Emily Dickinson

(1830-1886)

 

"I dwell in Possibility -

A fairer House than Prose - "

 

Born in Amherst, MA, Emily Dickinson spent all of her days in the area. The latter portion of her life is characterized by a high degree of privacy and seclusion. She lived in her parents' home, and she rarely, if ever, left the house or accepted visitors.

An enigma even during her lifetime, her poetry spans themes of science and religion, nature and time, and intimate human relations.

She died of a kidney disorder at age 56, leaving behind an incredible poetic legacy.

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Welcome to Unediting Emily Dickinson - a working anthology of her poems as they were meant to be read.

A Note from the Uneditor:

For over a century, editors have poured over Emily Dickinson's handwritten manuscripts trying to decipher her writing and vision for her poetry. They have always selected one of the possible words in the lines of her poems, excluding the alternative words or phrases she left on the page.

The editor of the Norton Anthology of American Literature explains thatEmily DIckinson herself was "unwilling to submit to the touching-up operations editors performed on her poems." Her poems were not crafted in the way we conceive of poetry. Just because they are unconventional, however, does not mean that they should be mangled and forced to fit into our narrow conception of what constitutes "legitimate" poetry.

In an attempt to respect her vision and written voice, I have unedited many of her poems using her manuscripts to reproduce the options and choice she wanted embedded in her poetry, which allows a multiplicity of truths and meanings to emerge.

Although Emily Dickinson was limited to pen and paper when writing her poems, I believe that an interactive website offers us a modern-day medium for preserving the fluidity of her poems with their multiple (and often polar opposite) meanings. By inserting drop-down menus with her various word or phrase options into the lines of poetry, it allows readers to fully experience the multiple dimensions of her poems. The words can change and the sense of the poem adapts on the page with just the click of the mouse.

Take, for example, a sample of two lines from one of her poems as they appear in The Norton Anthology of American Literature:

"For I have but the power to kill,

Without - the power to die - "

In the handwritten manuscript, however, Dickinsin also offers "art" as an equally legitimate word to use instead of "power" in the first line. These words hold very different connotations and affect the way that I at least read the poem. The "art" to kill suggests that it is a talent or something masterful, which is in stark contrast to merely lacking the "power" to die. The use of art and then power emphasizes a skill in homicide and a powerlessness in suicide. Using "power" in both lines, however, creates a different effect: it establishes a clearer parallel between the lines and it equalizes the sense of killing another and dying oneself.

Rather than picking one over the other (as the Norton Anthology does), or putting them both in the same line ("For I have but the power/art to kill"), I suggest an interactive reading that allows both words to exist at different times, without weighting or favoring one of the options:

"For I have but the to kill,

Without - the power to die - "

 

I hope that you find this site both useful and enjoyable.

- Chelsea Bakalar, Uneditor