Synopses & Reviews
This enthralling collection contains more than 400 poems that were published between 1886 (the year of Emily Dickinson's death) and 1900 which express her concepts of life and death, of love and nature.
"No one can read these poems...without perceiving that he is not so much reading as being spoken to." Archibald MacLeish
Reading Group Guide
Emily Dickinson lived as a recluse in Amherst, Massachusetts, dedicating herself to writing a "letter to the world"--the 1,775 poems left unpublished at her death in 1886. Today, Dickinson stands in the front rank of American poets. This enthralling collection includes more than four hundred poems that were published between Dickinson's death and 1900. They express her concepts of life and death, of love and nature, and of what Henry James called "the landscape of the soul." And as Billy Collins suggests in his Introduction, "In the age of the workshop, the reading, the poetry conference and festival, Dickinson reminds us of the deeply private nature of literary art."From the Hardcover edition.
1. Dickinson never published any of her poetry during her lifetime; her work was discovered after her death. As Billy Collins notes in his Introduction, "It is fascinating to consider the case of a person who led such a private existence... as if she had lain asleep only to be awakened by the kiss of the twentieth century." What conclusions can you draw about the relationship of Dickinson's privacy during her life and the nature and texture of her art?
2. Dickinson's poetry continues to be extremely influential and important for twentieth-century readers; she remains one of the most widely read American poets to this day. What accounts for this remarkable, enduring popularity, in your view? What makes her poetry seem, to so many, so contemporary? What influence or legacy do you think her work has had or left?
3. Considering Dickinson in relation to some of the exemplary poetry of her time (for instance, Walt Whitman), what features seem to distinguish Dickinson's work? Are there contemporary poets that you would compare in some way to Emily Dickinson?
4. What innovations-stylistic or otherwise-do you find or notice in Dickinson's poetry? What themes or motifs seem to recur in her work, and what do these signify for you?
5. Which individual poems in this volume do you find most compelling and affecting? Which poems do you find most difficult, obscure, or hard to penetrate?
6. Billy Collins notes that Dickinson's poetry is particularly effective in its ability to "compress wide meaning into small spaces." Discuss this feature of her work in relation to poetry in general.
7. How do you think Dickinson's identity as a woman-in nineteenth-century America-plays into her art?