Emily Dickinson wrote close to 1800 poems in her lifetime. Her poems are often extremely short, waste no words, and subvert the traditional forms of the day. She is also fond of the dash as a tool to signify a pause or provide emphasis. Her poems, though short, are usually complex in theme, form, and execution, and are often impossible to paraphrase. She deals with themes of death, faith, nature, love, as well as the difficulty of finding truth, fame, and grief, throughout this massive collection.
Dickinson published only seven poems in her lifetime, and these were all done anonymously, and often were heavily edited. When it became clear she would not ever be published widely, she bound her poems into her own collections. These her sister Lavinia found upon her death, and, recognizing their brilliance, she turned to her brother Austin’s mistress, Mabel Loomis Todd, who was well-connected, for help publishing them.
Although they faced rejection at first, a first volume of Dickinson’s poems was published in 1890, and although some critics responded unfavorably to her subversion of the period’s strict conventions of rhyme and meter, the collection proved quite successful and created a great stir, leading to a second volume being published the next year, her letters in 1894, and a third volume of poetry in 1896. Since then, Dickinson has earned a permanent place as a great American poet, whose poetry seemed to foretell the modernism that wouldn’t arrive for over one hundred years.