Why was Emily Dickinson so adamant about keeping her work unpublished?
Emily Dickinson is what you would consider today as an American Classic Poet. She only allowed her work to circulate between close friends and family. She shared majority of her work with her sister in law Susan Dickinson, Thomas Higginson (a publisher and dear friend), and her cousins Frances and Louisa Norcross. Dickinson was often criticized because she did not want her works published. Instead, Dickinson preferred to privately share her works. In many cases she sent the same work to several different individuals. February of 1850 Dickinson was unknowingly forced into the public eye through a valentine letter she had written. The letter, “Magnum bonum, harem scarum”, was published in the Amherst College Indicator under an anonymous writer. Throughout her life ten of Dickinson’s poems were published in various books, newspapers, and magazines.
Above is a photo of Dickinson’s poem “Flowers” that had been published in the Drum Beat newspaper on March 12, 1864.
Later on in life Dickinson was again confronted with the idea of publishing a collection of her works, but instead of providing an answer Dickinson never returned with a response. In 1880 Dickinson was offered the chance to assist needy children by an Amherst charity through her poetry. Dickinson did not say no to the opportunity and chose many poems she had written to aid the charity.
In her thirties Dickinson willingly sent her poems to her dear friend and a publisher, Thomas Higginson, who published several works. Though Dickinson got an amazing response to her poems she still highly disliked the idea of having her works readily available to the public.
It was not until Dickinson’s death that the bulk of her poems and letters were discovered. Scholar R. W. Franklin discovered “fifteen unbound gatherings of poems” and that she had kept even more of her works hidden from the entire world. Amongst Dickinson’s belongings “forty handmade booklets” were found that withheld more than 800 unread poems. These booklets, now known as “fascicles” have become famous as they are viewed as Dickinson’s books of poetry.
Above is a page from one of Dickinson’s booklets or “fascicles” featuring “I heard a Fly buzz when I died”.
Personally, I believe Dickinson did not want to publish her poems because she was a private person and wrote to express her feelings and emotions. Publishing, for Dickinson, was similar to sharing her private feelings with the entire community. I feel as if writing poetry for Dickinson is comparable to a thirteen year old girl’s journal: private and only to be shared with her closest peers. Her poems were a representation of her feelings and I believe that is the reason Dickinson chose to avoid publication.