Grace in the Arts: Jesus And Emily: The Biblical Roots of Emily Dickinson’s Poetry -- By: Arthur L. Farstad

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 04:2 (Autumn 1991)
Article: Grace in the Arts: Jesus And Emily: The Biblical Roots of Emily Dickinson’s Poetry
Author: Arthur L. Farstad


Grace in the Arts:
Jesus And Emily:
The Biblical Roots of Emily Dickinson’s Poetry

Arthur L. Farstad

Editor
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Dallas, Texas

I never saw a Moor—
I never saw the Sea—
Yet know I how the Heather looks
And what a Wave must be.1

I never spoke with God
Nor visited in Heaven—
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the Chart2 were given—

I. Introduction

The above poem, #1052, from the 1,775 poems in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson,3 is typical of this writer. It is short, it is clever, it capitalizes nouns as if the language were German rather than English, and, like many (but definitely not most) of the author’s poems, it has a religious touch (God and Heaven).

This article proposes to show that yet another great writer owes at least part of her genius with words and serious thinking about life and death to her conservative Protestant heritage with its deep biblical roots.

II. The Career of Emily Dickinson

Outwardly, Dickinson’s life seems most uneventful. Born in Amherst,

Massachussetts in 1830, she lived her life in her father’s house in Amherst and died unmarried in Amherst in 1886. Inwardly, there was, as expressed in her extremely original poetry, a whole universe of observation, speculation, and expression of nature (a specialty), humanity, religion, and death (her frequent obsession).

Her “public” career, highly restricted though it was, began on April 15, 1862, when Emily was 31 years old. On that day a former “free church” pastor,4 Thomas Wentworth Higginson, opened one of several letters in response to his article in the Atlantic Monthly and to “his ‘Letter to a Young Contributor,’ practical advice for those wishing to break into print.”5 He was open-minded, interested in women’s issues, and women writers especially.

All of the four poems she enclosed showed that she was far more than a mere novice at writing poetry. One of the four was the now popular #318 (Emily used no titles; the numbers are editorial and for convenience):

I’ll tell you how the Sun rose—
A Ribbon at a time—
The Steeples swam in Amethyst—
The news, like Squirrels, ran—
The Hills u...

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