Why Emily Dickinson for our Women’s Equality Day Poetry Friday? She wasn’t one of the suffragists, like Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who wrote reams of poetry about Women’s Healing Power. But she had the passion. She was raised in a politically active Amherst household, and as the 1852 presidential convention approached, she asked a dear friend: “Why can’t I be a Delegate to the great Whig Convention?–don’t I know all about Daniel Webster, and the Tariff and the Law?” Dickinson scholar Paul Crumbly writes: “As the confidence and frustration of this letter attests, the Dickinson family tradition had prepared the poet for a life of political activity and public service, only to deny her that life because of her sex.”

Below are a few of Dickinson’s piercing  poems, chosen with an eye to the spirit that rebelled, her awareness of the tenuous status of women, and her demand to be seen on her own terms. In the ten years that she was  alive after suffrage passed in 1920, we doubt she missed often an opportunity to cast her ballot.

Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
’Tis the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,—you ’re straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.

****

She rose to his requirement, dropped
The playthings of her life
To take the honorable work
Of woman and of wife.
If aught she missed in her new day
Of amplitude, or awe,
Or first prospective, or the gold
In using wore away,
It lay unmentioned, as the sea
develops pearl and weed,
But only to himself is known
The fathoms they abide.

***

I never hear the word “escape”
Without a quicker blood,
A sudden expectation,
A flying attitude.

I never hear of prisons broad
By soldiers battered down,
But I tug childish at my bars,
Only to fail again!

***

The soul selects her own society,
Then shuts the door;
On her divine majority
Obtrude no more.

Unmoved, she notes the chariot’s pausing
At her low gate;
Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling
Upon her mat.

I’ve known her from an ample nation
Choose one:

Then close the valves of her attention
Like stone.

***

From all the jails the boys and girls
Ecstatically leap,—
Beloved, only afternoon
That prison doesn’t keep.
They storm the earth and stun the air,
A mob of solid bliss.
Alas! that frowns could lie in wait
For such a foe as this!