10 College Essay Topics on Poems by Emily Dickinson

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Posted on August 3, 2016

Emily Dickinson’s literary work is considered to be a piece of timeless art and there is a universal consensus that she is one of the most prolific American poets of all times. Dickinson has written around 1800 poems, which is an achievement on its own. However, a fairly limited amount of her work was published during her life.

If you are looking to write a college essay on the poems of Emily Dickinson, this is the guide you need to bank on. Here are 10 interesting facts about her poems that will assist you in writing a detailed and informative essay for your college curriculum:

  1. At the age of 18, Emily Dickinson and her family became friends with a young attorney, Benjamin Franklin Newton. Many historians have refuted the idea that Dickinson and Newton did not share a romantic relationship, though what they did share was a deep personal understanding. Newton was considered by Dickinson as her tutor and preceptor. He was the one who introduced her to the work of William Wordsworth and gifted her Ralph Waldo Emerson’s book of poems, which according to her own admission, heavily influenced her work. Although Newton died of tuberculosis, he was one of the very first to predict her greatness as he wrote this in his last letters to Emily, stating that he had wished to live long enough to watch her reach greatness.
  2. Emily Dickinson was not only a keen reader of the bible, but also showed great interest in the contemporary literature at the time. Her work was also influenced by Lydia Maria Child’s Letters from New York, which was yet again a gift from Newton. Dickinson’s brother brought a copy of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Kavanagh for her, despite her father’s disapproval. Similarly, a friend gave her a copy of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre in 1849. Although it is uncertain how much of her work was influenced by Jane Eyre, Emily did name her new found dog Carlo, which was also the name of St. John Rivers’ dog, a character in one of Eyre’s works
  3. Emily Dickinson became more and more secluded and withdrawn over the years, but this was also the peak of her career. She would start working in the summer of 1858 which would become her legacy. She started reviewing her work and put together clean copies of her previously written work. Around the same time she put her manuscripts together. Between 1858 and 1865, she wrote the Forty Fascicles which amounted to 800 poems. It was only after her death that this work was discovered.
  4. She became friends with editor-in-chief of Springfield Republican, as well as the owner, Samuel Bowles and his wife Mary, in the late 1850s. The two visited the Dickinson family on a regular basis. Emily sent them dozens of letters and a little over 50 poems. It is debated among scholars that their friendship influenced Emily to write some of the most intense pieces. That was one of the reasons why Bowles published her poems in his journal.
  5. Between 1858 and 1861, Emily Dickinson wrote some mysterious letters that have caused a lot of debate in the literary community. She wrote a trio of letters titled “The Master Letters”, which were drafted to a man whose identity has still not been discovered. In the letters, she referred to this unknown man simply as “Master”.
  6. The work she did before 1861 was considered very conventional and extremely sentimental in nature. The publisher of “The Poems of Emily Dickinson”, Thomas H. Johnson, was only able to track 5 poems written before 1858. Two out of five of these poems are a mockery of love written in a humorous style, while the other two are simple lyrics; one of these two lyrical poems is about Emily missing her brother, Austin. She wrote the last one to portray her fear of losing friends and sent it to one of her closest friends, Sue Gilbert.
  7. The period between 1861 and 1865 was the one where Emily Dickinson was the most active. This is when Emily went through a lot of seclusion and personal loss, which also reflected in her work. All the poems written between this period were very strong and highly emotional. According to the author, Johnson, she wrote around 86 poems in the year 1861, 366 in the year 1862, 141 in the year 1863 and roughly 174 in the year 1864. After 1866 however, her work simmered down as she had written more than two-thirds of her poetry before this year.
  8. Emily Dickinson’s poems had a morbid touch to them. Her poems portray her fascination with disease, the process of dying and death itself. She showed a vigorous obsession with death through her poems, as they refer to death through drowning, crucifixion, suffocation, freezing, shooting, premature burial and death by guillotine. The most insightful poems about death by Dickinson are “Funeral in The Brain” and “Death Blow Aimed by God”. Other poems showed her curiousness about starvation and thirst.
  9. According to Suzanne Juhasz, Emily Dickinson believed that her mind and spirit were places she could not only visit, but live in. Dickinson considered this place private and called it the “Undiscovered Continent” or the “Landscape of the Spirit”. The poem called “Me From Myself — to Banish”, is a clear example of this.
  10. Dickinson was fascinated with the flowers and this was one of her main poetic themes. Her references to gardens in her poems supposedly depict a fictional realm where flowers represent actions and emotions. She used flowers such as anemones and gentians to represent humility and youth. Her poem “My Nosegays Are for Captives” is an example of this theme.

These facts will most certainly help you kickstart research on your college essay. You’ll now be able to focus on a single topic but if you need additional tips, head on over to our 20 topics on poems by Emily Dickinson for a college essay as well, which also contains a sample essay at the end and also our complete writing guide.

Dickinson, E., & Franklin, R. W. (1999). The poems of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.
Bloom, H. (1999). Emily Dickinson. Broommall, PA: Chelsea House.
Buckingham, W. J. (1989). Emily Dickinson’s reception in the 1890s: A documentary history. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.
McNeil, H. (1986). Emily Dickinson. New York: Pantheon Books.
Farr, J., & Carter, L. (2004). The gardens of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Crumbley, P. (1997). Inflections of the pen: Dash and voice in Emily Dickinson. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.
Habegger, A. (2001). My wars are laid away in books: The life of Emily Dickinson. New York: Random House.

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