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Friday, August 06, 2021

Main Features of Emily Dickinson's Poetry

Emily Dickinson was a prominent figure in the arena of literature in general and American literature in particular. She is probably the first American poetess who received world acclaim for her poetic genius. Actually Emily Dickinson had set a trend of women contribution in American literary world. She can be considered as the forerunner of the Imagist School of Poetry.

Main Features of Emily Dickinson's Poetry
Main Features of Emily Dickinson's Poetry

Emily Dickinson has referred to herself as ‘the queen of Calvary’. She was attached to a group of Transcendentalists. The Transcendentalists’ style of interpreting nature in symbolic terms had profound impact on American literature of this period, notably in the works of Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Walt Whitman, and of course, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson repudiated external religious authority and preferred the life of intuition. Man must hear the call of his conscience which always guides him to the right path.

Major Characteristics of Emily Dickinson's Poetry 


Emily Dickinson wrote nearly 2,000 poems, but only seven poems out them were published. Most of her poems were published posthumously. In her poetry, there is fine use of recurrent themes of fame, immortality, death, a mystic apprehension of the natural world and her preoccupation with poetic vocation. Her poetry abounds with allusions to volcanoes, funerals, shipwrecks, with a fine use of rhetoric and hyperbolic expressions. 

The unfortunate part of Emily Dickinson’s life was that she could receive this appreciation after her death because most of her poems have been published posthumously. She was a great poetess by many ways especially due to her style and technique and her treatment to the subject-matter of her poems.


The themes of Emily Dickinson’s poetry played a vital role in the development of her poetic career. She composed a large number of poems which can be classified under three distinctive major themes: 

Treatment of nature, love and death are the major issues which encompass the majority of her poems. Related with these themes her wholesome approach to human life is also very prominent and different than the other poets of her age. Her treatment to nature can be discussed as follows: 

Emily Dickinson’s poetry is quite different from the other nature poets. Owing to the over sentimental approach, nature has been hailed as “gentle mother, teacher or guide by the other nature poets. But Emily Dickinson applied a quite natural attitude towards Nature. 

According to Emily Dickinson, Nature remains mysterious and elusive. The more we try to interrogate the process in nature the more it becomes complex and bewildering. So Emily Dickinson deemed nature as something apart from the life of human beings. Owing to her mysterious look, she appears alien to mankind. The poetess refuses to look upon nature as a moral teacher or guide. She looks upon nature as being indifferent to man. 

In some of the poems, Emily Dickinson has projected nature as hostile to man. The sensual and odd area of nature fascinated the poetess and she has composed many poems about these oddities. Her approach towards nature remains as a mystical figure, though it is interesting. The indifferent attitude about nature is continued while dealing with the theme of love. The impact of Emily Dickinson’s poetic genius on the theme of love can be summarised as follows: 

Emily Dickinson has artistically handled the theme of love in her poems. Actually she has a great standard of writing love lyrics in American literature. Her treatment of passion and love is characterised by biographical originality which is a great feature of all her poetry. 

According to Emily Dickinson, love has great capacity to reach even to the divinity by winning over life and death. So death is not a separation in love because true love can never be separated. Emily Dickinson’s poem, “The Soul” Selects Her Own Society” deals with the elusiveness of affection that is the highly selective quality of love. 

The combination of love and passion is strikingly expressed in almost all of her poems. She fondly describes the sublime emotional moment when two human beings are united by love. So the transformation of human passion into divine love is the progressive way assimilated in all her love poems. Along with the theme of love, Emily Dickinson dealt with the theme of death which can be discussed as follows: 

The third prominent theme employed by Emily Dickinson was the theme of death. Like many poets she was attracted by the inevitable issues of human life. But here again her treatment was completely different from others. While expressing the greatness of death, Emily Dickinson has also emphasised the loftiness of life. 

Emily Dickinson has handled the theme of death by maintaining complete objectivity like a detached observer. By doing so, she could easily enter the realm of death and understand the process of death. In all her poems we can find a contrast between presenting life after death and life before death. So while expressing the inevitability of death she points out the supremacy of life also. 

The poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” expresses the importance of life also. Thus, Emily Dickinson’s poetic output on the theme of death is remarkable. Her varied and intensified analysis of death is superb. She never steps back from death’s harsh realities nor even ceased considering the various ways she might confront her mighty adversary, Death. 

All the poems of Emily Dickinson have been based on these three major themes of her poetry. As a poetess, she applied great originality in her poetry. Many of her poems are reflections upon the nature of things. The thought in these poems is crystal-clear. She has employed many symbols and figurative language with utmost precision and clarity.

It is actually a united whole of poetic integrity which comes out of all her poems. She lived in a world of paradox but her eye was microscopic and her imagination dealt with mysteries. This poetic mindset of poetic virtuosity is supported with her distinctive poetic technique. 

Emily Dickinson’s poetry reflects an attractive poetic technique in its real sense. The foremost striking feature is that she could express the greatest thoughts with the use of great economy of words. So she expresses her thoughts through very short poems which are pregnant with immense meaning. 

For that she has also coined her words and employed rare words scarcely used by ordinary readers, i.e., ‘far-cry’, ‘omnifold’, ‘foreignhood’ etc. there is a blending of the familiar and the unfamiliar words in her poetry. So to speak of ‘mountains’ as ‘purpled territories’, is creativity of her poetic mind. Though she employed rare and uncommon words, her poems appear simple and easy to understand. 

Emily Dickinson is perfect in technical arena also. She has devised the artistic use of metrical and rhyme patterns. With all these characteristics Emily Dickinson’s poetry, we can call her as one of the greatest poets in American literature. Her contribution as a literary figure is unmatched and noteworthy because great tradition of woman writing had started with her in America.

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