Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

Poet (1830-1886)

Emily Dickinson, despite only publishing 10 heavily edited poems during her lifetime, has been listed as one of the 26 writers “central to The Western Canon“—alongside Shakespeare, Dante, Chaucer, and Tolstoy. She’s even been put on a postal stamp.

But why did she share so little? After publishing a few poems in a journal, she reached out to a literary critic for advice. His counsel was to delay publication until she had written longer, and it appears that she took it to heart.

She wrote more than 1,800 poems in her lifetime, leaving orders that they be burned after her death. Luckily for the literary world, her sister refused this instruction, and that very same critic edited and published a volume of her verse years later.

Perhaps it’s lucky that she didn’t seek publication sooner. Not only were the poems censored to remove the name “Susan” (the possible allusion to romantic relations between women was considered too controversial), many critics were offended by the innovative form of her writing. One said this:

If poetry is to exist at all, it really must have form and grammar, and must rhyme when it professes to rhyme.”

And another got [even more personal](

It is plain that Miss Dickinson possessed an extremely unconventional and grotesque fancy … an eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse in an out-of-the-way New England village (or anywhere else) cannot with impunity set at defiance the laws of gravitation and grammar.