The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

The Complete Poems - Emily Dickinson, Thomas H. Johnson I once decided to read through this list of 100 Significant books--there were only 3 women on that list: Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Emily Dickinson. Many would name her as the greatest women poet, and there are few rivals for the title of best American poet. She's definitely a personal favorite of mine. I have more than one edition of Emily Dickinson's poetry: A collection of selected poetry in hardcover, much loved, and a recently acquired ebook of the complete poems. I do recommend this edition--but with a caution. This is perhaps not the first exposure you should have to Dickinson--or to poetry. I think poetry, like classical music, improves enormously upon repetition. I remember once not much liking classic music. But a music appreciation class was required to graduate from my college, so I took it. And you know, I found that say, Bach, was a composer I appreciated much more upon repetition. Dickinson, I found to my surprise in the complete edition, isn't as familiar as I thought. She's much, much more prolific than I thought. There are, 1,775 poems in this complete edition. That's right--over a thousand. Nor are all her poems as deeply steeped into the culture as say Keats--or even Frost. Dickinson was ahead of her time and her works only trickled down slowly. She published only a handful of poetry in her life time. A few years after her death in 1886 an edition of little more than a hundred of her poems was published--and heavily edited to suit the tastes of the time. There are poems here that weren't published until 1961! They're all short--often just a few lines, half a page--the longest isn't very long--just a few pages. This means this book will defeat you if you try to read it cover to cover. Mind you, I did fine doing that with Keats and Frost--but somehow I found Dickinson harder, more enigmatic than I expected. And since the poems are in chronological order... well, her earliest poem is, would you believe it? A not very good Valentine's poem. Not the best introduction to her. I'm still giving this book five stars--because what I loved, I loved. And I suspect what I didn't love, I may love yet. I really can't just pick out favorites here--the list would just go on and on. Although I have a soft spot for "Why Have They Shut Me Out of Heaven" since it was introduced to me at the Julliard recital of a young coworker--to Aaron Copland's setting. I do recommend you get his cycle of 12 Dickinson poems if you like classical music at all. There is a gorgeous recording with Leontyne Price of an orchestral rendition of 8 of them. And if you're not a big fan of poetry but want to get a taste of it, perhaps an edition of only selected poetry would be the best place to start. It's just I so quickly got glutted. There's so much here. Here's a short one I found striking I'm still mulling over: 177 Ah, Necromancy Sweet! Ah, Wizard erudite! Teach me the skill, That I instil the pain Surgeons assuage in vain, Nor Herb of all the plain Can Heal! (Published 1929) Uh... did Dickinson just wish she could practice black magic on an enemy? I didn't just read that, did I? I don't see any references to the history and politics of the day, and little that can be gleaned of her personal life. But there are riches here to be discovered no slim little volume can offer.