Born in 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts, Emily Dickinson was raised in a comfortable upper middle- class household. Her father was an ambitious lawyer, politician and civic leader. Little is known about her mother, other than that she was a good student and later a responsible, if somewhat passive wife and mother. Any ambitions she had about herself were forgotten as she fulfilled her role as the mother of a growing family. Emily would note the self sacrifices of her mother and this may have played into her decision not to marry--especially as her intellectual life and poetry became more important to her. She always yearned for close friendships however and this longing is reflected in her poetry. She was well educated for a woman of her time-especially in the sciences ( botany, for example). She loved her garden and plants and this fondness for the natural world is also evident in her poetry. In 1847, she began her final formal schooling at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. She stayed there for just one year, probably because her father- a domineering man-wanted her back home. However, it may also have been because she received a very good initial education at Amherst Academy and the Seminary could not offer her much more. It was at the Seminary where Dickinson's nonconformity with regard to the established brand of Christian faith first became evident. For the rest of her life, she would run counter to the prevailing religious beliefs of most New Englanders.
Upon her return home from the Seminary, Dickinson began the life of an unmarried young woman. She disliked domestic work, except for baking and tending the garden. She was close to her brother, Austin, and wrote many letters to him. The relationship changed when Austin married. She became very close to her brother's wife, but that relationship was a somewhat prickly one.
The 1850's were creative years for Dickinson. By 1856 she had written well over 1,000 poems and increasingly saw herself as a poet and writer. In 1862 she began a correspondence with Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a well known literary figure. He was not greatly impressed by the few poems he read. Dickinson was adverse to publishing any of her poetry in any case. She had collected and bound her poetry into little books called "fascicles." After she reached 30 years of age, she became more reclusive, seldom leaving the confines of her room and home. But while she restricted her movements, she began to widen her expression. She began to examine life itself, with all its joys and sorrows. Death also became a theme in her writing. Indeed one of her greatest poems is entitled " Because I Could Not Stop for Death." Her poetry was compressed and unconventional for the time. She experimented with rhythm and rhyme.
In 1886, Dickinson died at home of Bright's Disease. Why she chose to retreat from the outside world will always remain a mystery. Perhaps she did it to preserve her identity as a poet. Her many letters show that she enjoyed interactions with others. After her death, her relatives arranged to have her poetry published. Her letters were also published. Over the years many have come to appreciate Emily Dickinson's poetry and her approach to life.