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The Importance of Emily Dickinson

Steffens, Bradley

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ISBN 10: 1560060891 / ISBN 13: 9781560060895
Editorial: Lucent Books, 1998
Usado Condición: Very Good
Librería: Better World Books: West (Reno, NV, Estados Unidos de America)

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Título: The Importance of Emily Dickinson

Editorial: Lucent Books

Año de publicación: 1998

Condición del libro:Very Good

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Describes the life, work, and significance of the poet of Amherst

From the Author:

Drawing heavily on primary sources, The Importance of Emily Dickinson traces the Amherst poet's development as a literary artist, offers basic critical perspectives on her work, and explores her relationships with significant figures in her life.

One of the best things about this book is the amount of original source material it contains. My publisher was fortunate enough to gain permission from Harvard University and the Belknap Press to reproduce sixteen of Dickinson's best-known poems in their entirety, including: "I never lost as much but twice," South Winds jostle them," "Safe in their Alabaster Chambers" (all three versions), "Some keep the Sabbath going to Church," "One Sister have I in our house," "I'll tell you how the Sun rose," "There's a certain Slant of Light," "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain," "The Soul selects her own Society," "Success is counted sweetest," and (inevitably perhaps) "I'm Nobody! Who are you?" I selected a few works that I felt would appeal to a youthful audience, including "A precious, moldering pleasure 'tis," "How happy is the little stone," and this lesser known gem:

The Spider holds a Silver BallIn unperceived Hands--And dancing softly to HimselfHis Yarn of Pearl--unwinds -- He plies from Nought to Nought --In unsubstantial Trade --Supplants our Tapestries with His --In half the period -- An Hour to rear supremeHis Continents of Light --Then dangle from the Housewife's Broom --His Boundaries--forgot --
I also quote copiously from Dickinson's letters. My goal was to let the poet to speak for herself, allowing her own words to reveal her many facets--her penetrating intelligence, her vulnerabilities, her wit. Three letters are presented in their entirety. Passages from sixty more are quoted in part. The book is footnoted, so readers can locate the entire letters quickly, if they wish.

I devote a full chapter to exploring Dickinson's poetic technique. I discuss her meter, her use of dashes, her capitalization, and other characteristics of her work. For example, I use "The Spider holds a Silver Ball" to discuss her sense of rhyme:

Dickinson had an unusual ear for rhyme, and she had the courage to employ it in her work. For example, every even numbered line in "The Spider holds a Silver Ball" rhymes, but none of the pairings are perfect rhymes. Dickinson loved suspended rhymes--the same final consonant sound preceded by a different vowel sound. In "The Spider holds a Silver Ball," she used three suspended rhymes: "hands" and "unwinds;" "trade" and "period;" and "light" and "forgot."

Dickinson used many other kinds of imperfect rhymes as well. For example, in "There is a Languor of the Life," she rhymed "severe" with "there."84 This is known as a spelled rhyme--two words that end with the same letters, but have different sounds. Dickinson also employed open rhymes, two words that end with vowel sounds that do not sound alike.

A children's book does not present the same standards of scholarship that a book for adults does; groundbreaking insights are not required for publication. Having said that, I like to think that I have contributed something new to our understanding of Dickinson. For example, when discussing the first letters exchanged by Dickinson and T.W. Higginson, most biographers have focused on Higginson's shortcomings as critic. When I reviewed these letters, however, I was struck by the personal dimension of the correspondence. I as transcribed Dickinson's words, I felt the enormity of what was at stake for her not just as a poet, but as a human being:

"Would you have time to be the 'friend' you should think I need?" Dickinson asked Higginson in the June 1862 letter. She promised not to demand too much of the busy writer. "I have a little shape--it would not crowd your Desk--nor make much Racket as the Mouse, that dents your Galleries," she continued. With Ben Newton gone, Reverend Wadsworth uninterested, and Susan Gilbert busy with her own family, Dickinson longed for someone with whom to share her work, her thoughts, her life. She phrased her request as clearly as possible. "If I might bring you what I do--not so frequent to trouble you--and ask you if I told it clear--'twould be control, to me," she wrote. "Will you be my Preceptor, Mr Higginson?"

Whatever his shortcomings, Thomas Wentworth Higginson sensed something extraordinary about the young woman who had written to him from Amherst. He could have ignored her or politely brushed her off. To his credit, however, he did not. Instead, he accepted the role of being Dickinson's preceptor, or teacher, reading her poems and offering his judgments when possible.

More importantly, Higginson became Dickinson's friend. At the time she wrote to Higginson, Dickinson was in the throes of some sort of mental crisis. "I had a terror--since September--I could tell to none," she confided in her second letter to Higginson.112 In her third letter, she described the "palsy" she felt when beholding "a sudden light on Orchards, or a new fashion in the wind."

Vivid as these descriptions are, they provide only a hint of the inner turmoil that raged within the poet. During this time, Dickinson was writing poems at the rate of one per day, according to Thomas Johnson's count. Many of these works depict a mind at war with itself. "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain," "After great pain, a formal feeling comes," "It was not Death, for I stood up," "The Soul has Bandaged moments," "The Brain, within its Groove," "The Battle fought between the Soul"--these are just a few of the poems Dickinson composed during this difficult time.

Higginson's letters to Dickinson have not survived, but his friendship touched her deeply. "The 'hand you stretch me in the Dark,' I put mine in," she wrote to him toward the end of the June 1862 letter.115 Seven years later, Dickinson reflected on the bond she had formed with Higginson in the feverish summer of 1862. "Of our greatest acts we are ignorant," she wrote to Higginson in 1869. "You were not aware that you saved my Life."

There is no reason to doubt that she was telling the truth.

The classic biographers and critics are well represented in my book. You'll find citations of Millicent Todd Bingham, Jay Leyda, Thomas H. Johnson, Richard B. Sewall, and Albert J. Gelpi. I also have included some of the newer explorations of Dickinson's life, including the works of Helen McNeil, Judith Farr, and Cynthia Griffin Wolff.

This is not a traditional "children's" biography of Dickinson. As I hope you can see from the examples above, I do not talk down to my readers. I try to express my ideas in the simplest language possible, which is the essence of good writing for any age.

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