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Quotations about Emily Dickinson


Emily Dickinson was... a pale flower with a vivid crimson heart. ~Winfred Ernest Garrison, The March of Faith, 1933

To this determined little anchoress, so carefully shut up in her provincial cell, nothing was sacred and nothing daunting; she made as free with heaven and hell, life and death, as with the daisies and butterflies outside her window. ~Percy Lubbock, review in The Nation and The Athenæum, 1924

They speak of you as a recluse
In dull commiserative sighs:
As though denial were a ruse,
As though your bravery were lies,
As though it smelled of something pale
And sacrificial to prevail
Against the flesh, against the heart;
As though your wry and radiant art
Were like the shed of silver mail
That sits upon the frightened snail;
As though a "No" instead of "Yes"
Had labeled you an anchoress;
As though the nail, the blood, the tear,
The terrible whisper, the red spear,
The lantern and the fatal kiss
Were somehow love's antithesis!
~Joseph Auslander (1897–1965), "Letter to Emily Dickinson," Letters to Women, 1929

Ynstead of 'social distauncinge' wherfor not 'Emily Dickinsoning'? ~Chaucer Doth Tweet, @LeVostreGC, 2020 March 11th

In many cases these verses will seem to the reader like poetry torn up by the roots, with rain and dew and earth still clinging to them, giving a freshness and a fragrance not otherwise to be conveyed. ~T. W. Higginson, Preface, Poems by Emily Dickinson Edited by Two of Her Friends, Mabel Loomis Todd and T. W. Higginson

Fascination was her element. She was not daily bread, she was star dust. Her solitude made her and was part of her. ~Martha Dickinson Bianchi, The Life and Letters of Emily Dickinson, 1924

Emily:  So I can just have time to myself.
Vinnie:  Time to yourself? To do what?
Emily:  To take dictation from God.
Vinnie to Maggie:  My sister's a poet.
~Dickinson, “I have never seen ‘Volcanoes,’” 2019, written by Alena Smith and Rachel Axler  [S1, E2]

Emily Dickinson was as yet undiscovered, and her poems seem to belong to our century when they were published rather than to the nineteenth when she was secretly writing them. ~Adventures in American Literature, 1930

Walking in silence was nice... Being with you, it's a lot like being alone. ~Dickinson, "There's a certain Slant of light," 2019, written by Hayes Davenport and Alena Smith  [S1, E8, Ben Newton to Emily Dickinson]

Solitude never hurt anyone. Emily Dickinson lived alone, and she wrote some of the most beautiful poetry the world has ever known — then went crazy as a loon. ~The Simpsons, "The Secret War of Lisa Simpson," 1997, written by Richard Appel  [S8, E25, Lisa]

In that house Emily Dickinson was leading her exquisite, vibrant life, not as a morbid recluse, as some would have it, but as an enthralled observer of all the great things that make the soul a soul, and not a tiny spark conscious only of the obvious things. ~MacGregor Jenkins, Emily Dickinson: Friend and Neighbor, 1930

You who were filled: who broke the bread
Of dew and stardust and were fed...
~Joseph Auslander (1897–1965), "Letter to Emily Dickinson," Letters to Women, 1929

Her swift poetic rapture was like the long glistening note of a bird one hears in the June woods at high noon, but can never see. Like a magician she caught the shadowy apparitions of her brain and tossed them in startling picturesqueness... ~Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson

Emily Dickinson provides the intensest sensation which American verse affords. ~Louis How, "American Verse," 1903

She had a dramatic way of throwing up her hands at the climax of a story, or one of her own flashes. It was entirely spontaneous, her spirit seemed merely playing through her body as the aurora borealis through the darkness of a Summer night. ~Martha Dickinson Bianchi, The Life and Letters of Emily Dickinson, 1924

      "Let's have a department in The Step Ladder for the criticism of poetry," said I to Flora.
      "You won't find anyone who wants his poetry criticized," she answered.
      Flora was right. "Of course I didn't mean to criticize their poems without their consent. Let it be announced that poems may be contributed for dissection, just as people submit themselves to clinics. Maybe some of them do care what other people think of their poetry..."
      "Remember that meeting of the Poetry Lovers last year, when they had an open criticism of poems, both of famous writers and our own, entered anonymously? That was an interesting experiment. When the poem of Emily Dickinson's was read, I started to say something about its faulty rhyme scheme, and Anne jumped right up and said she liked that poem better than anything else that had been read. She didn't place the poem, but had an instinctive feeling for the poetry in it, that stood out far above any of the other jingles that were read. That was true criticism — just feeling for the poetry in the poem." ~George Steele Seymour, "The Poetry Clinic," 1926  [a little altered —tg]

A mystic is one who turns from the microscope and the telescope to the faith within; Emily Dickinson was of this precious kindred. ~Clement Wood, "Emily Dickinson: The Shrinking Seer," Poets of America, 1925

      Although she was "except for winds, provincial," the universe was hers. She walked no picture galleries, but she rejoiced in "every color on the cruising cloud," the "purple traffic" of the sunset strewing "the landing with opal bales," every tint of foliage, petal, and plumage, down to the butterfly... "Beauty crowds me till I die." To her the small is as the great... [H]er heart nestles in with the bumblebees in their "tenements of clover" — bees that buzz throughout her poetry and letters, so dear that she dreams of them; she even finds "to caress the bee a severe temptation."
      For the winter she has her books — Shakespeare and other old volumes that "shake their vellum heads" at her... In her early thirties verses began to fall, dewdrops and blood-drops, upon her hidden paths — flakes of rose and flakes of fire... Her darting lines sting imagination like the barbs of her own bees...
      As Shakespeare rises supreme from the "prancing poetry" of his fellow dramatists, as Emerson towers above his kindred Transcendentalists, so Emily Dickinson is the perfect flowering of a rare but recognizable variety of the New England gentlewoman of the past — the lily-of-the-valley variety, virginal, sequestered, to the passing eye most delicate and demure, but ringing all the while spicy bells of derision or delight. ~Katharine Lee Bates, "A House of Rose," 1925

It's a poet's lot not to feel as others do, and to feel what they do, in all its strangeness, more deeply. ~Barbara VanDenburgh, "'A Quiet Passion' haunting, beautiful look at Emily Dickinson's heart," in The Arizona Republic, 2017

If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know. Is there any other way? ~Emily Dickinson, 1870, quoted by Thomas Wentworth Higginson  [In Alena Smith's brilliant television show Dickinson, Emily says this to Ben Newton and he expresses interest in reading her poetry sometime; she asks if he really would like to and he oh so adorably replies: "Only if it takes the top of my head off." That episode was written by Rachel Axler. —tg]

I found a little book of Emily Dickinson poems in a Boston book-shop in 1891, and for thirty years it has had a special shrine in my memory. She is almost totally ignorant of form, careless of rhyme and rhythm, writing verse with the disregard of rules which a child might display, but seeing things with the vividness of St. Catherine's vision of her Lord in the sunset sky, and with the same intense note of realism in reporting what she sees. She can say in four lines what a poet of profound literary artifice, such as Browning, would have required many pages to express. ~W. J. Dawson, "The Family Album," The Autobiography of a Mind, 1925

So always what you saw became
Translated from the wick to flame:
Through the dark crystal of your eye,
Curved by the soul's intensity,
Life and Love and Death would pass
In points of fire under glass...
~Joseph Auslander (1897–1965), "Letter to Emily Dickinson," Letters to Women, 1929

So intimate and passionate was her love of Nature, she seemed herself a part of the high March sky, the summer day and bird-call. ~Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson

Little can be learned of her life from photographs — there are few — but it can be better learned from the soul-negatives that she threw off so often — her poems, which spread an increasing effect upon the poets succeeding her. ~Clement Wood, "Emily Dickinson: The Shrinking Seer," Poets of America, 1925

      Between 1830 and 1886 there lived in New England one of the strangest and most baffling women that ever wandered out of fairyland. Her name was Emily Dickinson... Of heavenly lineage, she was lightning and fragrance, all mixed up with a smile. Half-elf, half-angel, yet in all ways a woman, she loved solitude, but she was no morbid recluse... She was fascinating, shy as a wild bird, aloof but never alone. She was happy, but she was never able to disengage herself from "that eternal pre-occupation with death," as she called it. Not that she feared death, but only wondered at it, and at the "overtakelessness" of those who had accomplished it.
      Her poetry has a touch of lightness, and yet at times she drops a plummet into the depths of these strange souls of ours, as when she writes:
            There is a solitude of space,
            A solitude of sea,
            A solitude of death, but these
            Society shall be,
            Compared with that profounder site,
            That polar privacy,
            A soul admitted to itself:
            Finite infinity.

      Emily Dickinson was wise in that she faced the first and primal fact about our human lot — that we live alone. We often think of the mystery and dignity and possibility of life, but we do not always think of its loneliness. Society crowds us on all sides, and yet we are alone... We live in a network of social relations, we are surrounded by friends who influence us for good or tempt us to evil, but our choices are our own, we are responsible for ourselves, and we live with the person we are making. Arnold is right when he says, "We mortal millions live alone." ~Rev. Charles E. Diehl, "Living With Ourselves," 1917

Most poets are inhabited by a triple imperative: to bring up from the deep hidden pools of their unconscious the desires and decrees that toss and twitch there; to clothe these in a garmentry of singing beauty; and last, to paint them across the sky, until all who read may run in the flame of their exultation, or fade in the wither of their despair... Emily Dickinson was one of those who lacked the third trait, the exhibitionist desire; to some extent she lacked even the second, the inner whip of the polisher of the first white-hot lines. It may have been that she polished toward exact fidelity to her vision, rather than toward accepted poetic music; or that she filed toward a new and unrecognized music. The impression is that she was content to create the jewel, and leave it rough. So many are her jewels, that this may have taken all her hours or all her energy. ~Clement Wood, "Emily Dickinson: The Shrinking Seer," Poets of America, 1925

But you, supplied by bird and bee
With telegrams of eternity,
With bulletins that were stripped to serve
The spirit's naked bone and nerve;
You in your garden in the sun,
Or in the day when there was none,
You were aware, oh so aware
Of something fiercer than despair:
The terrible consuming beauty
Of what a dead age once called duty:
Of what our age of public paint
And public love and unrestraint
In all things else considers now
As out of date as any vow:
As hopelessly old-fashioned as
The lovely thing your silence was.
~Joseph Auslander (1897–1965), "Letter to Emily Dickinson," Letters to Women, 1929

Miss Dickinson was a poet who (as Baudelaire described one), like an albatross, could not walk because her wings tripped her feet. If she held up the wing of thought, the wing of expression was sure to drag... In all my reading I have not found a more interesting book of verse; one with so many beauties almost buried in so many blemishes. The good things in it are like incomparable crystals set in ugly fragments of worthless stone. ~Maurice Thompson, "Miss Dickinson's Poems," 1891

To think of Emily Dickinson is to think of crystal, for she lived in a radianced world of innumerable facets, and the common instances were chariots upon which to ride wildly over the edges of infinity... She is in modern times perhaps the single exponent of the quality of true celestial frivolity. She was like dew and the soft summer rain, and the light upon the lips of flowers of which she loved to sing... Silence under a tree was a far more talkative experience with her than converse with one or a thousand dull minds. The moon said good morning to her, the flowers and birds called her by name, the clouds exulted at her approach... She will always delight those who love her type of elfish, evasive genius. And those who care for the vivid and living element in words will find her, to say the least, among the masters in her feeling for their strange shapes and for the fresh significances contained in them... [T]his poet-sprite sets scurrying all weariness of the brain... She was the brightest young sister of fancy, as she was the gifted young daughter of the ancient imagination. ~Marsden Hartley, c.1918  [a little altered —tg]

One exaggerates, but it sometimes seems as if in her work a cat came at us speaking English, our own language, but without the pressure of all the other structures we are accustomed to attend; it comes at us all voice so far as it is in control, fragmented elsewhere, willful and arbitrary, because it has not the acknowledged means to be otherwise. ~R. P. Blackmur, "Emily Dickinson's Notation," 1956

To think of getting a poem tucked
With flowers, itself a flower plucked
Out of dark anguish, out of hope
To vindicate an envelope,
With red carnation for a stamp...
~Joseph Auslander (1897–1965), "Letter to Emily Dickinson," Letters to Women, 1929

Keen and eclectic in her literary tastes, she sifted libraries to Shakespeare and Browning; quick as the electric spark in her intuitions and analyses, she seized the kernel instantly, almost impatient of the fewest words by which she must make her revelation. ~Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson

The soul of that quaint little brown-eyed spinster of Amherst, Emily Dickinson, is with the immortals. She died in 1886... Now, half a lifetime later, her poems go on the shelf in the distinguished company of the classics... Nearly all her poems are written in a tortured style, arrestingly odd and individual. Many of them are mystic, and you have to dig for the meaning. But re-reading them again after several years, we find them more stimulating than ever, more arresting in their strange beauty, more startling in their flashing insight. ~Walter Prichard Eaton, 1924

Flying from a sulphurous God
To the Pearl Presence in the pod;
Striking from a rock that Moses
Never knew, the blood of roses;
Scaling Sinais with a noun
And in some black verb plunging down...
~Joseph Auslander (1897–1965), "Letter to Emily Dickinson," Letters to Women, 1929

The individuality of Emily Dickinson is an interesting one. As a recluse, a solitary, she left Thoreau far in the shade; by comparison, that much abused walker and hunter after the secret of nature was a man of the world. Her notable poems show caprice, mysticism, symbolism — a curious mingling of heart skepticism with intellectual piety; but she also had a humorous and sympathetic nature. Facsimiles of her handwriting are as peculiar and "disjointed" as her versification. ~"The New Books," The Review of Reviews, 1895  [a little altered —tg]

If the spirit of Emily Dickinson is cognizant of what is occurring in her native land, it may well be wondered whether she is more gratified at the praise so belatedly lavished on her cryptic stanzas, or dismayed by the debates stirred up regarding her simple and uneventful life. ~Professor J. M. Whicher, "Emily Dickinson: A New England Mystic," 1931

      It is as though the wind had blown open a long-locked door and, standing upon the threshold, we gaze into the quiet, solitary chamber of Emily Dickinson...
      As she was a recluse in life, so is her poetry the unpremeditated foot-notes to her solitary existence. Her poems are recluses. Her concern was not with matters of technique, stanza-forms, meters, logical successions of thought; it was mainly to set down the chance moment that had flamed with a more than ordinary flash before her calm, meditative mind. The result is a series of strange jewels, glittering stones set upon the unobtrusive thread of her days... There is a natural magic here... No practice can make possible the best stanzas by Emily Dickinson. They are the flashes struck into existence by the contact of an extraordinary mind with life, and especially nature...
      She lived and died with the seasons, for they were individualities to her. The mountain sat "in his eternal chair." He was the "grandfather of the days," the ancestor of dawn. The butterfly emerges "like a lady from a door." Indeed, with such a world of personalities about her how is it possible to call her a hermit? She had her own world; it was streaming with friends and confidantes...
      There is something extremely modern here, and it is astonishing to note how much Emily Dickinson anticipated certain genres of our own contemporary poetry...
      She was a mystic. She turned the eyes of her spirit inward and led an intense life... Colored by the rare, lonely, answering flowering of nature about her, she meditated on Time and Eternity, on the vague mystery of Love, on the "easy nonchalance" of Death. She was the rarest emanation of the old New England life, the brooding mystic who is yet lightened by the brief gaiety of rich summers and barbaric autumns. Time cannot but gather to her name as the years march by for the place which she secured for herself in the annals of American poesy is one which must remain unchallenged forever. ~Herbert S. Gorman, The Procession of Masks, 1923  [a little altered —tg]

Emily Dickinson's letters, almost as much as the poems, exhibit her elf-like intimacy with Nature. She sees and apprehends the great mother's processes, and shares the rapture of all created things under the wide sky. The letters speak of flowers, of pines and autumnal colors; but no natural sight or sound or incident seems to have escaped her delicate apprehension. Bird songs, crickets, frost, and winter winds, even the toad and snake, mushrooms and bats, have an indescribable charm for her, which she in turns brings to us... In all its aspects "Nature became the unique charm and consolation of her life, and as such she has written of it." ~Mabel Loomis Todd, 1894

I find ecstasy in living; the mere sense of living is joy enough. ~Emily Dickinson, as quoted by T. W. Higginson

With ungrammatical defiant
Ecstasies that tripped some giant
Neatly in a puckered phrase...
~Joseph Auslander (1897–1965), "Letter to Emily Dickinson," Letters to Women, 1929

She was surely one of the race of Sensitives. Rebel at heart, she identified beauty with truth. ~Clement Wood, "Emily Dickinson: The Shrinking Seer," Poets of America, 1925

Reverence for accepted ways and forms, merely as such, seems entirely to have been left out of Emily's constitution. To her, God was not a far-away and dreary Power to be daily addressed, — the great "Eclipse" of which she wrote, — but He was near and familiar and pervasive. Her garden was full of His brightness and glory; the birds sang and the sky glowed because of Him. To shut herself out of the sunshine in a church, dark, chilly, restricted, was rather to shut herself away from Him... ~Mabel Loomis Todd, 1894

Some – keep the Sabbath – going to church –
I – keep it – staying at Home –
With a Bobolink – for a Chorister –
And an Orchard – for a Dome...
~Emily Dickinson, 1861

The great nineteenth-century writers — Hawthorne and Melville, Thoreau and Emerson, Twain and James — were skeptics, transcendentalists, and humanists, and not even God knows what Emily Dickinson was. ~The Georgia Review, c.1947

After all, when a thought takes one's breath away, a lesson on grammar seems an impertinence. As Ruskin wrote in his earlier and better days, "No weight nor mass nor beauty of execution can outweigh one grain or fragment of thought." ~T. W. Higginson, Preface, Poems by Emily Dickinson Edited by Two of Her Friends, Mabel Loomis Todd and T. W. Higginson, 1890

Emily Dickinson is a good example of the visionary who sets down her little glimpses of truth or beauty in the condensed forms in which they flashed into her mind, without effort to expand and interpret, probably without the ability to do so. Her poems will never be enjoyed by a multitude of readers because she never sought to reach the many. The few who enjoy will do so by reason of the fact that they are themselves supplying all of the expansion and interpretation. ~The Writer, 1926

Publicity is not the same thing as immortality. ~Dickinson, "Because I could not stop," 2019, written by Alena Smith  [S1, E1, Death speaking to Emily Dickinson]

Emily Dickinson's poetry is life — blood — spirit. Her passion fills all the poems, till they are like alabaster filled with flame. One feels, within all her poems, her spirit like a sky where stars and lightnings float; her spirit made of dew and dynamite. Her poems are now like fireflies winking and whirling over the August corn, now like white rain across which fall the tawny lashes of lightning, now like the grave beauty of a world covered with new-fallen snow. But always — behind and within the poems — one feels her spirit — that radiant mind and heart which we call Emily Dickinson. ~E. Merrill Root, "Clothes vs. Girl," 1924

I've dropped my Brain – My Soul is numb –
The Veins that used to run
Stop palsied – 'tis Paralysis
Done perfecter in stone...
~Emily Dickinson, c.1865

      "It's a lovely poem, but the subject's poor. Haven't you got something plus gai?"
      "Oh sure," Michael laughed. "I have others. I'll give you a specimen of Gantisme. That's the latest school of poetry. Comes from gant, a glove, you know. In these poems the words fit the subject as tightly as a glove fits the hand. The idea's great, isn't it? The distinguishing feature of this school is that when constructing a poem there mustn't be any scraps, or litter, left over. You use just enough words to say that you're going to say — and then you stop. Every poem is called a gant. A book of poems is a box of gloves. Gantisme is a big literary movement. The writers are gantistes, the glove-makers. Emily Dickinson was a gantiste, even though she didn't know it. Hurrah for Emily Dickinson! We'll build the American section of the Gantiste movement around her name." ~W. E. Woodward, Bunk, 1923  [a little altered —tg]

Emily Dickinson was a Transcendentalist with a dulcimer; a dulcimer of the finest crystal, for although she often tapped it with a wad of junk instead of her ivory hammer the music is always there, striving to free itself; it may be frail, it may be rugged; it is never ephemeral. Yet she is not truly a reflective poet; she seems to snatch at flying thoughts, shrewd, profound, satirical, emotional, that dissolve almost before she grasps them; stammering as she repeats them the gentle witty creature "waves an indicative hand and leaves the rest to you." ~The Saturday Review, 1925

The letters of Emily Dickinson are among the most sparkling and clever letters ever written. ~Bessie Graham, The Bookman's Manual, 1924

Say what?! You mean
That's not why they call it an
Em dash? — those Dickinson
Hyphens between?
~Terri Guillemets, "Poetic Wordplay," 2005  [Yes, I know, modern convention is an en dash, but it just made no sense to my giggle-poem. —tg]

Emily Dickinson is wholly original... Her ideas cannot be linked up with those of other poets and her verse form is just as truly her own. It is not correct to say that she turned her back on current literature and philosophy, for she seems never to have been aware of their existence... Emily Dickinson went to the one source open to such a solitary as she was; she dipped into her heart for her poetry, writing her verse simply as an easement to surcharged feelings... [She] allowed nothing to stand between her and the expression of that burst of flame that was her emotion. ~Russell Blankenship, American Literature as an Expression of the National Mind  [originally published 1931, quoted from the 1960 edition —tg]

In that enormous inch of Mind
As infinite as in the sea's
Pink shell thunder profundities...
~Joseph Auslander (1897–1965), "Letter to Emily Dickinson," Letters to Women, 1929

Emily Dickinson is an empurpled laureate of death. She sees it as an accolade of dignity and democracy — as general as the air, as the rain and the snow. ~Clement Wood, "Emily Dickinson: The Shrinking Seer," Poets of America, 1925

Art has seldom flourished on the desert island of a solitary castaway! Of course, poets who talk to themselves sometimes transform their solitude into beautiful and significant poetry. Emily Dickinson is one of our choicest spirits in American poetry. Yet all her life, it would seem she wrote only to herself, and for herself, setting down her fragile lyrics on the odds and ends of scraps of paper, guarding them from the eyes of all except the intimates of her family circle. ~Earl Daniels, "Outline for a Defense of Poetry," c.1942

She was the first poet I had ever read, and I was hooked and hypnotized from the start, because in her writing she broke every rule. Words had their own chain reaction, their own fire. ~Jerome Charyn, 2009, Author's Note, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, 2010

Everything in Nature was miraculous to her. In her best poems we feel the impact of her being on every syllable. ~Author unknown, 1950s  [possibly Robert Silliman Hillyer or Walter Blair —tg]

Indeed, one turns over Miss Dickinson's book with a puzzled feeling that there was poetry in her subconscious, but that it never became explicit. ~Andrew Lang, 1890

Emily Dickinson, without knowing him, was a sister of Walt Whitman. She gave us depths, not just surface. She had something to say, and a sense of humor. Her images were symbols of passion. Her form grew and deepened like one's skin or soul, and she wrote with a natural and free beauty. Emily Dickinson is a star. ~E. Merrill Root, "Clothes vs. Girl," 1924  [altered —tg]

"I feel like [$%!t]," I tell Emily Dickinson. She's the best person to talk to when I feel this way and she's a good listener. But maybe dead poets usually are. ~Jenny Torres Sanchez, Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia, 2013

Another poet in neighboring Amherst outdid most poets of the world in the lonely art of personal oblivion; Emily Dickinson was a glorious spinster who spent most of her life in a village house and garden, leaving an eloquent treasure... ~International Literary Annual, 1959

I am out with lanterns, looking for myself. ~Emily Dickinson, letter to Elizabeth Holland, 1855

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published 2014 Oct 27
revised 2020, 2021
last saved 2023 Aug 29