The collection of the papers of one of America's greatest poetesses--Emily Dickinson--has been opened to literary scholars by the University. They are currently housed at the Houghton Library. Coinciding with the opening of the collection, Thomas H. Johnson, head of the English department at the Lawrenceville School, has published a three-volume edition of her poems through The Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press.
Miss Dickinson, who spent most of her life secluded in her family home, has long presented a problem to literary scholars. There have always been differences of opinion among scholars as to the exact chronological order in which she wrote the poems, and the exact words an images which she herself intended to be final.
Order Difficult to Determine
In his book, Johnson has set out to build a basic framework of knowledge about the poems and the poet's development on which future scholars can depend. For every poem in his edition, Johnson has listed the principal text, the variants which Miss Dickinson is known to have written, and the changes introduced in the publication by different editors.
Since she lived apart from the world, and since she did not date her verses, the chronological order has been hard to determine exactly.
But Johnson said there are enough manuscripts of known date to furnish plentiful clues to the poet's handwriting, and an exhaustive handwriting analysis has been prepared by Theodora van Wagenen Ward which has dated a poem within a given year.
Because of the unusual qualities of her works--works known for their, startling imagery--and the fact that most of her poems were published posthumously, many later editors revised her stanzas, images, ad meter.
Besides drafts or holographs of Miss Dickinson's poems, the collection includes many letters by and to her, her books and possessions, and family papers, all kept intact in the family home at Amherst since her death in 1886. Material acquired earlier by the Houghton Library is also available.