The Poetry of Emily Dickinson

Contributor: Melissa Kowalski. Lesson ID: 11466

Living next to a graveyard as a child may seem creepy, but it contributed to Emily Dickinson's morbid subject matter. She was reclusive yet prolific and influential. Read (and edit!) some of her work!


Literary Studies

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


If you were a poet, where would you want to live?
Do you think you would spend most of your time indoors or outdoors?
Do you think one setting would be more inspiring than the other?

  • What were your answers to the questions in the opening section?

Discuss your responses with your parent or teacher.

Emily Dickinson

Image, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1924.

For the poet Emily Dickinson, the answer was her family's home in Amherst, Massachusetts. Dickinson spent nearly her entire life in the small town of Amherst. In the last decade of her life, she rarely left the grounds of her parent's home. Despite this relatively confined existence, Dickinson wrote over 1,000 poems, most of which she wrote in her late twenties and early thirties.

Dickinson died at age 55, having only published a handful of her poems. It was only after her death in 1886 that her friends and family discovered and published the manuscripts she left behind, which led to the posthumous (or after-death) title of "The Bard of Amherst" being bestowed upon Dickinson.

To learn more about Dickinson's unusual life, watch The Life and Death of Emily, by AZ Starwatcher (below), and read Emily Dickinson's Biography, from the Emily Dickinson Museum. At the bottom of the webpage, be sure to click on the following four links to explore Dickinson's biography in more depth:

  1. A Timeline of Emily Dickinson's Life
  2. Emily Dickinson: Her Childhood and Youth (1830-1855)
  3. Emily Dickinson: The Writing Years (1855-1865)
  4. Emily Dickinson: The Later Years (1865-1886)

As you learn about Dickinson, write the answers to the following questions on a separate sheet of paper:

  1. Which family members influenced Dickinson's childhood?
  2. What type of education did Dickinson receive?
  3. How would you characterize Dickinson's personality as a young woman?
  4. How did Dickinson feel about religion?
  5. Other than writing poetry, what hobby was Dickinson's passion?
  6. Why were Dickinson's writing years so productive?
  7. What did Dickinson do with most of her poetry?
  8. What themes did Dickinson incorporate into her poems?
  9. What difficulties did Dickinson experience in her later years?
  10. Why did Dickinson become more reclusive in her later years?


After you've answered the questions, discuss your answers with your parent or teacher.

  • Do you think you would have been content to live like Dickinson did?

Now that you've learned about Dickinson's life, watch Before I Got My Eye Put Out - The Poetry of Emily Dickinson: Crash Course English Lit #8 (below), by CrashCourse, and read Writing Techniques of Emily Dickinson, by Sara Sills, for the University of Houston-Clear Lake.

As you watch the video and read the article, take notes on the different literary techniques and themes that Dickinson used in her poetry. You will use these notes in the Got It? section. Choose one literary technique employed by Dickinson and discuss it with your parent or teacher.


When you've finished your discussion, move on to the Got It? section to practice your knowledge of Dickinson's themes and techniques while reading several of her poems.

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