Emily Dickinson: Her Thought

Emily Dickinson was a true genius with her poetic form, but she was also far ahead of her time in philosophical thought.  So far ahead that the one man to whom she introduced her poetry—Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a renowned literary figure of the day—did not really “get” her.  He knew there was something there, but couldn’t quite grasp it.

At the time Emily Dickinson wrote her poems, people believed in the goodness and perfect ability of man; that through education and reason man could solve all of the problems that he faced.  In the church this philosophy revealed itself in a Christ who died to set a good example for man, rather than to redeem man. 
While influenced by the world, Miss Dickinson understood human nature, and had seen enough pain and suffering that she could never totally accept the philosophy that educated culture espoused.  Her thought resembles modernism more than it does romanticism. In this she was far ahead of her times.  One example:
I Measure Every Grief I Meet

I measure every grief I meet
With analytic eyes;
I wonder if it weighs like mine,
Or has an easier size.

I wonder if they bore it long,
Or did it just begin?
I could not tell the date of mine,
It feels so old a pain.

I wonder if it hurts to live,
And if they have to try,
And whether, could they choose between,
They would not rather die.

I wonder if when years have piled–
Some thousands–on the cause
Of early hurt, if such a lapse
Could give them any pause;

Or would they go on aching still
Through centuries above,
Enlightened to a larger pain
By contrast with the love.

Emily Dickinson saw clearly the shortcomings of a world in which grief, pain, and suffering continued to hold sway, no matter how educated and advanced mankind was.  The 20 century with its wars and man-made famines, and millions killed by violence has proved her correct.  She reads contemporary 130 years after her death because she was so complexly simple in her form, and modern in her grasp of pain, suffering, and evil.

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