(1830–1886). American poet. A shy recluse from Amherst, Massachusetts, Dickinson spent most of her life in her home and garden, yet the lines that she penned and stored there have made her one of America’s foremost poets. Dickinson published only seven poems during her lifetime, despite the fact that she carried on a twenty-two-year correspondence with Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a poetry critic and her acknowledged “preceptor.” Nevertheless, after her death, over 1,500 of her poems were found, and the true poetic genius of Emily Dickinson came to light. Her poetry is characterized by a remarkable economy of style, an intensified use of language, an absence of titles and an experimental use of punctuation. In terms of thematic material, her intense interest in death, immortality and nature led to a rather pronounced treatment of religious themes. For example, she often pictured death as a lover or friend in order to eliminate its horror.
Emily Dickinson’s interest in religion was magnified by her admiration of the Reverend Charles Wadsworth. Their relationship is obscured and uncertain, but she probably loved him and he was at least a spiritual example to her. Nevertheless, despite her connection to Wadsworth and her concentration on religious themes in her poetry, Emily Dickinson spurned traditional Calvinism and the institutional church, and she resisted pressure to join the church. She clearly sets forth her attitude toward organized religion in lines that exalt the experience of nature over church observance. Thus, the eccentric recluse from Amherst, with her cryptic, lyrical lines, has become one of America’s most famous poets—one who wrote about religious matters yet rejected traditional religious institutions.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. DAB III; T. Johnson, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (1960, 1976); J. Leyda, The Years and Hours of Emily Dickinson, 2 vols. (1960); NAW 1; J. Pickard, Emily Dickinson, An Introduction and Interpretation (1967).
C. E. Ostwalt
Daniel G. Reid, Robert Dean Linder, et al., Dictionary of Christianity in America (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990).
After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright
And I came out where the old road shone white,
I walked the ways, and heard what all men said…
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live
Chronos: our wristwatch and alarm-clock time. Kairos: God’s time, real time. Jesus took John and James and Peter up the mountain in ordinary, daily chronos; during the glory of the Transfiguration they were dwelling in kairos.
For the most part, I minded not how the hours went. The day advanced as if to light some work of mine; it was morning, and lo, now it is evening, and nothing memorable is accomplished. Instead of singing like the birds, I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune. As the sparrow had its trill, sitting on the hickory before my door, so had I my chuckle or suppressed warble which he might hear out of my nest. My days were not days of the week, bearing the stamp of any heathen deity, nor were they minced into hours and fretted by the ticking of a clock; for I lived like the Puri Indians, of whom it is said that for yesterday, today, and tomorrow they have only one word, and they express the variety of meaning by pointing backward for yesterday forward for tomorrow, and overhead for the passing day.
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.
It’s only hard to imagine eternal life if you are enslaved by your calendar. There are actually only two times – then and now, and then is just an illusion. All of the past you carry like chains has come and gone and tomorrow, as they say, never comes. Thoreau urged us to simplify and Emily Dickinson said it best with “Forever is composed of nows.” The distance between now and then belongs to you and is entirely your accountability. If now is squandered it is forever wasted and becomes regret with which another now is wasted.
In his book City of God St. Augustine wrote “There can be no doubt that the world was not created in time but with time” because “God, in whose eternity there is no change at all, is the creator and director of time.” Your now was the gift you received when God woke you this morning, and not everyone received it. When scripture speaks of “redeeming the time” it simply means you have a choice. Your life will be filled with joy if you invest your now in that which is eternal because joy is greater than happiness. Happiness comes and goes because it is dependent on happenings, and let’s face it – bad things happen. Here’s your power in Christ – you are more than your circumstances.