National Endowment of the Arts - The Big Read
The Poetry of Emily Dickinson

The Poetry of Emily Dickinson

by Emily Dickinson

I find ecstasy in living—the mere sense of living is joy enough.


Emily Dickinson, age 16 (Courtesy of Amherst College Archives and Special Collections)

  1. Begin your discussion by reading a few of Emily Dickinson’s poems out loud. Notice the different ways in which Dickinson uses rhyme. What sounds and rhythms can you hear?
  2. In “Because I could not stop for Death –,” how does Dickinson use the extended metaphor of a carriage ride to describe a journey we all have to take?
  3. Scholar Judith Farr notes that although “not entirely orthodox in her Christian faith,” Emily Dickinson “held certain doctrines to be precious, especially that of the Resurrection and the union of body and soul after death.” What evidence of this do you see in such poems as “This World is not conclusion” or “I know that He exists”?
  4. More than anything, Dickinson loved tending her garden and writing poetry. What parallels exist between the two activities?
  5. “Wild nights – Wild nights!” was not published in Dickinson’s lifetime. In 1891, why might editors have been worried about publishing this poem?
  6. How is Dickinson’s quiet life reflected in her poems? Consider how poems such as “I dwell in Possibility –” or “They shut me up in Prose –” might be autobiographical.
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