just a case history

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (1830 – 1886) came from a well respected family from New England (USA). And her life is best described as going her own lonely way. The last photo, for instance, for which she has posed with certainty, portrays her close to her sixteenth birthday. About a year later she quitted school, and returned home for the remainder of her life.

At home she developed over the years a strong preference for white clothing, and an equally strong aversion for visitors. And for leaving her room. As a result she was in her hometown considered ‘eccentric’, to state it nicely. Friendships she maintained, but mainly by pen. In this isolation she found her strength as an artist. But it was also the reason why during her lifetime from her output of some 1,800 poems only a couple of dozens went to press. In majority even anonymous. While the few that made it to publication, compelled the editors to adaptations to the prevailing literary conventions. And even when it goes a little far to rewrite complete sections on rhyme, because that was the thing to do in nineteenth century poetry, her punctuation was corrected for the better.

The news of Emily Dickinson’s clumsiness with punctuation marks may come as a surprise. She is, after all, regarded as a gifted poetess. For that reason it might be a problem to support this proposition with evidence. Just our luck then, that there is no need to bother about such niceties : it is in editor circles common knowledge that the gift of poetry does not at all agree with a sense of punctuation. Reason why it is apparently impossible to adapt a Shakespeare sonnet, just to mention a name, to modern spelling, without putting in the process the right mark into the right place. And what authority has a recluse from Amherst on this subject in comparison with the Bard from Stratford ?

Published in the Republican (1866)                  Submitted text 

The Snake                                                           (untitled)

A narrow Fellow in the Grass                            A narrow Fellow in the Grass
Occasionally rides —                                           Occasionally rides —
You may have met Him — did you not,            You may have met Him — did you not
His notice sudden is.                                           His notice sudden is —



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