15 Best Emily Dickinson Poems

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Born in 1830, at a pivotal time in American literature, Emily Dickinson remains one of the most influential poets in history. She was a prolific writer, with a collection of almost 1800 poems before her death in 1886, but she received very little recognition for her talents while she was alive. Her poems were reserved mostly for the eyes of her friends, who she would write to regularly. 

It wasn’t until 1890, after her sister discovered forty handbound volumes stored away in her personal possessions, that her first works were published posthumously. Dickinson created these books with the utmost care, sewing together sheets of stationery paper and transcribing final, polished versions of her poems to preserve them. 

Emily Dickinson’s poetry was revolutionary for its time. Her work is seen as a great example of an early feminist voice in a society that was rooted firmly in the patriarchy. 

Despite her naturally reserved nature, her poetry regularly broke structural and grammatical rules. Her unique style set her apart as an unusually non-conformist female poet, a rarity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

Her work is often tinged with sadness; it touches on the pain and sorrow that life can bring, but it also celebrates the rich beauty of the natural world. 

Despite being born almost two centuries ago, Emily Dickson’s poetry is still as accessible today as when it was first written. 

The best way to explore Emily Dickinson’s work is to purchase an anthology of her most treasured poems, such as Emily Dickinson: The Complete Poems, The Essential Emily Dickinson, or Hope Is the Thing with Feathers. But before you commit, here are some of her best-loved works to get you started. 

Most Famous Poems by Emily Dickinson

15 Most Famous Poems by Emily Dickinson

1. Because I Could Not Stop for Death. First published posthumously in 1890

Because I could not stop for death –

He kindly stopped for me –

The Carriage held but just Ourselves –

And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste

And I had put away

My labor and my leisure too,

For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove

At Recess – in the Ring –

We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –

We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –

The Dews drew quivering and Chill –

For only Gossamer, my Gown –

My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed

A Swelling of the Ground –

The Roof was scarcely visible –

The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet

Feels shorter than the Day

I first surmised the Horses’ Heads

Were toward Eternity –

2. I’m Nobody! Who are You? First published posthumously in 1891

I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Are you—Nobody—Too?

Then there’s a pair of us!

Don’t tell! they’d advertise—you know!

How dreary—to be—Somebody!

How public—like a Frog—

To tell one’s name—the livelong June—

To an admiring Bog!

3. “Hope” is The Thing With Feathers. First published posthumously in 1891

 “Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.

4. Wild nights – Wild nights! First published posthumously in 1891

Wild nights – Wild nights!

Were I with thee

Wild nights should be

Our luxury!

Futile – the winds –

To a Heart in port –

Done with the Compass –

Done with the Chart!

Rowing in Eden –

Ah – the Sea!

Might I but moor – tonight –

In thee!

5. Success is Counted Sweetest. First published anonymously in 1864

Success is counted sweetest

By those who ne’er succeed.

To comprehend a nectar

Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host

Who took the Flag today

Can tell the definition

So clear of victory

As he defeated – dying –

On whose forbidden ear

The distant strains of triumph

Burst agonized and clear!

6. I Dwell in Possibility. First published posthumously in 1890

I dwell in Possibility –

A fairer House than Prose –

More numerous of Windows –

Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –

Impregnable of eye –

And for an everlasting Roof

The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –

For Occupation – This –

The spreading wide my narrow Hands

To gather Paradise –

7. I Felt a Funeral, in my Brain. First published posthumously in 1896

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,

And Mourners to and fro

Kept treading – treading – till it seemed

That Sense was breaking through –

And when they all were seated,

A Service, like a Drum –

Kept beating – beating – till I thought

My Mind was going numb –

And then I heard them lift a Box

And creak across my Soul

With those same Boots of Lead, again,

Then Space – began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,

And Being, but an Ear,

And I, and Silence, some strange Race

Wrecked, solitary, here –

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,

And I dropped down, and down –

And hit a World, at every plunge,

And Finished knowing – then –

8. A Bird, Came Down the Walk. First published posthumously in 1891

A Bird, came down the Walk – 

He did not know I saw –

He bit an Angle Worm in halves

And ate the fellow, raw, 

And then, he drank a Dew

From a convenient Grass –

And then hopped sidewise to the Wall

To let a Beetle pass –

He glanced with rapid eyes,

That hurried all abroad –

They looked like frightened Beads, I thought,

He stirred his Velvet Head. – 

Like one in danger, Cautious,

I offered him a Crumb,

And he unrolled his feathers, 

And rowed him softer Home –

Than Oars divide the Ocean,

Too silver for a seam,

Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon,

Leap, plashless as they swim.

9. Much Madness is Divinest Sense. First published posthumously in 1890

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 –

10. My Life had Stood, a Loaded Gun. First published posthumously in 1924

My life had stood – a Loaded Gun –

In Corners – till a Day

The Owner passed – identified –

And carried Me away –

And now We roam in Sovreign Woods –

And now We hunt the Doe –

And every time I speak for Him

The Mountains straight reply –

And do I smile, such cordial light

Opon the Valley glow –

It is as a Vesuvian face

Had let it’s pleasure through –

And when at Night – Our good Day done –

I guard My Master’s Head –

’Tis better than the Eider Duck’s

Deep Pillow – to have shared –

To foe of His – I’m deadly foe –

None stir the second time –

On whom I lay a Yellow Eye –

Or an emphatic Thumb –

Though I than He – may longer live

He longer must – than I –

For I have but the power to kill,

Without – the power to die –

11. Tell All the Truth but Tell it Slant. First published posthumously in 1890

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind —

12. I Heard a Fly Buzz. First published posthumously in 1896

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –

The Stillness in the Room

Was like the Stillness in the Air –

Between the Heaves of Storm –

The Eyes around – had wrung them dry –

And Breaths were gathering firm

For that last Onset – when the King

Be witnessed – in the Room –

I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away

What portions of me be

Assignable – and then it was

There interposed a Fly –

With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz –

Between the light – and me –

And then the Windows failed – and then

I could not see to see –

13. I Measure Every Grief I Meet. First published posthumously in 1896

I measure every Grief I meet

With narrow, probing, eyes –

I wonder if It weighs like Mine –

Or has an Easier size.

I wonder if They bore it long –

Or did it just begin –

I could not tell the Date of Mine –

It feels so old a pain –

I wonder if it hurts to live –

And if They have to try –

And whether – could They choose between –

It would not be – to die –

I note that Some – gone patient long –

At length, renew their smile –

An imitation of a Light

That has so little Oil –

I wonder if when Years have piled –

Some Thousands – on the Harm –

That hurt them early – such a lapse

Could give them any Balm –

Or would they go on aching still

Through Centuries of Nerve –

Enlightened to a larger Pain –

In Contrast with the Love –

The Grieved – are many – I am told –

There is the various Cause –

Death – is but one – and comes but once –

And only nails the eyes –

There’s Grief of Want – and grief of Cold –

A sort they call “Despair” –

There’s Banishment from native Eyes –

In sight of Native Air –

And though I may not guess the kind –

Correctly – yet to me

A piercing Comfort it affords

In passing Calvary –

To note the fashions – of the Cross –

And how they’re mostly worn –

Still fascinated to presume

That Some – are like my own –

14. I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed. First published in 1861

I taste a liquor never brewed – 

From Tankards scooped in Pearl – 

Not all the Frankfort Berries

Yield such an Alcohol!

Inebriate of air – am I – 

And Debauchee of Dew – 

Reeling – thro’ endless summer days – 

From inns of molten Blue – 

When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee

Out of the Foxglove’s door – 

When Butterflies – renounce their “drams” – 

I shall but drink the more!

Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats – 

And Saints – to windows run – 

To see the little Tippler

Leaning against the – Sun!

15. I Like to See It Lap the Miles. First published posthumously in 1891

I like to see it lap the Miles –

And lick the Valleys up – 

And stop to feed itself at Tanks – 

And then – prodigious step

Around a Pile of Mountains – 

And supercilious peer

In Shanties – by the sides of Roads – 

And then a Quarry pare

To fit its sides

And crawl between

Complaining all the while

In horrid – hooting stanza – 

Then chase itself down Hill – 

And neigh like Boanerges – 

Then – prompter than a Star

Stop – docile and omnipotent

At its own stable door –

Conclusion

Emily Dickinson’s poetry is as well loved today as it was over a century ago. She has countless works, and I highly recommend getting an anthology in order the explore them all. What are your favorite Emily Dickinson poems? Let me know in the comments below!

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