The Music of Emily Dickinson’s Poems and Letters

A Study of Imagery and Form


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About the Book

Music is a vital element in the poems and prose of Emily Dickinson but, despite its importance, the function of music as a literary technique in her work has not yet been fully explored; what information exists is scarce and scattered.
The significance of the musical terminology and imagery in Dickinson’s poetry and prose are thoroughly explored in this book. It considers the music of Dickinson’s life and times and how it influenced her writing, how she combined music and poetry to create her own style, several important nineteenth century reviews for what they reveal about the musical quality of her work, and her use of Protestant hymns as a model for her poetry. It also provides insights into musical interpretations of her poetry as related to the author by some fifty modern-day composers and arrangers, and discusses musical reflections of her poems and letters.

About the Author(s)

Carolyn Lindley Cooley has taught literature at the middle school, high school, and university levels, and is currently lecturing on Emily Dickinson’s poetry to civic, social, and academic audiences. She lives in Tampa, Florida.

Bibliographic Details

Carolyn Lindley Cooley
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 200
Bibliographic Info: photos, notes, bibliography, indexes
Copyright Date: 2003
pISBN: 978-0-7864-1491-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     vii
Preface      1

1. Musical Background of Dickinson’s Life and Times     7
2. Musical Imagery in Dickinson’s Poems and Letters     25
3. Musical Qualities of Dickinson’s Poetry: Nineteenth-Century Views     59
4. Musical Form of Dickinson’s Poetry: Contemporary Perspectives     70
5. Musical Meters in Dickinson’s “Hymns”     80
6. Musical Settings of Dickinson’s Poetry     120
7. Musical Re.ections on Dickinson’s Poems and Letters     158

Notes     163
Bibliography     171
Index of Poems Cited     175
Index of Letters Cited     178
Index of Hymns Cited     181
General Index     183

Book Reviews & Awards

“in this first extended study of music as a shaping force in Emily Dickinson’s literary art, [the author] considers how melodic sounds inspired the poet and how her poems have, in turn, inspired musical composition…an important contribution…Cooley wisely reminds us in this appreciative and lucidly written book not to neglect the poet’s ears—to heed, as best we can, the music she heard, the melodies she devised, and the strangely beautiful resonances of her musical gifts”—The Emily Dickinson Journal; “something there is in Emily Dickinson that draws musicians moth-like to her flame. One of the most interesting and useful chapters here explores musical settings of the poems. At every turn, readers will find fascinating insights into what happens when composers collaborate with Dickinson…well organized…recommend[ed]”—Bulletin of the International Dickinson Society; “addresses multiple intersections between music and Dickinson’s work”—American Literature; “persuasively and eloquently demonstrates the art with which the poet has stunned generations of readers with her bolts of melody and musicality…skillful orchestration…Cooley writes in an engaging, lucid style that makes her book accessible”—The Tampa Tribune.