Dickinson and Her Religion

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Dickinson and her Religion

Emily Dickinson was one of the greatest woman poets. She left us with numerous works that show us her secluded world. Like other major artists of nineteenth-century American introspection such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Melville, Dickinson makes poetic use of her vacillations between doubt and faith. The style of her first efforts was fairly conventional, but after years of practice she began to give room for experiments. Often written in the meter of hymns, her poems dealt not only with issues of death, faith and immortality, but with nature, domesticity, and the power and limits of language.

Dickinson's Christian education affected her profoundly, and her desire for a human intuitive faith motivates and enlivens her poetry. Yet what she has faith in tends to be left undefined because she assumes that it is unknowable. There are many unknown subjects in her poetry among them: Death and the afterlife, God, nature, artistic and poetic inspiration, one's own mind, and other human beings.

Dickinson was educated in a traditionally Protestant, provincial community and in a religious conservative schools and churches in Amherst and South Hadley. This affected Dickinson as a poet of religious concern, stimulating her to opposition as well as reverence. The Calvinist God she was taught to worship was an arbitrary God of absolute power. She struggles prodigiously in her writing against such an image of God, but also invokes it normally.

Emily Dickinson's imagination is dynamic partly because she thinks of her mental world as always in flux and prefers not to adhere for long to any preconceived religious of philosophical doctrine. At different times she advances opposed positions on such central questions as the goodness of God, the reality of heaven, or the presence of the divine in nature. As a child of her culture, the fixed positions of her local Calvinism are inscribed in her mind and heart, while at the same time she distrusts them...
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