Emily Dickinson as a Second Language

Demystifying the Poetry


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About the Book

Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) wrote in 19th century American English and referenced long-vanished cultural contexts. A “private poet,” she created her own vocabulary, and many of her poems have quite specific local and personal connections. Twenty-first century readers may find her poetry elusive and challenging.
Promoting a richer appreciation of Dickinson’s work for a modern audience, this book explores unfamiliar aspects of her language and her world.

Instructors considering this book for use in a course may request an examination copy here.

About the Author(s)

The late Greg Mattingly was a retired corporate education and training professional who was a guide with the Emily Dickinson Museum, in Amherst, Massachusetts, and was a contributing member of the Emily Dickinson International Society. He lived in Orange, Massachusetts.

Bibliographic Details

Greg Mattingly
Foreword by Cindy Dickinson
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 258
Bibliographic Info: 16 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, indexes
Copyright Date: 2018
pISBN: 978-1-4766-6655-6
eISBN: 978-1-4766-3195-0
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi
Foreword by Cindy Dickinson 1
Preface 3
Introduction 9
One. Words to Lift Your Hat To 13
Forgotten Words and Meanings from 19th-Century America 14
The Language of Home 18
Victorian Flower Language 27
Coining Her Own Words 30
Two. New England 38
Pictures of an Agricultural Community 38
Feeling the Cycles of the Seasons 41
The Railroad Comes to Town 55
Three. The Private Poet 58
Circumference 58
North, South, East and West 60
Latitude, Degree, Meridian 68
Film 75
Physiognomy 76
Dickinson’s Italic 79
Four. The Second Great Awakening 82
Emily Dickinson’s Religious Heritage 82
Early Struggles 84
The Language of the Church 86
Signs and Emblems 90
Argument from Design 98
Five. The King James Version 102
Biblical Allusion, Christian Typology and a Pagan Goddess 102
The Vail 108
The Book of Revelation 110
Some Very Different Crowns 114
The Symbolic White 116
Intimate with the Gospels 120
Six. The Poem in Context 125
“My Friends are my Estate” 125
Life in Amherst 130
The Great White Plague 132
The American Civil War 134
The Trove, the Herbarium and the Vault 138
Seven. Secrets of the Temple: Specialized Vocabularies 145
The Law, Commerce and Politics 145
The Language of Science 154
Eight. The Language of Intimacy 165
It’s Like She’s Talking Directly to Me! 166
Conversational Style 173
The Omitted Center 178
Words Beyond Words 190
Nine. The Poet’s Toolbox 199
“If no mistake you have made, losing you are” 199
Double Duty Words 203
A Poet’s License 207
Sweet Torment and Sumptuous Despair 210
A Turn at the End 211
Afterword 218
Appendix A 221
Appendix B 226
Chapter Notes 231
Bibliography 239
Index of First Lines 243
General Index 247