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Dickinson, Emilylocked

(10 December 1830–15 May 1886)
  • Jane Donahue Eberwein

Extract

Dickinson, Emily (10 December 1830–15 May 1886), poet, was born Emily Elizabeth Dickinson in Amherst, Massachusetts, the daughter of Edward Dickinson, an attorney, and Emily Norcross. The notation “At Home” that summed up her occupation on the certificate recording her death in that same town belies the drama of her inner, creative life even as it accurately reflects a reclusive existence spent almost entirely in the Dickinson Homestead. That home, built by her grandfather Samuel Fowler Dickinson, represented her family’s ambition. Edward Dickinson’s young family shared the Homestead first with his parents and (after Samuel Fowler Dickinson’s financial collapse as a result of overextending his resources on behalf of Amherst College) with another family before moving in 1840 to the home on North Pleasant Street where Emily spent her adolescence and young womanhood. In 1855 Edward Dickinson celebrated the family’s renewed prosperity by repurchasing the Homestead, where Emily Dickinson remained until she died. Although her father and grandfather held prominent places in the town as lawyers and college officers, it is indicative of changing reputations that the Homestead is maintained today by Amherst College as a memorial to this woman, who has become an American legend for the poems she wrote in its kitchen pantry and in her second-story chamber. Like the “Circumference”-seeking songbird of one of her poems, Dickinson is now as much “At home—among the Billows—As / The Bough where she was born—” ( ...

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