Dating and Selecting Poems

Alongside and in response to the historical, biographical and literary contexts, we have curated a cluster of poems for the week. Although dating of Dickinson’s writings has gotten more precise, we still cannot pinpoint the specific dates of her poetic compositions.

According to Thomas Johnson, editor of the first complete edition of Dickinson’s poems (1955), Dickinson wrote 364 poems­­ in 1862. The more recent Variorum edition (1998) by R. W. Franklin, which is the most accurate dating, lists 295 poems for 1862 and 358 for 1863. Cristanne Miller has just published a new edition, Emily Dickinson’s Poems As She Preserved Them (2016), which offers a revealing glimpse into how Dickinson herself viewed and organized the fruits of this immensely productive period.

Swinging Seal Engraved Emily

Not only did Dickinson NOT date her compositions or the fascicles she created, but she rewrote poems, so that we have several manuscript versions for one poem written up at different times. She also included poems in letters, but did not date the letters, although her correspondents often dated their responses, which offer some clues. Such inclusion only helps us to determine a general date by which a poem existed.

However, all this uncertainty frees us to embrace serendipity and we have done so with alacrity. We have chosen poems for specific weeks based on themes and relevance rather than whether the speculative dating places its composition near that week. We have curated clusters of poems dated by Ralph Franklin to the year 1862, but we have also taken the poetic license to include poems Johnson included in 1862 and those Franklin dates to late 1861 and early 1863.

We will also, on occasion, repeat poems, just as Dickinson did when creating her fascicles, to allow them to produce different meanings in relation to other poems and other contexts.

In all cases, we identify the poems by first lines and give the Franklin and Johnson numbers. But we privilege the manuscript that Dickinson wrote, when available, by including an image of it at the top, followed by a literal transcription, the link to the Emily Dickinson Archive page, and the poem’s publication history. When EDA shows  more than one manuscript version of the poem, we include the one dated to 1862.

Our goal is not exactitude but inspiration.

Nor is it interpretation of the poems, but increased enjoyment and appreciation. We seek to provide readers with information that will enrich and further engage their own readings of the poems.