Her Letters to the World

Emily Dickinson, one of America’s great nineteenth-century poets, was a prolific letter writer. Although her physical contact with the world was limited by caring for her invalid mother and by her own poor health, whose (61)correspondence was extensive: over (62)one thousand letters to upwards of one hundred correspondents. These letters provide insight into her daily life and her poetry. Dickinson’s lifetime of letters range from playful to serious. As a young woman she wrote, (63)of pining for a valentine and of visiting (64)the Chinese Museum in Boston.

letters in later years reveal that she missed friends and encouraged them to visit. Dickinson stayed in contact with correspondents for many years.(65) In a teasing letter to her brother, she bemoaned the fact that a big barn fire couldn’t have waited until he returned to see it, since he “enjoyed such things so much.” Other letters are solemn; speaking (66)of relatives and friends whom (67)had died. Perhaps the correspondent who came to know Dickinson best through their thirty-six-year exchange of letters was Emily’s friend, sister-in-law, and neighbor, Susan Gilbert Dickinson. Susan was a spiritual, social, and intellectual companion for Emily.

In fact, in one letter, Emily stated that Shakespeare was the only person who had taught her more than Susan had. One significant aspect of this relationship was: that Susan (68)was perhaps the only reader of Emily’s poems-in-progress. Letters between the two suggest that Susan might frequently have given feedback on her (69)work, including some of her most famous poems, composed at her home in Amherst, Massachusetts. (70)At one point, Emily sent a draft of her poem “Safe in Their Alabaster Chambers” to Susan, who read the poem.(71) As a result, Emily wrote two other (72)versions of the second stanza. Dickinson’s last twenty years of letters—many over 1,500 words in length—reveals (73)the breadth and depth of one’s (74)connection to the world through a wide circle of correspondents. Perhaps, this legacy of letters, (75)explains what she meant when she said that her friends were her “estate.”


  • G. rewrote two other alternate

  • H. rewrote two additional alternate

  • J. wrote two alternate revised