Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson Screenshot3
Airdate March 24, 2016
Curriculum English
Social Studies

Emily Dickinson launched in BrainPOP English/Social Studies March 24, 2016.



Transcript and QuizEdit


Way Back When Edit


Today, Emily Dickinson is considered one of the greatest and most innovative American poets, but during her lifetime, she was completely unknown!

Dickinson was born to a prominent Massachusetts family—her father was a state congressman and her grandfather founded Amherst College. She was well educated for a woman of her time, attending high school and a year of college. But unlike most women of her social class, she didn't get married or have children.

In fact, as she got older, she rarely saw people. Dickinson had some friends, but communicated with them mostly through letters. Eventually she became a recluse, someone who tries to avoid other people as much as possible. She took to wearing all white clothing, and rarely left her bedroom. That's where she composed most of her poetry.

Dickinson began writing in her early 20s, but did not truly blossom as a poet until her 30s. In 1862 alone, she wrote 366 poems, approximately one per day. In contrast to her limited outer life, Dickinson's inner life was rich and full. Her poetry includes some of the English language's most vivid and sensitive descriptions of the human experience.

Dickinson's extreme privacy is one reason readers are still so intrigued by her. Some believe she was an anxious shut-in, and might even have suffered from the anxiety disorder agoraphobia, which is a fear of open spaces. Others think she was a liberated artist, a rebel who dared to do her own thing. Withdrawing from the world meant Dickinson had the freedom and space to write.

The first volume of Dickinson's poetry was published in 1890, to huge success. It went through 11 printings, and critics loved it. Since then, Emily Dickinson's fame has only grown, and she remains one of the most widely read poets in the English language.

Etc. Edit


Alliteration: The repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words. "Moby moved mountains of maroon marmots."

Assonance: The repetition of vowel sounds. "She leaves green tweezers on the street."

Ballad: A story told in verse, usually with a repeated refrain. Ballads are often about folk heroes, adventures, or historical events.

Blank verse: A form of poetry, often written in iambic pentameter, that does not rhyme. The most famous examples are Paradise Lost, by John Milton, and the plays of William Shakespeare.

Consonance: The repetition of consonant sounds in the beginning, middle or end of words, like "leaf" and "loaf," "blank" and "think," and "borrow" and "sparrow."

Couplet: A pair of lines that rhyme. "I think that I shall never see/A poem as lovely as a tree."

Elegy: A sad or thoughtful poem, often lamenting someone's death.

Hyperbole: A literary technique in which the writer makes her point through exaggeration. "I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!"

Internal rhyme: Rhyming words or phrases that occur within the same line or in the middles of two separate lines. "Rita wants to eat a pita."

Onomatopoeia (pronounced "ON-a-MOT-o-PEE-ya"): When a word is used to imitate a sound. Examples include "slam!" "buzz!" and "cock-a-doodle-doo!"

Sonnet: A poem that is 14 lines long and that utilizes one of two specific meters and rhyme schemes.

Quirky Stuff Edit


Flip through some of Emily Dickinson's poetry, and you'll probably notice that many of her poems don't follow the standard rules of punctuation and capitalization. She often used dashes where you'd expect periods or commas, and capitalized words in the middle of lines. These aren't errors! They're examples of poetic license, an intentional breaking of rules.

Critics still debate the motivation behind Dickinson’s eccentric style. Many say the dashes indicate where to pause when reading the poems. Others believe they're intended to add weight or emotion. Some insist the dashes allow one idea to flow into the next, signaling a kind of stream-of-consciousness. There's even speculation that the dashes were simply a personal quirk. After all, they appear in Dickinson's food recipes, too!

As for her unusual capitalization, Dickinson may have capitalized important words for emphasis, and to personify objects or feelings. Consider this poem:

By Chivalries as tiny,
A Blossom, or a Book,
The seeds of smiles are planted —
Which blossom in the dark.
The word "Chivalries," meaning "courteous gestures," is capitalized, indicating its importance. The chivalries themselves are capitalized, too: the "Blossom" and the "Book." That's ironic, since they're described as "tiny." Dickinson seems to be making the point that receiving even a small gift, like a flower or a book, can feel significant. These little offerings plant "seeds of smiles." Planted seeds imply future growth, and the dash at the end of line 3 heightens the sense drama and anticipation. What will become of the seeds? Line 4 satisfies our curiosity. The smiles "blossom," not right then and there but later "in the dark."

Early editors of Dickinson's poetry were dismissive of her unorthodox punctuation. The first edition of her work, published in 1890, included "corrected" versions of her poems. It wasn't until 1955 that editor Thomas H. Johnson restored the poems to their original versions in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.

Language Edit


Meter, from the Greek word for "measure," is the rhythmic structure of poetry. It follows a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables, which can be measured in feet. This method of classifying poetry dates back to Ancient Greek poets like Homer and Sappho.

One type of metrical foot is an iamb, which is an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Examples include: "collapse," "predict," and "I can't." Our heartbeat is an iambic rhythm, too: "da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM."

Another type of foot is a trochee, which is a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. Examples include, "Moby," "robot," and "thank you."

Emily Dickinson frequently used a type of meter called iambic trimeter. It strings together three iambs in one line: "The only news I know." To identify a line's meter, you can scan it by marking the stressed and unstressed syllables (as pictured).

Another common meter is iambic pentameter, a line with five iambs strung together. A popular poetic form called a sonnet has 14 lines written in rhymed iambic pentameter. William Shakespeare wrote parts of his plays in iambic pentameter. His noble characters, like kings and generals, speak in blank verse, which is unrhymed iambic pentameter. In contrast, his more lowly characters, like servants and peasants, often speak in regular language.

Shakespeare believed meter is a sign of high intelligence and is more pleasing to the ear. Many poets agree, although some find meter too restrictive. These poets prefer to write instead in free verse, which follows no specific rhythmic pattern.

In Depth Edit


Emily Dickinson spent a lot of her life hiding away from the world in her bedroom. But a part of her seems to have longed for recognition. She wrote to a prominent editor named Thomas Wentworth Higginson, looking for feedback on four poems. "Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?" she asked. Higginson responded with suggested edits, and a request for more of her work.

Over the course of their correspondence, Dickinson sent him more than 100 of her best poems. Higginson was encouraging, but he published only a few.

Was Dickinson frustrated by his unwillingness to publish more? It's impossible to say, but some of her poems do tackle the subject of fame. The speakers in these pieces have complex, even contradictory, views on success and recognition. Consider the following stanza:

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.
The lines reveal a yearning for achievement. But Dickinson seems to say that it is sweetest when you don't have it; just as nectar, a delicious drink, seems most appealing when you're thirsty.

We get another window into Dickinson's unease toward fame in this poem:

I'm Nobody, Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! They'd advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one's name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
The speaker calls herself "Nobody," as if it's her name. Being anonymous seems to be a big part of her identity. When she meets another Nobody, she appears to enjoy the company, but still prefers to stay undercover. She declares that being "Somebody" is "dreary." Like noisy frogs, they spend their lives announcing themselves. But their audience—the rest of society—is filled with other frogs; they're too busy croaking to listen.

On the surface, the poem seems to be a straightforward rejection of fame. But there's a bit of irony at play, a meaning opposite from what's on the surface. The speaker has spent the entire poem doing the exact thing she claims to despise: announcing herself to world! Dickinson seems to be poking fun at the speaker's point of view, even while a part of her agrees with it.

FYI ComicEdit


Primary SourceEdit

Emily Dickinson's "The grass so little has to do".

The Grass so little has
to do -
A Sphere of simple Green -
With only Butterflies to
And Bees to entertain -

And stir all day to
pretty Tunes
The Breezes fetch along -
And hold the Sunshine
in its lap
And bow to everything -

And thread the Dews, all
night, like Pearls -
And make itself so fine
A Duchess were too
For such a noticing -

And even when it dies -
to pass
In Odors so divine -
Like Lowly spices, lain
to sleep -
Or Spikenards, perishing - 

And then, in Sovreign
Barns to dwell -
And dream the Days away,

The Grass so little has
to do
I wish I were a
Hay -

Dickinson, Emily. "The grass so little has to do." 1830-1886. Library of Congress.


Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.