Emily Dickinson spent the majority of her life hidden away in her home writing poetry. Some speculate she had agoraphobia or a related anxiety disorder which accounts for this behavior. However, these facts remain hidden in the archives as Emily Dickinson’s legacy lies in her gorgeous verse and incandescent metaphors. Despite spending minimal time out in the world, her poems contain glorious imagery, messages and other incredibly crafted lyrics that inspire uplifting attitudes and interpretations for audiences. Despite exploring death in a variety of her poetry, Emily Dickinson focuses notably on the light. Although there are so many poems to enjoy, here are ten quotes interweaved throughout her poetry and letter correspondences that can uplift your spirits and refresh your mindset when life starts to feel bleak.
- “That it will never come again is what makes life sweet”
This quote reminds me of the alleged Dr. Seuss quote, “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Despite life being jam-packed with fear, anxiety and grief, sometimes we’re confronted with something miraculous. When said experience dissolves into the past, it can be so tempting to lean into the sadness that accompanies longing. But the smart Emily Dickinson emphasizes that these sweet moments wouldn’t be as wonderful if they always repeated themselves. Although mourning should be validated, a new, exciting experience waits just around the corner.
- “Forever is composed of nows”
Words like “future,” “forever” and even “tomorrow” feel daunting. Society expects us to have everything planned out, so the transition from day to day is implausibly smooth. Unfortunately, despite the opinion of some lifestyle blogs, life is messier than that. Instead, focus on the now, as Dickinson says, since the present is what builds our future.
- “The brain is wider than the sky”
I’ve never liked the phrase “the sky’s the limit.” I know it’s supposed to be uplifting, but the word limit inherently exposes the restrictive nature of the saying. Yes, the sky is endless from our human perspective, but I like when motivational quotes convince us there are no limits. Hence – “the brain is wider than the sky.” We can expand and explore across so many disciplines without restriction if we believe we can. What’s restricting us is frequently our own belief in our abilities. Take Dickinson’s advice and take a chance – your brain is very capable!
- “Truth is so rare, it is delightful to tell it”
The world likes to lie, bluff and equivocate – and a whole bunch of other synonyms that evade the truth. However, truth offers authenticity and a vulnerability to be real. Although scary, when expressing the truth, there’s no mask, no character tainting your words. You don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not. And like Dickinson says, how delightful that is.
- “Behavior is what a man does, not what he thinks, feels or believes”
This quote can be taken in a variety of different directions – but the most uplifting angle from my perspective is that your actions don’t define you. Although what we do can say a lot about us, we don’t always have control over what we can and can’t do thanks to the social structures that dictate society. We have so much to offer, explore and express. Don’t let one mistake define you.
- “Unable are the loved to die, for love is immortality”
Like so many romantics, Dickinson emphasizes the incredible importance and power love has over our motivations and self-esteem. Although this quote speaks to love’s existence once someone passes, the scale of this comparison shows how strong love is across all mediums and how its existence can be uplifting and healing.
- “Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door”
As per usual, Dickinson is the master metaphor maker. In painting this image of opening doors to new possibilities, she shows how trying new experiences and risking the possibility of a dead-end can be scary, but without the risk, you will never reach your goals. Eventually, the dawn will come, and it’ll be so delectably orange, you won’t know what to do!
- “But a Book is only the Heart’s Portrait – every Page a Pulse”
I may be slightly biased in how gorgeous I think this line is simply because I am a sucker for crisp metaphors. But that’s really what this quote is about! The power of words, books, literature or even just language brings so much warmth and meaning to our lives. Without the pulse of each page, life’s emotions and experiences don’t have a place to thrive.
- “It might be lonelier without the loneliness”
Loneliness is truly one of the most uncomfortable feelings and acknowledging its existence may not be constructive for everyone. However, sometimes validating the sad days makes the happy days that much brighter. If every day was so full and amazing, you wouldn’t classify it as that because it would just be your normal day. Dickinson shows that with high highs come low lows. Although maybe not the most uplifting quote on this list, it shows the possibility of joy in someone’s future whenever a bleak moment convinces us there is only darkness ahead.
- “If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain”
At first glance, this quote appears to be speaking about when someone’s relationship is broken, but it plays out on a healthier, more constructive path. This interpretation promotes kindness as even when a relationship is deteriorating, reducing harm instills space to move on in a healthy way. However, this quote could also suggest the heart you’re preventing from breaking is your own. You have control over what happens to your heart, and in taking care of yourself, you will not “live in vain.”
You don’t have to be a lover of poetry to see the influence of a poet’s writing. As a poet in the romanticism era, Emily Dickinson’s project frequently returns to the positive in life, using mellifluous language to convince you to see the same light she recognizes. If any of these quotes resonate with you, I recommend reading more Dickinson! And if you want a little something else … Apple TV+ has a comedic rendition of Emily’s poetry through a modern lens. Now go forth and “dwell in possibility!”