The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

by Emily Dickinson

Other authorsThomas H. Johnson (Editor)
Hardcover, 1960





Boston: Little, Brown and Co., [1960]. First Edition


The only edition currently available that contains all of Dickinson's poems. The works were originally gathered by editor Johnson and published in a three-volume set in 1955.

Media reviews

It is a monument in American literature.

User reviews

LibraryThing member BrisMegsie
There's an Emily Dickinson poem for every kind of day, and every life event.
LibraryThing member IronMike
If I were shipwrecked on a desert island, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson is definitely one of the books I would swim back to the scuttled ship to bring back with me to the shore. I would look for the Complete Works of Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson's poems, and of course, a book on how to
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survive on a desert island.
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LibraryThing member jburlinson
Please do not mistake my relatively low rating (3.5 stars) as a judgment on Dickinson's achievements. My rating is soley based on the edition on my bookshelf, edited by Thomas Johnson way back in 1960. I'll quote Chrisopher Benfey in the New York Review of Books: "There were problems with the
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Johnson edition, and they increased over time. Forced to work from photostats of many of the poems, Johnson made errors of transcription. Manuscripts unknown to him, generally variants of already familiar poems, continued to surface. And scholarly debates about the dating and the arrangement of poems on the page proliferated. For some time it has been evident that a new edition of Dickinson's poems was needed." And a new edition has appeared -- 10 years ago! I need to get off my duff and go out and do the right thing, "because I could not shop for death."
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LibraryThing member thenightbookmobile
I read this via Dailylit, which is a good site for reading those classics you've been meaning to pick up, but haven't been able to sit down with. It's hard to rate poetry - so I won't try. I didn't connect with very many poems in this collection, mostly because Emily was so influenced by her
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religious upbringing, and I'm agnostic, but that doesn't mean Emily wasn't great at what she did or a wonderful poet of her time.
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LibraryThing member xinyi
My divine emily dickinson who deems more understanding even today!
LibraryThing member mgreenla
It was wasted on me in High School... Now I would willingly sit down and read a few poems. The poems of Emily Dickinson, not much else needs to be said.
LibraryThing member SimoneSimone
The Soul...softer than snow, faster than light.
LibraryThing member StellaAura
How does one review Emily? One of a kind.
LibraryThing member Tapdance
A wonderful revelation: This is NOT the Emily Dickinson that you remember from your tenth-grade English class. Be prepared to pay attention . . .
LibraryThing member Wanderlust_Lost
My grandfather gave me this book for my birthday or Christmas or something when I was about 10 or 11.

It's brilliant. I used to read one poem every night before going to bed.
LibraryThing member kedicat
I enjoy the simplicity of her words with the complexity of her structure and meaning.
LibraryThing member MonicaMusik
My life closed twice before its close;
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me,
So huge, so hopeless to conceive,
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.

I've never before read a work by an author that so completely encapsulated
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everything that I was feeling and wanted to say but didn't have the poetic verve to express. Emily Dickinson's words are like lyrics in a song. Instantly expressive and vibrant they are cloaked with hidden meaning comprehensible only by those who understand the subject upon which she is writing. There is virtually no human experience that escapes the reach of her pen.You either love her poems or hate them but I fail to believe there is a middle ground.
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LibraryThing member onlyhope1912
This book contains the best of Emily Dickenson. It is one of my favorites; because I love her simple and solitary poems.
LibraryThing member AlanWPowers
Dickinson is arguably the greatest poet in the history of the language; her 1776 poems, give or take a few, are so concentrated they require the same time commitment for reading as, say, Shakespeare's collected plays. She made out of the humble ballad form (or hymnody's "common measure") an
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entirely new vehicle, so that it is hard to write ballad form uninfluenced by Dickinson, just as it is nigh impossible to write iambic pentameter uninfluenced by Shakespeare. Like Jane Austen in size--and in both writing at tiny desks, for tiny women--she like Austen revolutionized her chosen literary form.
I read her, three or four poems a day, for a year. A very fine teacher of mine (a well-known critic and reviewer) read all her poems in a couple months--and all her critics. He was not as impressed as I was, I think because he did not commit the necessary time--and ear.
Her poems on specific natural phenomena--natural creatures, the weather, the dawn--are unsurpassed. One of her greatest poem evokes the Blue Jay, a mean bird: "No Brigadier throughout the Year / So civic as the Jay..." After describing him as a good neighbor, buddy of snow and winter's severity, Dickinson spells out her theological position, why she never attended the Congregational Church her brother Austin built diagonally across the street. For the Jay: "His character--a Tonic--/ His future, a Dispute--/Unfair an Immortality / That leaves this Neighbor out." Talk about universalism. ED includes even the unkindly, but neighborly Jay among the Saved.
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LibraryThing member jarvenpa
My own copy of this is the original hardcover brought out by Little Brown in the early 1970's. The Thomas Johnson edition is the only one to have; others, earlier, tidied up the remarkable poems of this writer. This edition contains them all, from the sweet nature poems that made me hate her when I
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was 11 and memorizing poetry, to the unflinching and often erotic poetry that came in such a rush in the 1860's to her pen. (and were then written and faircopied and tucked away in little booklets). Her work is a jolt to the heart at its best. (and at its worst, trivial and coy. But, my god, nearly 2000 poems?).
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
I once decided to read through this list of 100 Significant books--there were only 3 women on that list: Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Emily Dickinson. Many would name her as the greatest women poet, and there are few rivals for the title of best American poet. She's definitely a personal favorite
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of mine. I have more than one edition of Emily Dickinson's poetry: A collection of selected poetry in hardcover, much loved, and a recently acquired ebook of the complete poems.

I do recommend this edition--but with a caution. This is perhaps not the first exposure you should have to Dickinson--or to poetry. I think poetry, like classical music, improves enormously upon repetition. I remember once not much liking classic music. But a music appreciation class was required to graduate from my college, so I took it. And you know, I found that say, Bach, was a composer I appreciated much more upon repetition. Dickinson, I found to my surprise in the complete edition, isn't as familiar as I thought. She's much, much more prolific than I thought. There are, 1,775 poems in this complete edition. That's right--over a thousand. Nor are all her poems as deeply steeped into the culture as say Keats--or even Frost. Dickinson was ahead of her time and her works only trickled down slowly. She published only a handful of poetry in her life time. A few years after her death in 1886 an edition of little more than a hundred of her poems was published--and heavily edited to suit the tastes of the time. There are poems here that weren't published until 1961!

They're all short--often just a few lines, half a page--the longest isn't very long--just a few pages. This means this book will defeat you if you try to read it cover to cover. Mind you, I did fine doing that with Keats and Frost--but somehow I found Dickinson harder, more enigmatic than I expected. And since the poems are in chronological order... well, her earliest poem is, would you believe it? A not very good Valentine's poem. Not the best introduction to her. I'm still giving this book five stars--because what I loved, I loved. And I suspect what I didn't love, I may love yet. I really can't just pick out favorites here--the list would just go on and on. Although I have a soft spot for "Why Have They Shut Me Out of Heaven" since it was introduced to me at the Julliard recital of a young coworker--to Aaron Copland's setting. I do recommend you get his cycle of 12 Dickinson poems if you like classical music at all. There is a gorgeous recording with Leontyne Price of an orchestral rendition of 8 of them. And if you're not a big fan of poetry but want to get a taste of it, perhaps an edition of only selected poetry would be the best place to start. It's just I so quickly got glutted. There's so much here. Here's a short one I found striking I'm still mulling over:


Ah, Necromancy Sweet!
Ah, Wizard erudite!
Teach me the skill,

That I instil the pain
Surgeons assuage in vain,
Nor Herb of all the plain
Can Heal!

(Published 1929)

Uh... did Dickinson just wish she could practice black magic on an enemy? I didn't just read that, did I? I don't see any references to the history and politics of the day, and little that can be gleaned of her personal life. But there are riches here to be discovered no slim little volume can offer.
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LibraryThing member benuathanasia
Gorgeous and melancholy. Some pieces were of course more beautiful than others, but I cannot fathom anyone not loving at least ONE of her poems.
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
An essential work of American literature, this is the collection of some of my favorite poetry. I would recommend this to all who love poetry at its best.
LibraryThing member Luli81
“I taste a liquor never brewed” by Emily Dickinson
I taste a liquor never brewed –
From Tankards scooped in Pearl –
Not all the Vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an Alcohol!

Inebriate of air – am I –
And Debauchee of Dew –
Reeling – thro' endless summer days –
From inns of molten Blue
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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!

Inebriated by poetry
"I taste a liquor never brewed" a poem by E. Dickinson

For me, this is an hymn to poetry and what is sacred about the act of writing. I read line after line as an invocation to beauty in all its natural forms until I got drunk with it, until I, the reader, was able to reach the heavens and join its inhabitants, Seraphs and Saints, along with Emily, who is writing from there.
In this sense, I guess that we, the readers who are able to share beauty through words, are rewarded with the admittance in Dickinson's house of possibility and poetry.
The poem read also as an hymn for me because of its musicality and rhyme which I became aware of when I first read the poem out loud. The way the words sang by themselves came as a surprise, and the lack of punctuation, only the dashes and the capital letters to emphasise some words, made the poem more open and infinite.
Analysing stanza by stanza, the poem starts with a reference to a certain liquor, which is a strange one, because it was never brewed and because its vastness wouldn't fit into such a huge river as the Rhine. There's also the reference to the ancient age of this liquor, because the Rhine, along with the Danube, appeared as important rivers in historical texts during the Roman Empire.
So, going forward, this strange alcohol, makes the " I " in this poem inebriated. I understand this " I " as the writer, in this case, Emily. She speaks of herself being drunk with this strange liquor, a liquor which comes from dew, air and summer days melted in endless blue skies. As I see it, in this second stanza, Emily is describing the beauty of the natural world as overwhelming, she is dizzy, intoxicated with it, and she drinks it in the inns of Nature.
And in the third stanza she stresses out this last idea even more, because the more the inhabitants of this natural world, the bee, the foxglove, the butterfly, are denied by foreign "Landlords", emphasised by quotation marks, the more she drinks of this natural liquor, the more inebriated she becomes.
As for the interpretation of these Landlords, I take it as if they were the real world, the rationality, Emily's house of prose. The ones who call the imagination back to earth and out of this world of poetry and possibility.

The last stanza is for me, the most difficult to analyse.
Emily is intoxicated by the beauty of nature and ultimately, of poetry, but she keeps drinking and drinking in it, until the whole act of writing becomes sacred. I understand that she reaches heaven in the Biblical sense, and salvation if I dare say. I'll risk it by saying that this "Tippler" might be Jesus, leaning against this sun, this shinning light, waiting for her to reach out for her destiny, her fate, her mission in life, which is to write, to become a poet.

And just another conclusion after rereading the whole thing again.
I also think, that the metaphor of liquor and inebriation is not a casual one.
If you think of men drinking in inns and socialising in the XIXth century, you might wonder how a reclusive person as Emily might view this kind of activity. Surely she might have disapproved of someone getting drunk, and this poem might also be a criticism to such behaviour and at the same time, she elevates something she finds ugly or negative to an utterly magnificent and celestial act, the act of writing, proving its capacity to transform the dull world of reality into a beautiful fan of possibilities.
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LibraryThing member deliriumslibrarian
One of the great works of modern editorship, an Emily Dickinson who can breathe, pause, look, dance, commune. Read with Susan Howe's My Emily Dickinson, it's like plunging into blue morning.
LibraryThing member GRLopez
Only read 20 of Dickinson's poems. They are very short, and mainly about death. My favorites were A Word is Dead, Hope is the Thing with Feathers, I'm Nobody? Who are You? and There is No Frigate like a Book. I read these for the WEM poetry challenge.


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