This essay explores my long relationship with Emily Dickinson—as student, scholar, and reader. Reading through her poems from the vantage point of my present life as retired Professor, I note two important aspects of this relationship: surprise and memory. Surprise, linked to the audacity of her language, is at the essence of a Dickinson poem. I identify four categories of surprise: short phrases that suddenly upset the reader's thought and reading; a sequence of words that one cannot really understand at all; "new poems: poems that one has never seen before or familiar poems suddenly understood in a new way; and "overlapping" poems in which more than one subject becomes possible to identify, so that the whole poem is a continual surprise. Some poems evoke a response other than surprise: memories that alter my sense of the poem itself, so that what I think of as "the poem" becomes an event composed of both the words and my experiences with them. In my discussion I concentrate on Dickinson as the poet-in-the-poem and on her language as the source and conduit of our continuing interaction.


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