Music is a natural complement to the poetry of Emily Dickinson (1830-1886). Her lyrical voice is often cast in the singable meters of American hymnody: for example, just try singing this Dickinson text to the tune of “Amazing Grace:”
The Bee is not afraid of me.
I know the Butterfly.
The pretty people in the Woods
Receive me cordially —
The line between music and text can blur in Dickinson’s poetry. Not only does poetry sing for Emily Dickinson, but music talks as well:
I’ve heard an Organ talk, sometimes —
In a Cathedral Aisle,
And understood no word it said —
Yet held my breath, the while —
It’s no wonder that composers are often drawn to Emily Dickinson. In honor of National Poetry Month, here is a playlist featuring just a few of the pieces inspired by her work.
Dickinson’s idiosyncratic punctuation and syntax led to a variety of editorial changes in printed versions of her poems. The poems quoted in this article are mostly taken from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas H. Johnson. In some of these musical works, the text set to music differs slightly.