I saw A Quiet Passion last night, which in turn led to checking out Emily Dickinson’s biography at Wikipedia. The piece there is well done:


Most of the poet’s work was not published until after her death in 1886. Here’s one critic’s response from across the pond:

It is plain that Miss Dickinson possessed an extremely unconventional and grotesque fancy. The incoherence and formlessness of her versicles are fatal. An eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse in an out-of-the-way New England village (or anywhere else) cannot with impunity set at defiance the laws of gravitation and grammar. ~ Thomas Aldrich

Snobbery lives.

Passages like these remind me of reaction to Vincent van Gogh, a painter I like. He sold almost no paintings during his lifetime. General response to his work was mystification: why would anyone regard these canvases as any good? If you ask that question, you won’t find an answer. Similarly with Dickinson. If you wonder why people might like her poems, she’s merely an eccentric recluse in Amherst, who sends poems along with flowers to her friends.

Every artist or writer who meets with minimal recognition has to take the long view, and not worry about recognition. Someone once said of Melville, he just kept plugging away. Writing was what he did. Meg Cabot affirmed this view: “This is how many people become artists, musicians, writers, computer programmers, record-holding athletes, scientists… by spending time alone practicing what they love.” That’s correct. That’s what Emily Dickinson did.