I recently had the opportunity to visit Amherst, Massachusetts, USA. Amherst doesn’t have a lot going on; it’s mostly a college town surrounded by more colleges surrounded by rural Massachusetts. Amherst may be a relatively sleepy place, but it does have a notable past. Specifically, Amherst is the home of Emily Dickinson. One of the most important American poets to ever live, Emily Dickinson spent her whole life in and around Amherst. She went to school at Amherst Academy, college at Mount Holyoke, and much of her adult life was spent in the Dickinson mansion in Amherst.

With this in mind, I gave myself a reading assignment for the trip. I decided to read 10 Emily Dickinson poems, which is not a lot, but I haven’t studied poetry in years, and this was a short trip. The poems were selected from various Internet listicles on the best Emily Dickinson poems. In hopes that this archive does not turn into another listicle, I won’t enumerate every poem I read, but I’ll mention a few, like “I’m Nobody! Who are you?”

When searching for a copy of “I’m Nobody! Who are you?”, I found multiple versions of the poem. The first published version followed standard capitalization and punctuation conventions, but the corrected version had additional capitalization, more dashes, and different wordings. The corrected version is supposed to be more faithful to the original, and after reading both, I can say the corrected version is far better. Dickinson’s use of capitalization constructs the characters in really clever ways. For example, using “Nobody” instead of “nobody” gives the speaker an identity as a Nobody rather than just being nobody. This contrasts well with the “Somebody” in line 5. Dickinson’s use of punctuation also drastically enhances the meaning of the poem. This was particularly notable in “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain”. The poem ends with a dash, as if the speaker is about to continue their thought, but is abruptly cut off.

Reading Dickinson’s poetry remains a highlight of my trip. After studying different versions of her poetry, I wanted to save the versions I liked better, so I designed a simple database for literature whose contents are in plaintext, so if the code ever breaks, the database is still perfectly usable. The project is still a work in progress, but it can scrape poetry from websites, render text, and efficiently search through the database.

As my trip came to a close, I finished my readings with a poem I know quite well. I’ve had the first stanza memorized for about a year now, and it’s one of a handful of poems I turn to quite frequently. I read it in the moments that I so desperately want to stop moving forward, those points in life where the future is far too chaotic or uncertain, and I can’t slow it down. In many ways, my visit to Amherst is part of that uncertain future, so it was the perfect opportunity to read the poem that starts like this:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -


  1. Emily Dickinson
  2. Emily Dickinson Museum
  3. Emily Dickinson on Poetry Foundation