The Emily Dickinson Lexicon Website
Cynthia L. Hallen
Thank you to:
• Utah Humanities Council and the Albert J. Colton
Fellowship for Projects of National or International Scope
• Harold B. Lee Library and all of you present
• Russell Ahlstrom, EDL website designer
• BYU Center for Learning & Teaching
• BYU College of Humanities
• All of the people who have contributed to the project
• Emily Dickinson and Noah Webster
What is a Lexicon?
(photo credit: www.earlywomenmasters.net)
Lexicon Definitions
• A dictionary (Samuel Johnson’s 1798 Dictionary of
the English Language; Noah Webster’s 1828/1844
American Dictionary of the English Language)
• A bilingual dictionary (Frederick Percival Leverett’s
1839 A new and copious lexicon of the Latin language)
• A specialized dictionary for the works of a particular
author or the words used by a particular audience
(Schmidt’s 1902 Shakespeare Lexicon and Quotation
Tools for Shakespeare Studies
(Arthur H. King’s philology training)
• Dictionaries: Murray’s 1930
Oxford English Dictionary (OED)
• Lexicons: Schmidt’s 1902
Shakespeare Lexicon and Quotation
• Concordances: Spevack’s 1973
Harvard Concordance to Shakespeare
Tools for Scripture Translation
(LDS Church)
• Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the
English Language (ADEL)
• Shelley & Rosenvall’s 1987 “LDS-View”
Electronic Concordance to the Scriptures
• Miller’s 1986 Lexicon of the Book of Mormon,
Doctrine & Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price
Tools for Dickinson Studies (EDIS)
• Rosenbaum’s 1964 Concordance to the Poems
of Emily Dickinson. Ithaca, New York: Cornell
University Press.
• Webster’s 1844 An American Dictionary of the
English Language. 2 vols. Amherst,
Massachusetts: J.S. & C. Adams Brothers.
• Hallen’s 2007 Emily Dickinson Lexicon (EDL),
web ed. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young
Why Emily Dickinson?
• Dickinson wrote over 1,789 poems from 1850-1886,
edited by Thomas H. Johnson in 1955 and revised by Ralph
W. Franklin in 1997.
• She wrote over 1,046 letters from 1842-1886, edited by
Johnson in 1958.
• The collected poems contain over 9,275 unique words and
nearly 100,000 word occurrences in nineteenth-century
American English.
• Emily Dickinson used the word “lexicon” in three of her
poems and in two of her letters.
Dickinson Manuscript Poems:
Fascicle 17 (Amherst 85-1), 1862
Johnson 348/Franklin 347
Letter to Austin Dickinson, 22 June 1851:
Johnson 44 (Amherst MS, ED 561)
25 April 1862, Dickinson Letter 261,
To mentor Thomas W. Higginson
(about Benjamin F. Newton, 1821-1853)
... When a little Girl, I had a
friend, who taught me
Immortality – but venturing
too near, himself – he never
returned – Soon after, my
Tutor, died – and for several
years, my Lexicon – was my
only companion ...
Why a Lexicon for Dickinson’s Poems?
• Dickinson tells the truth, but she tells it “slant”
(J1129/Fr1263) with ambiguities, allusions, definitions,
humor, proper nouns, puns, riddles, and
• Her poetic diction has a scriptural basis with more
biblical allusions than any other source.
• Her texts present elevated language, moral values,
theological questions, and universal themes with
multiple levels of interpretation.
Ambiguity: J246/Fr264 (1861)
Forever at His side to walk –
The smaller of the two!
Brain of His Brain –
Blood of His Blood –
Two lives – One Being – now –
Forever of His fate to taste –
If grief – the largest part –
If joy – to put my piece away
For that beloved Heart –
All life – to know each other
Whom we can never learn –
And bye and bye – a Change –
Called Heaven –
Rapt Neighborhoods of men –
Just finding out – what puzzled us –
Without the lexicon!
Pun: J728/Fr754 (1863)
Let Us play Yesterday –
I – the Girl at School –
You – and Eternity – the untold Tale –
Easing my famine
At my Lexicon –
Logarithm – had I – for Drink –
’Twas a dry Wine –
Somewhat different – must be –
Dreams tint the Sleep –
Cunning Reds of Morning
Make the Blind – leap –
Still at the Egg-life –
Chafing the Shell –
When you troubled the Ellipse –
And the Bird fell –
Manacles be dim – they say –
To the new Free –
Liberty – commoner –
Never could – to me –
’Twas my last gratitude
When I slept – at night –
’Twas the first Miracle
Let in – with Light –
Can the Lark resume the Shell –
Easier – for the Sky –
Would’nt Bonds hurt more
Than Yesterday?
Would’nt Dungeons sorer grate
On the Man – free –
Just long enough to taste –
Then – doomed new –
God of the Manacle
As of the Free –
Take not my Liberty
Away from Me –
Definition: J254/Fr314 (1862)
“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.
Humor: J185/Fr202 (1861)
I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Dont tell! they'd banish us – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell your name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
Allusions: J1342/Fr1277 (1874)
“Was not” was all the statement.
The Unpretension stuns –
Perhaps – the Comprehension –
They wore no Lexicons –
But lest our Speculation
In inanition die
Because “God took him” mention –
That was Philology –
Proper Nouns: J555/Fr561 (1863)
Trust in the Unexpected –
By this – was William Kidd
Persuaded of the Buried Gold –
As One had testified –
Through this – the old Philosopher –
His Talismanic Stone
Discerned – still withholden
To effort undivine –
’Twas this – allured Columbus –
When Genoa – withdrew
Before an Apparition
Baptized America –
The Same – afflicted Thomas –
When Deity assured
’Twas better – the perceiving not –
Provided it believed –
Riddle: J1463/Fr1489 (1879)
A Route of Evanescence
With a revolving Wheel –
A Resonance of Emerald –
A Rush of Cochineal –
And every Blossom on the Bush
Adjusts it’s tumbled Head –
The mail from Tunis, probably,
An easy Morning's Ride –
Circumlocution: J1129/Fr1263 (1872)
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 –
A circuit or compass of words; a
periphrase; the use of a number of
words to express an idea, when a
suitable term is not at hand, or when a
speaker chooses to avoid the use of a
single term, either from delicacy or
respect, or with a view to soften the
force of a direct expression, or for
other reason.
Dickinson’s Lyric Poetry
• She inherits the Indo-European bard tradition from the
Classical Track at Amherst Academy (Watkins 1995).
• The genius of Emily Dickinson is that she condenses epic
themes into lyric verses.
• She writes poetry instead of common prose: the tongue of
the gods vs. the tongues of men (1 Cor. 13:1).
• Her language is aesthetically marked in all major language
areas: phonology, prosody, morphology, syntax, semantics,
lexis, pragmatics.
• Her lexical craft includes antithesis, idioms, kennings,
metaphors, polyptoton, polysemy, symbols, and synonymy.
6-5-6-5 Syllabic Verse: J698/Fr727 (1863)
Life – is what we make it –
Death –We do not know –
Christ’s acquaintance with Him
Justify Him – though
He – would trust no stranger –
Other – could betray –
Just His own endorsement –
That – sufficeth Me –
All the other Distance
He hath traversed first –
No New Mile remaineth –
Far as Paradise –
His sure foot preceding –
Tender Pioneer –
Base must be the Coward
Dare not venture – now –
Poetry vs. Prose: J657/Fr466 (1862)
I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –
Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of Eye –
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –
Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation –This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –
Oak Tree at the Dickinson Homestead
Dickinson: the “Bard of Amherst”
• Dickinson lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, from 18301886, during a religious revival, a gospel restoration, a
philosophical revolution, and a philological renaissance.
• She used Noah Webster’s 1844 American Dictionary of the
English Language as part of her poetic composition.
• Her life span was contemporary with the development
of the Oxford English Dictionary.
• She wrote in nineteenth-century American English, a
neglected area in the history of the English language.
• Her period of greatest poetic productivity (1858-1865)
coincided with the Civil War.
The Dickinson Homestead on Main
Street in Amherst, Massachusetts
Dickinson’s Garden
Poems as Flowers
The Poet in the Dell
The Poet Takes a Dog:
Carlo 1850-1865
Elegy to Carlo the Dog: J1068/Fr895 (1865)
Further in Summer than the Birds –
Pathetic from the Grass –
A minor Nation celebrates
It's unobtrusive Mass.
No Ordinance be seen –
So gradual the Grace
A pensive Custom it becomes –
Enlarging Loneliness –
Antiquest felt at Noon –
When August burning low
Arise this spectral Canticle
Repose to typify –
Remit as yet no Grace –
No Furrow on the Glow
Yet a Druidic Difference
Enhances Nature now –
Webster Entry for MINOR, adj.
MI'NOR, a. [L. the comparative degree of a word not found in that
language, but existing in the Celtic dialects, W. main, Arm. moan, Ir.
min, mion, the root of L. minuo, to diminish. See Mince.]
1. Less; smaller; sometimes applied to the bulk or magnitude of a single
object; more generally to amount, degree, or importance. We say, the
minor divisions of a body, the minor part of a body; opposed to the
major part. We say minor sums, minor faults, minor considerations,
minor details or arguments. In the latter phrases, minor is equivalent
to small, petty, inconsiderable, not principal, important or weighty.
2. In music, less or lower by a lesser semitone; as, a third minor.
Asia Minor, the Lesser Asia, that part of Asia which lies between the
Euxine on the north, and the Mediterranean on the south.
Webster Entry for MINOR, n.
MI'NOR, n.
1. A person of either sex under age; one who is under
the authority of his parents or guardians, or who is
not permitted by law to make contracts and manage
his own property. By the laws of Great Britain and
of the United States, persons are minors till they are
twenty one years of age. . . .
3. A Minorite, a Franciscan friar.
4. A beautiful bird of the East Indies. Dict. Nat. Hist.
OED Citation for Minor
minor, adj. and n.
e. In fig. context, esp. with reference to the sombre, plaintive, or subdued effect
associated with minor chords and keys.
1820 J. SEVERN in Keats Lett. (1958) II. 342 Here I must change to a Minor Key
Miss C fainted...I was very ill...Keats assended his bed. 1825 N. Amer. Rev. Jan. 23
The bard sets off in a most brilliant bravura style; and when he comes to the
tricolored flag...sinks into a charming minor key of pathos and sentiment. 1878 H.
JAMES Watch &Ward viii. 168 ‘It would simplify matters vastly; it’s at least worth
thinking of,’ he went on, pleading for very tenderness, in this pitiful minor key.
minor-keyed, adj.
1869 T. W. HIGGINSON Army Life 222 This minor-keyed pathos used to seem to
me almost too sad to dwell upon. 1973 Harvard Jrnl. Asiatic Stud. 33 15 It would be
inept to end a day’s program with a minor-keyed N[umber].
NoahWebster in Amherst
• Before Emily Dickinson was born, Webster had
worked on the 1828 edition of his “big dictionary” in
Amherst, Massachusetts, from 1812-1822.
• He worked with Emily’s grandfather, Samuel Fowler
Dickinson, to establish educational institutions,
including Amherst Academy and Amherst College.
• Webster’s granddaughter Emily Elizabeth
Fowler Ford was a school chum of Emily
• The last edition of the ADEL that Webster
worked on before his death in 1843 was
published by the Adams Brothers of Amherst in
• In 1844 Edward Dickinson purchased
Webster’s rare final edition of the ADEL.
• Emily's brother Austin recalled seeing “Webster’s big
dictionary” on the kitchen table of the Dickinson
home (Sewall 1965, p. 12).
• Martha Dickinson Bianchi reported that her aunt
Emily read the dictionary “as a priest his breviary”
(1932, p.80).
• Buckingham and Benvenuto identified Dickinson’s
“lexicon” as Webster 1844 dictionary (1977, 1983).
The Kingman House on
Main Street and Webster Avenue
Noah Webster statue behind the
Frost Library at Amherst College
“I Know in Whom I Have Believed”
Webplay in J833/Fr273 (1862)
Perhaps you think me stooping
I’m not ashamed of that
Christ – stooped until He touched the Grave –
Do those at Sacrament
Commemorate Dishonor
Or love annealed of love
Until it bend as low as Death
Redignified, above?
J48/Fr65 (1859)
Once more, my now bewildered Dove
Bestirs her puzzled wings.
Once more, her mistress, on the deep
Her troubled question flings –
Thrice to the floating casement
The Patriarch’s bird returned –
Courage! My brave Columba!
There may yet be Land!
“Expect a Miracle!”
J193/Fr215 (1861)
I shall know why – when Time is over –
And I have ceased to wonder why –
Christ will explain each separate anguish
In the fair schoolroom of the sky –
He will tell me what “Peter” promised –
And I – for wonder at his woe –
I shall forget the drop of Anguish
That scalds me now – that scalds me now!
J322/Fr325 (1862)
There came a Day at Summer’s full,
Entirely for me –
I thought that such were for the Saints,
Where Resurrections – be –
The Sun, as common, went abroad,
The flowers, accustomed, blew,
As if no soul the solstice passed
That maketh all things new –
The time was scarce profaned, by speech –
The symbol of a word
Was needless, as at Sacrament,
The Wardrobe – of our Lord –
Each was to each The Sealed Church,
Permitted to commune this – time –
Lest we too awkward show
At Supper of the Lamb.
The Hours slid fast – as Hours will,
Clutched tight, by greedy hands –
So faces on two Decks, look back,
Bound to opposing lands –
And so when all the time had leaked,
Without external sound
Each bound the Other’s Crucifix –
We gave no other Bond
Sufficient troth, that we shall rise –
Deposed – at length, the Grave –
To that new Marriage,
Justified – through Calvaries of Love –
J508/Fr353 (1862)
I’m ceded – I’ve stopped being Their’s –
The name They dropped upon my face
With water, in the country church
Is finished using, now,
And They can put it with my Dolls,
My childhood, and the string of spools,
I’ve finished threading – too –
Baptized, before, without the choice,
But this time, consciously, of Grace –
Unto supremest name –
Called to my Full – The Crescent dropped –
Existence’s whole Arc, filled up,
With one small Diadem.
My second Rank – too small the first –
Crowned – Crowing – on my Father’s breast –
A half unconscious Queen –
But this time – Adequate – Erect,
With Will to choose, or to reject,
And I choose, just a Crown –
J593/Fr627 (1863)
I think I was enchanted
When first a sombre Girl –
I read that Foreign Lady –
The Dark – felt beautiful –
And whether it was noon at night –
Or only Heaven – at Noon –
For very Lunacy of Light
I had not power to tell –
The Bees – became as Butterflies –
The Butterflies – as Swans –
Approached – and spurned the narrow Grass –
And just the meanest Tunes
That Nature murmured to herself
To keep herself in Cheer –
I took for Giants – practising
Titanic Opera –
The Days – to Mighty Metres stept –
The Homeliest – adorned
As if unto a Jubilee
’Twere suddenly confirmed –
I could not have defined the change –
Conversion of the Mind
Like Sanctifying in the Soul –
Is witnessed – not explained –
’Twas a Divine Insanity –
The Danger to be Sane
Should I again experience –
’Tis Antidote to turn –
To Tomes of solid Witchcraft –
Magicians be asleep –
But Magic – hath an Element
Like Deity – to keep –
J861/Fr905 (1865)
Split the Lark – and you’ll find the Music –
Bulb after Bulb, in Silver rolled –
Scantily dealt to the Summer Morning
Saved for your Ear when Lutes be old.
Loose the Flood – you shall find it patent –
Gush after Gush, reserved for you –
Scarlet Experiment! Sceptic Thomas!
Now, do you doubt that your Bird was true?
J1039/Fr996 (1865)
I heard, as if I had no Ear
Until a Vital Word
Came all the way from Life to me
And then I knew I heard.
I saw, as if my Eye were on
Another, till a Thing
And now I know 'twas Light, because
It fitted them, came In.
I dwelt, as if Myself were out,
My Body but within
Until a Might detected me
And set my kernel in.
And Spirit turned unto the Dust
"Old Friend, thou knowest me,"
And Time went out to tell the News
And met Eternity
Poem J488/Fr475 (1862)
Myself was formed – a Carpenter –
An unpretending time
My Plane, and I, together wrought
Before a Builder came –
To measure our attainments –
Had we the Art of Boards
Sufficiently developed – He'd hire us
At Halves –
My Tools took Human – Faces –
The Bench, where we had toiled –
Against the Man, persuaded –
We – Temples build – I said –
J1126/Fr1243 (1872)
Shall I take thee, the Poet said
To the propounded word?
Be stationed with the Candidates
Till I have finer tried –
The Poet searched Philology
And was about to ring
For the suspended Candidate
There came unsummoned in –
That portion of the Vision
The Word applied to fill
Not unto nomination
The Cherubim reveal –
J1651/Fr1715 (Undated)
A word made Flesh is seldom
And tremblingly partook
Nor then perhaps reported
But have I not mistook
Each one of us has tasted
With ecstasies of stealth
The very food debated
To our specific strength –
A word that breathes distinctly
Has not the power to die
Cohesive as the Spirit
It may expire if He –
“Made Flesh and dwelt among us”
Could condescension be
Like this consent of Language
This loved Philology
J1353/Fr1380 (1875)
The last of Summer is Delight –
Deterred by Retrospect.
’Tis Ecstasy’s revealed Review –
Enchantment’s Syndicate.
To meet it – nameless as it is –
Without celestial Mail –
Audacious as without a Knock
To walk within the Vail.
Why publish the EDL online?
• I knew that the EDL would have an electronic edition, because of the
OED digital software and the WordCruncher program, 1992.
• Harvard University Press granted permission for us to scan
Dickinson’s poems and letters into a WordCruncher concordance
database, 1995.
• The internet, email, html, websites, and CHUM programs enhanced
the EDL project and hastened the electronic edition, 1996.
• Undergraduate student Jennifer Shakespear created the prototype
EDL website for her CHUM course on web publishing in 2000.
• Electronic publication saves the EDL files from data management
problems that had plagued the project due to WordPerfect upgrades
and Word downgrades, 1992-2005.
• Mel Thorne of the Humanities Publication Center recommended
electronic publication as the cutting edge forum for a project of this
type, size, and scope, 2004.
• Graduate student Russell Ahlstrom offered to create a fully-equipped
EDL website for his MA project, including a digital copy of Webster’s
1844 dictionary, 2006.
• Advances in technology and web design make online publication of
the EDL a logical, practical, accessible, versatile choice, 2007.
• Web publication provides more than convenient distribution: it
expedites the editing, revising, and proof-reading of the files in
preparation for a print edition, 2008.
• The electronic databases can interface with the work and projects of
others scholars and institutions, 2009.
• The website format consolidates the resources needed for on-going
contributions to the EDL project: poems, references, Webster
Site Tracking at Google analytics
Congregational Church in Amherst
“my Lexicon - was my only companion”
Advantages of the Emily Dickinson LexiconWebsite
• To create a tool for solving semantic puzzles in
Dickinson’s language
• To facilitate the interpretation of Dickinson’s poems
by “searching philology”
• To train students to love words through a hands-on
apprenticeship in the art and science of lexicography
• To translate the complete poems of Emily Dickinson
into as many languages as possible
• To provide a searchable database that can enhance
scholarly research in literary and linguistic forums

EDLwebsiteBYU - Emily Dickinson Lexicon