Emily Dickinson’s most famous poems are insightful, lyrical, and often darkly humorous. And after 150 years they were written, they continue to resonate.
As a matter of fact, Dickinson’s poetry is still widely read, studied, reprinted, and translated into many languages. You can even see her influence in many contemporary poets.
Here are the greatest poems by Emily Dickinson.
Who Was Emily Dickinson?
Emily Dickson is considered one of the most important poets in American literature. She was born in 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts. Her father was a Congregationalist minister, and her mother died when she was just three years old.
Dickson began writing poetry at a young age but did not publish any of her work until she was in her early 40s. Her first published poem, “Success,” appeared in The Springfield Republican in 1845.
Five years later, she published her first collection of poems, titled Poems. This collection was well-received and solidified her reputation as a major poet.
Dickson’s poetry is characterized by its use of simple language and common themes. She often wrote about nature, death, and love. Her work was heavily influenced by the Romantic poets of England, including Shakespeare and the Transcendentalists of New England.
Dickson died on May 15, 1886, in Amherst. She is buried in West Cemetery alongside her family.
What Are the Best Emily Dickinson Poems?
Thanks to her tireless experimentation and willingness to break with convention, Emily Dickinson is one of the best female poets and one of the most important voices in American poetry.
Here are Emily Dickinson’s most famous poems:
I’m Nobody! Who Are You
Published in 1891, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” is one of Emily Dickinson’s most famous poems detailing our longingness for anonymity.
The speaker in the poem is tired of being known and recognized that he or she would much rather be a “nobody” to be free.
In the poem’s final line, the speaker asks whether he/she will live on after death or simply disappear. It’s a powerful question and one that still resonates with everybody today.
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!
Because I Could Not Stop for Death
Death is personified in the poem as a gentleman who picks up the speaker to take her/him on a carriage ride. As the speaker reflects on her life, she/he remembers all the things she/he missed out on because she/he was too busy working. Ultimately, she/he is happy to go with death.
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
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 –
I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain
The poem shows the speaker’s descent into madness and how she struggles to keep herself together. She also questions her faith and beliefs.
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 –
Wild Nights – Wild Nights!
This poem exemplifies everyone’s desire to be loved by someone with whom they can share the same experiences and create memories.
Wild nights – Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
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 –
Success Is Counted Sweetest
The poem is of Emily Dickinson’s best poems. It reiterates how success is sweetest when it is hard-earned, and not what is handed.
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!
I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed
“I taste a liquor never brewed” is another of Emily Dickinson’s most famous poems.
It speaks about one’s experience of tasting something new and wonderful. Dickinson compares it to drinking liquor that has never been brewed before. And, it’s so delicious that you can’t help yourself wanting for more.
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!
“Hope” is the thing with feathers
“Hope” is the thing with feathers is also one of Emily Dickinson’s most famous poems that reminds us of the beauty of hope. According to Dickinson’s poem, it is like a bird that always has feathers, even when everything else is stripped away.
“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.
To Fight Aloud Is Very Brave
The poem is about a person fighting for their life and how brave they are. It is also about how people fighting for their lives are often not heard, and their stories are often forgotten.
To fight aloud, is very brave –
But gallanter, I know
Who charge within the bosom
The Calvalry of Wo –
Who win, and nations do not see –
Who fall – and none observe –
Whose dying eyes, no Country
Regards with patriot love –
We trust, in plumed procession
For such, the Angels go –
Rank after Rank, with even feet –
And Uniforms of snow.
My Life Had Stood – A Loaded Gun
The poem is about feeling like you are always on the verge of something terrible and how it can take a toll on a person. It’s a very powerful poem that speaks to the human condition.
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 –
I Heard a Fly Buzz – When I Died
This poem is Dickinson’s take on what one might experience during death. It starts with the speaker telling that he/she heard a fly when she/he died. He/she then proceeds to describe the actual moments of death itself, which included the “stillness in the air.”
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 portion 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 –
A Bird, Came Down the Walk
In this poem, Dickinson uses metaphors and similes to create a vivid picture of the bird, so you can really feel the speaker’s appreciation for the creature. This beautiful poem celebrates nature and shows how talented the poet was at conveying her message through poetry.
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.
Tell All the Truth but Tell It Slant
Dickinson says that the truth can be difficult to tell, and sometimes it is better to tell it in a roundabout way. The speaker says that the truth can be like a “slant” of light, which can be hard to look at directly. But if you tell it indirectly, it can be easier to understand. In the end, the speaker says it is better to tell the truth even if it is not easy.
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 —
What’s Your Favorite Poem by Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson is known for her unconventional punctuation and capitalization, as well as the use of slant rhyme. And even after her passing on 15 May 1886, her poetry is one of the most celebrated in literature.