Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was the middle child of a prominent lawyer and one-term United States congressional representative, Edward Dickinson, and his wife, Emily Norcross Dickinson. From 1840 to 1847 she attended the Amherst Academy, and from 1847 to 1848 she studied at the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College) in South Hadley, a few miles from Amherst. With the exception of a trip to Washington, D.C., in the late 1850s and a few trips to Boston for eye treatments in the early 1860s, Dickinson remained in Amherst, living in the same house on Main Street from 1855 until her death. During her lifetime, she published only about 10 of her nearly 2,000 poems, in newspapers, Civil War journals, and a poetry anthology. The first volume of Poems of Emily Dickinson was published in 1890, after Dickinson’s death.
Critic Allen Tate discusses Dickinson’s disdain for the puritan world, stating that instead of portraying a “tragedy of spirit,” her poetry is a “commentary” of life (27). Tate continues:
Her poetry is magnificent personal confession, blasphemous, and in its self-revelation, its honesty, almost obscene. It comes out of an intellectual life toward which it feels no moral responsibility. Cotton Mather would have burnt her for a witch. (27)
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