Poetry-Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson is my favorite poet to read. In general, I like to read individual poems from poetry collections; while I often like a number of poems by the same author, I usually don’t read a book of one poet. Emily Dickinson is different for me. I have several books of her poems and I enjoy reading through them, though I do have my favorites! In my opinion, if you want a poet who knew how to take a few words to convey a lot of emotion and context it’s hard to beat Dickinson. If you read some of her poetry in school and liked it, I would suggest looking through several publications. The first publishers of her work in the late 19th century edited her original manuscripts after her death, changing some words to ‘fit’ better, taking out odd punctuation, etc. There are more modern publications that have removed those changes, and adhere better to the original format Dickinson used in her writing (if you are interested in different versions, check out this link to Harvard University Press that covers all of them) . Personally, I like the later published versions, though if you are used to the smoothed out publication, it might seem a little choppy to read the manuscript format. There is a lot more punctuation in the form of dashes to separate words, and seemingly random capitalization. While it looks a little strange at first, if you read through it, you begin to get a different rhythm to the verse with these changes, and it can make a big difference to the meaning. There is a website that shows a number of the original manuscripts of Dickinson’s writings if you are interested, called the Emily Dickinson Archive. An example of this change can be seen in poem number 441 (Dickinson never put titles on her poems). The original published version is first, and my transcription from the original written version (at the Emily Dickinson Archive, manuscript owned by Harvard University Press) is below. You can easily see some of the changes made, and even why a publisher would decide to smooth out the form. However, I like reading the second version, because it takes on a different cadence and I feel I understand the meaning better.

This is my letter to the world
   That never wrote to me, -
The simple news that Nature told,
   With tender majesty.

Her message is committed
   To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
   Judge tenderly of me!
This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me -
The simple News that Nature told -
With tender Majesty -

Her Message is Committed
To Hands I Cannot see -
For love of Her - Sweet - Countrymen -
Judge tenderly - of Me

Emily Dickinson Archives
Houghton Library, Harvard University

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