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Transcendental Legacy in Literature

Emily Dickinson

On Emily Dickinson and Transcendentalism

Emily Dickinson is one of the most widely read and well known American poets. While she doesn't exactly fall into the category of the Transcendentalists, she was well-regarded by Emerson and she read his work thoughtfully (Pearce 174). In 1850 her friend Benjamin Newton gave her Emerson's first collection of Poems to her delight, a volume including "The Sphinx," "The Problem," "Give All to Love," "Merlin I" and "Merlin II," and "The Humblebee," Web Site all poems whose style and subject seem to resonate in her poetry. Later she expressed admiration of the writing of Thoreau; she may have been referring to him in "'Twas fighting for his Life he was--," (Fr1230), according to her biographer Alfred Habegger (My Wars Are Laid Away in Books). Dickinson kept her writing, as well as her writerly intentions, as simple as possible. According to Roy Harvey Pearce, "she is simply and starkly concerned with being herself and accommodating her view of the world to that concern." (174) Ironically, for wishing only to be herself, Dickinson was following a transcendental ideal; she was being true to herself and being an individual at all costs, as opposed to conforming to a world of followers. Keeping Dickinson's famous reclusivity in mind, one could say that in her lifetime she was neither a leader nor a follower. Dickinson never tied herself to a specific school of thought or philosophy, she was simply herself. Perhaps that was transcendental.
Bryan Hileman, VCU

Some poems of Emily Dickinson seem to be transcendental, yet not quite. She appears to search for the universal truths and investigate the circumstances of the human condition: sense of life, immortality, God, faith, place of man in the universe. Emily Dickinson questions absolutes and her argumentation is multisided. The poetic technique that she uses involves making abstract concrete, which creates a striking imagery like that of a hand of the wind combing the Sky.

One could perceive Emerson's, i.e. transcendentalism's, influence in these poems but the profound difference here is that Emily Dickinson does not take a role of a prophet, redeemer and teacher of the (American) world. Instead, hers is the lonely search for the truth; she dismisses conventional faith ("Some keep the Sabbath going to Church--") as the easiest way toward salvation. Self-analysis, self-discipline, and self-critique are the tools of her search. Her extraordinary poetic imagination acts like enzymes in chemical reactions.
Krystyna Grocholski, VCU

Related Web Sites:

Selected Criticism on Dickinson and Transcendentalism

  • Web Site Emily Dickinson Bibliography.
  • Davidson, Frank. 'This Consciousness': Emerson and Dickinson. ESQ 44 (1966), pp. 2-7.
  • D'Avanzo, Mario L. "Emily Dickinson's and Emerson's 'Presentiment'." ESQ 58 (1970), pp. 157-59.
  • D'Avanzo, Mario L. "'Unto the White Creator': The Snow of Dickinson and Emerson." New England Quarterly 45 (1972), pp. 278-80. (
  • D'Avanzo, Mario L. "Dickinson's 'The Reticent Volcano' and Emerson." ATQ 14 (1972), pp. 11-13.
  • Richmond, Lee J. "Emersonian Echos in Dickinson's 'These are the signs'." ATQ 29 (1976), pp. 2-3
  • Watters, David H. "Emerson, Dickinson, and the Atomic Self." Dickinson Studies32 (1977), pp. 122-34.
  • Diehl, Joanne Feit. "Emerson, Dickinson, and the Abyss." ELH 44:4 (1977 Winter), pp. 683-700.
  • Mann, John S. "Emily Dickinson, Emerson, and the Poet as Namer." New England Quarterly 51 (1978), pp. 467-88
  • Hagenbuchle, Roland. "Sign and Process: The Concept of Language in Emerson and Dickinson." ESQ 25 (1979), pp. 137-55.
  • Attebery, Brian. "Dickinson, Emerson and the Abstract Concrete." Dickinson Studies 35 (1979), pp. 17-22.
  • Reiss, John. "Emily Dickinson's Self-Reliance," Dickinson Studies 38 (1980): 25-33.
  • Monteiro, George. "Dickinson's Select Society," Dickinson Studies 39 (June 1981): 41-43.
  • Thomas, Jeanette M. "Emerson's Influence on Two of ED's Poems." Dickinson Studies 41 (1981 Dec.), pp. 38-42.
  • Kasture, P. S. "Emerson's Influence on ED (With Reference to Themes and Techniques)." Dickinson Studies 47 (1983 Dec.), pp. 34-35.
  • St. Armand, Barton Levi. Emily Dickinson and Her Culture: The Soul's Society. New York: Cambridge UP, 1984.
  • Lusher, Robert M. "An Emersonian Context of Dickinson's 'The Soul selects her own Society,'" ESQ 30 (2 Quarter 1984): 111-116.
  • Dalke, Anne French. "Devil's Wine: A Re-examination of Emily Dickinson's #214," American Notes & Quaries 23 (Jan-Feb 1985): 78-80.
  • Morris, Timothy. "The Free-rhyming Poetry of Emerson and Dickinson," Essays in Literature 12 (Fall 1985): 225-240.
  • Salska, Agnieszka. Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson: Poetry of the Central Consciousness. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1985.
  • Bickman, Martin. American Romantic Psychology: Emerson, Poe, Whitman, Dickinson, Melville. Dallas: Spring, 1988.
  • Robinson, Douglas. "Two Dickinson Readings." Dickinson Studies 70 (1989), pp. 25-35.
  • Monteiro, George. "Dickinson's Presentiment." ANQ 4:1 (1991 Jan), pp. 17-19
  • Greenberg, Robert M. Splintered Worlds: Fragmentation and the Ideal of Diversity in the Work of Emerson, Melville, Whitman, and Dickinson. Boston: Northeastern UP, 1993.
  • Donnelly, Daria. "Emily Dickinson and the Romantic Comparative." Essays and Studies 51 (1998), pp. 116-39.
  • Wolosky, Shira. "Dickinson's Emerson: A Critique of American Identity." Emily Dickinson Journal 9:2 (2000), pp. 134-41.
  • Buell, Lawrence. "Emersonian Anti-Mentoring: From Thoreau to Dickinson and Beyond." Michigan Quarterly Review 41:3 (2002 Summer), pp. 347-60.
  • Tufariello, Catherine. "'The Remembering Wine': Emerson's Influence on Whitman and Dickinson," pp. 162-91. In The Cambridge Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson. 1999.

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