Emily Dickinson, who is now considered one of the most important American poets, died on May 15, 1886, in almost complete obscurity. She was 55 years old and had spent most of her life living in her family mansion in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Her neighbours considered her to be an eccentric recluse. In her later years she rarely left the family house and for long periods of time she rarely even left her bedroom. When she did have visitors she spoke to them only through a partially open door. She was, however, a prodigious letter-writer and kept up many friendships through the post. (I can’t help thinking that with email and Twitter today she would not be considered odd at all.)
Dickinson was also a prolific poet, although she published only a few poems during her lifetime. She did send her poems to the friends she corresponded with, and they were circulated among a group of admirers. She often thought of poems as letters, she said, pared down and stripped of conversational conventions.
She kept “fair copies” of her poems in 40 folders and bound volumes (called fasicles by scholars) grouped into themes and containing around 800 poems. After her death her sister Lavinia took control of the poems, more than 1,800 of them in all, and arranged for small a volume of selected poems to be published in 1890.
Dickinson was indifferent or hostile to most domestic work with the exceptions of baking bread and tending the garden. Her poems often have natural or floral references. She also had a morbid side and many of her poems deal with death and loss. The cause of her death was listed as Bright’s Disease, the contemporary diagnosis of a kidney disorder often accompanied by heart disease.