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Emily Dickinson's Poetry - Its Characteristics

Written by: Characteristics of Dickinson's Poetry

Emily Dickinson's sister, Lavinia, gathered Emily's poems and published them in 1890. Editors changed some of her words, punctuations, and capitalizations to make them conform to a certain standard. Later editions restored Dickinson's unique style and organized them in a roughly chronological order.

Emily Dickinson's poems have many identifiable features. Her poems have been memorized, enjoyed, and discussed since their first publication. Many critics consider her to have been extraordinarily gifted in her abilities to create concise, meaningful, and memorable poems.
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The major themes in her poetry include Friends, Nature, Love, and Death. Not surprisingly, she also refers to flowers often in her poems. Many of her poems' allusions come from her education in the Bible, classical mythology, and Shakespeare.

Dickinson did not give titles to her poems, an unusual feature. Others have given titles to some of her poems, and often the first line of the poem is used as a title.

She wrote short lines, preferring to be concise in her images and references. A study of her letters to friends and mentors shows that her prose style was composed of short iambic phrases, making her prose very similar to her poetry.

Dickinson's poems are generally short in length, rarely consisting of more than six stanzas, as in "Because I Could Not Stop for Death." Many of her poems are only one or two stanzas in length. The stanzas are quatrains of four lines. Some poems have stanzas of three or two lines.

The rhythm in many of her poems is called common meter or ballad meter. Both types of meter consist of a quatrain with the first and third lines having four iambic feet and the second and fourth lines having three iambic feet. The iambic foot is a unit of two syllables with the first syllable unstressed and the second syllable stressed.

In her quatrains the rhyme scheme is most often abcb, where only the second and fourth lines rhyme. Such a rhyme scheme is typical of a ballad meter.

Many other poems are written in a meter that is typical of English hymns. This rhythm pattern is characterized by quatrains where lines one, two, and four are written in iambic trimeter and the third line is written in iambic tetrameter.

Often her rhymes are near rhymes or slant rhymes. A near rhyme means that the two rhyming words do not rhyme exactly. They only make a near match.

In Dickinson's poems, capitalizations and punctuations are unorthodox. She regularly capitalized the nouns but sometimes she was inconsistent and a few nouns were not capitalized. For punctuation, she frequently used a dash instead of a comma or a period, and sometimes she used a dash to separate phrases within a line. Some editions of her poems have attempted to correct the punctuation of her poems.

A dozen or more composers have set Dickinson's poems to music, including Aaron Copland who produced "Twelve Songs on Poems of Emily Dickinson" in 1951. 0ne of the interesting ways to treat some of Dickinson's most famous poems, often learned in school, is to sing them to the tune of "Amazing Grace," or "The Yellow Rose of Texas, or most humorously, the theme to "Gilligan's Island."

Garry Gamber is a public school teacher and entrepreneur. He writes articles about politics, real estate, home businesses, poetry, and books. He is the National Dir


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