Lesson 1: In Emily Dickinson's Own Words: Letters and Poems

Dickinson’s letters expose a poet fully engaged in the process of crafting a persona. In a note to Higginson in the first year of their correspondence, Dickinson wrote, “When I state myself, as the representative of the verse, it does not mean me, but a supposed person.” For students of writing and literature, who often struggle to develop a distinctive voice and then to modify that voice for different audiences, Dickinson’s dialogues offer an instructive model. Ultimately, reading Emily Dickinson’s letters alongside her poems helps students to better appreciate a remarkable voice in American literature, grasp how Dickinson perceived herself and her poetry, and—perhaps most relevant to their own endeavors—consider the ways in which a writer constructs a “supposed person.”

For a complete introduction to the three lessons in this curriculum unit, Letters from Emily Dickinson: “Will you be my preceptor?” review the curriculum unit overview.

Guiding Questions

How does Emily Dickinson perceive herself as a poet, especially as reflected in her correspondences with Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson?

In what ways does this perception manifest itself in her poetry?

Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson, students will be able to: Recognize Emily Dickinson's poetic style

Articulate Dickinson’s artistic development as reflected in her poetry and correspondence

Discuss Thomas Wentworth Higginson’s editorial relationship with Emily Dickinson

Examine the tensions in the poem “I dwell in Possibility”

Reflect upon the concept of artistic persona