creativity, sexual imagery, and themes of desire.Duchac, Joseph. The Poems of Emily Dickinson: An Annotated Guide to Commentary in English, 1978-1989. New York: Macmillan, 1993. This bibliography is organized by poem and is an easy and helpful reference tool for those wanting information on specific poems.Ferlazzo, Paul. Emily Dickinson. Boston: Twayne, 1976. Written specifically for those new to Dickinson, this easy-to-understand text is a good introduction to Dickinson’s poetry and life.Juhasz, Suzanne, ed. Feminist Critics Read Emily Dickinson. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983. This collection of essays by some of the most respected Dickinson scholars is prefaced with a piece by Juhasz giving a brief history of feminist interpretations of Dickinson’s poetry. Thus it is a good source for students interested in recent criticism.Pollak, Vivian R. Dickinson: The Anxiety of Gender. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984. A psychobiographical, feminist study of the poetry’s intensity and resonance in Dickinson’s relations with family, friends, and literary acquaintances.Rosenbaum, S. P., ed. Concordance to the Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1964. This one-volume text indexes each word in Dickinson’s poetry and is therefore especially helpful when one is studying particular images or subjects.Sewall, Richard B. The Life of Emily Dickinson. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1980. Winner of the National Book Award for biography, this interpretive biography brilliantly discusses Dickinson’s poetry in the context of her life, family, region, and historical setting.Stonum, Gary Lee. The Dickinson Sublime. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990. Analyzes Dickinson’s idiosyncratic style. Uses literary theory to assess topics such as reading, writing, language, intention, fame, power, knowledge, imagination, the resistance to closure, and the suspension between trauma and sublimation.Wolff, Cynthia Griffin. Emily Dickinson. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986. This critical biography makes use of past biographies and is much more manageable and accessible than they are. Also, the bibliography is extensive and the index helpful.Wolosky, Shira. Emily Dickinson: A Voice of War. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1984. Examines Dickinson’s poetic forms and syntax, as well as martial imagery and historical and metaphysical issues.
Categories: Places