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)

Welcome to The Big Read, a program from the National Endowment for the Arts. Designed to revitalize the role of literary reading in American culture, The Big Read hopes to unite communities through great literature, as well as inspire students to become lifelong readers.

In 2007, the National Endowment for the Arts partnered with the Poetry Foundation to create American Literary Landmarks, a pilot program of The Big Read that celebrated American poets and the historic sites associated with their lives and works. In 2009, poets Emily Dickinson, Robinson Jeffers, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were officially added to The Big Read library.

This Teacher’s Guide contains ten lessons to introduce students to the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Dickinson is not only one of the supreme lyric poets of American literature, she has also come to symbolize the purest kind of artistic vocation. Not merely unrecognized but virtually unpublished in her own lifetime, she developed her genius in the utmost privacy, invisible to all except a small circle of family and friends. Driven only by her own imagination, she created a body of work unsurpassed in its expressive originality, penetrating insight, and dark beauty.

Each lesson has five components: a focus topic, discussion activities, writing exercises, vocabulary words, and homework assignments. In addition, we have suggested essay topics, as well as provided handouts with more background information about the poems, the historical period, and the author. All lessons dovetail with the state language arts standards required for poetry.

Finally, The Big Read Reader’s Guide deepens your exploration with biography, timelines, and historical information. We hope these educational materials allow you to have fun with your students while introducing them to the work of a great American poet.

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