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Fun, Cool, Awesome Essay

9008 words - 37 pages

Brooke Reitenbach & Kilee Showers
Mr. Michaels Pd. C

Commentary
A poet who took definition as her province, Emily Dickinson challenged the existing definitions of poetry and the poet’s work. Like writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman, she experimented with expression in order to free it from conventional restraints. Like writers such as Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, she crafted a new type of persona for the first person. The speakers in Dickinson’s poetry, like those in Brontë’s and Browning’s works, are sharp-sighted observers who see the inescapable limitations of their societies as well as their imagined and imaginable ...view middle of the document...

Active in the Whig Party, Edward Dickinson was elected to the Massachusetts State Legislature (1837-1839) and the Massachusetts State Senate (1842-1843). Between 1852 and 1855 he served a single term as a representative from Massachusetts to the U.S. Congress. In Amherst he presented himself as a model citizen and prided himself on his civic work—treasurer of Amherst College, supporter of Amherst Academy, secretary to the Fire Society, and chairman of the annual Cattle Show. Comparatively little is known of Emily’s mother, who is often represented as the passive wife of a domineering husband. Her few surviving letters suggest a different picture, as does the scant information about her early education at Monson Academy. Academy papers and records discovered by Martha Ackmann reveal a young woman dedicated to her studies, particularly in the sciences.
By the time of Emily’s early childhood, there were three children in the household. Her brother, William Austin Dickinson, had preceded her by a year and a half. Her sister, Lavinia Norcross Dickinson, was born in 1833. All three children attended the one-room primary school in Amherst and then moved on to Amherst Academy, the school out of which Amherst College had grown. The brother and sisters’ education was soon divided. Austin was sent to Williston Seminary in 1842; Emily and Vinnie continued at Amherst Academy. By Emily Dickinson’s account, she delighted in all aspects of the school—the curriculum, the teachers, the students. The school prided itself on its connection with Amherst College, offering students regular attendance at college lectures in all the principal subjects— astronomy, botany, chemistry, geology, mathematics, natural history, natural philosophy, and zoology. As this list suggests, the curriculum reflected the nineteenth-century emphasis on science. That emphasis reappeared in Dickinson’s poems and letters through her fascination with naming, her skilled observation and cultivation of flowers, her carefully wrought descriptions of plants, and her interest in “chemic force.” Those interests, however, rarely celebrated science in the same spirit as the teachers advocated. In an early poem, she chastised science for its prying interests. Its system interfered with the observer’s preferences; its study took the life out of living things. In “‘Arcturus’ is his other name” she writes, “I pull a flower from the woods - / A monster with a glass / Computes the stamens in a breath - / And has her in a ‘class!’“ At the same time, Dickinson’s study of botany was clearly a source of delight. She encouraged her friend Abiah Root to join her in a school assignment: “Have you made an herbarium yet? I hope you will, if you have not, it would be such a treasure to you.” She herself took that assignment seriously, keeping the herbarium generated by her botany textbook for the rest of her life. Behind her school botanical studies lay a popular text in common use at female seminaries. Written by...

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