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7.2: Emily Dickinson

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    Emily Dickinson. Foto.
    Ole Fossgård

    A Life of Seclusion

    Emily Dickinson (1830 - 1886) was an American poet who was born in Massachusetts. She grew up in a successful family with strong community ties, but she lived a mostly introverted and reclusive life. Among the locals she was considered an eccentric, and she became known for her reluctance to greet guests and for always wearing white clothing. In her later life she hardly ever left her room, and her friendships were therefore carried out by correspondence.

    Her Poetry

    Dickinson was a private poet, and very few of her poems were published during her lifetime. After her death, her sister found nearly eighteen hundred poems stashed away in a bureau drawer. Emily Dickinson's poems are characterized by short lines, and they most often lack titles. The poems often use slant rhyme as well as unconventional capitalization and punctuation. Many of her poems deal with the themes of death and immortality.

    Listen to the song performed by Quoting Napoleon while watching slides about Emily Dickinson and her poetry. (You Tube: Emily Dickinson Tribute Song)

    Tasks and Activities


    1. How would you describe Emily Dickinson's life and personality?
    2. Emily Dickinson often wore a white dress. Why do you think she did this? What does this color symbolize?
    3. Do you think the music they have chosen fits the content? Why/why not?

    Poems and Tasks

    Hope Is the Thing with Feathers. I'm a Nobody. Who Are You?

    Read the two poems by Emily Dickinson below and answer the questions to both of them.

    Hope is the Thing with Feathers

    Hope is the thing with feathers
    That perches in the soul,
    And sings the tune without the words,
    And never stops at all,

    And sweetest in the gale is heard;
    And sore must be the storm
    That could abash the little bird
    That kept so many warm.

    I've heard it in the chilliest land
    And on the strangest sea;
    Yet, never, in extremity,
    It asked a crumb of me.


    1. Describe what this poem is about using your own words.
    2. What sort of connotations does the image of a bird give you? What is its significance in this poem?
    3. Give an account of the images from nature that Dickinson has used in this poem.
    4. Why do you think identity is often claimed to be a central theme in this poem?

    I'm Nobody! Who are you? (260)

    I'm Nobody! Who are you?
    Are you – Nobody – too?
    Then there's a pair of us?
    Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!

    How dreary – to be – Somebody!
    How public – like a Frog –
    To tell one's name – the livelong June –
    To an admiring Bog!


    1. Using your own words, try to explain what this poem is about.
    2. Describe the speaker in this poem. Who is “Nobody”?
    3. Dickinson uses the word “frog” in this poem. What connotation does the image of a frog give you? What are the qualities of a frog?
    4. Why can one say that this is a poem about recognition?

    Find out

    Study Emily Dickinson's biography further, and try to decide whether this can be said to be a biographical poem. Biography


    Watch video clips of these poems on the web. Seach for

    • "Hope is the Thing with Feathers" Emily Dickinson
    • "I am Nobody" Emily Dickinson

    Then consider the following questions:

    1. How are the poems interpreted in these video clips?
    2. In what ways does the interpretation differ from your own understanding of the poem?
    3. Feel free to add your own personal comment to the video clips on You Tube. There is a commentary box below each of the videos.

    Discussion Board

    Find Emily Dickinson poems on Emily Dickinson and her poetry and contribute in the discussion board on Emily Dickinson and her poetry. The website is free, but you have to provide a log in name and password.

    Listen to Poems

    Listen to actress Julie Harris read the two poems above: "This is my letter to the world"

    Further Research

    Do you want to know more about Emily Dickinson's life? Here is a biography.

    Contributors: NDLA

    7.2: Emily Dickinson is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Heather Ringo & Athena Kashyap.

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