She is considered one of America’s greatest poets.
Emily Dickinson, unknown to the public during her life, wrote nearly 1,800 poems and 1,100 letters. She was raised by a religious family and would rarely leave her bedroom. Her poetry, however, revealed a person whose thoughts traveled in infinite directions, and well outside the rigid confines of dogmatic faith. Not unlike many of the world’s most renowned poets, Emily developed and displayed pantheistic leanings. Even at the age of fifteen she declared that she could “care less” for religion, prayer, and heaven:
“The world allured me & in an unguarded moment I listened to her siren voice. From that moment I seemed to lose interest in heavenly things.”
She grew to lightheartedly call herself “bad” and “wicked” in letters, acknowledging in her poetry that while she thought herself sane, those around her viewed her as mad:
Much Madness is divinest Sense
To a discerning Eye
Much Sense the starkest Madness
Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail
Assent and you are sane
Demur you’re straightway dangerous
And handled with a Chain
She was frustrated by the people in her surroundings:
“How do people live without any thoughts? How do they get the strength to put on their clothes in the morning?”
In regards to people of faith, she was often biting,
“Faith” is a fine invention, when gentlemen can see
But microscopes are prudent, in an emergency.
Emily Dickinson humored those around her with religious inclinations, but treated the personal God of Christianity with sarcasm and irony.
Heavenly Father take to thee
The supreme iniquity
Fashioned by thy candid Hand
In a moment contraband–
Though to trust us seem to us
More respectful We are Dust–
We apologize to thee for thine own Duplicity.
And she found Jesus difficult to find (which was deeply alarming to her family):
At least to pray is left is left
Oh Jesus in the Air I know not which thy chamber is–
I’m knocking everywhere.
Instead of the personal God, she suggested a God that is all of thinking, an idea that we now think of as panpsychism:
The Brain is just the weight of God
For heft them Pound for Pound–
And they will differ if they do–
As Syllable from Sound.
Like many pantheists, Emily Dickinson’s God is the totality of the natural laws of the universe,
God made no act without a cause,
Nor heart without an aim,
Our inference is premature,
Our premises to blame.
She declares, “I dwell in possibility…” and finds herself not certain of anything in particular, a trait shared by most pantheists,
Sweet Skepticism of the Heart
That knows and does not know
And tosses like a Fleet of Balm
Affronted by the snow.
She equates life with omnipotence, suggesting no need for a distinct omnipotent deity in this life:
To be alive is Power–
Existence in itself
Without a further function–
A recurring theme in Dickinson’s poetry is her love for nature:
If we love Flowers,
are we not ‘born again’ every day?
And yet her idea of nature is much more than flowers and trees, which may explain why she was content being a homebody. She discloses her direct view of humanity as a part of divine nature in a letter to a friend written at the age of 35:
“Travel why to Nature, when she dwells with us? Those who lift their hats shall see her as devout do God.”
A few years earlier, she wrote this remarkable one sentence line and couplet to another friend:
I was thinking, today – as I noticed, that the
“Supernatural,” was only the Natural, disclosed –
Not “Revelation” – ‘tis – that waits,
But our unfurnished eyes –
Her open eyes saw the divine beauty of the natural world with a wish to express that beauty, like other great artists and poets. She once declared,
“Beauty is not caused. It is.”
In love with life and concerned with this world rather than imagined worlds, she says:
“To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.”
The “anything else” in her life included the ‘god fearing’ ideas of her family. But Dickinson was more interested in the subjects of death and infinity:
“Life is a spell so exquisite that everything conspires to break it.”
“That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.”
“Forever is composed of nows.”
Today, Emily Dickinson’s pantheistic passions for life live on, perhaps forever, capturing hearts and minds that travel well beyond the walls of a quiet bedroom.