Syllables of Velvet, Sentences of Plush - Emily Dickinson as Polyglot: The Language of Emily Dickinson

Nicole Panizza, Trisha Kannan

Research output: Book/ReportAnthology or Edited Bookpeer-review


"Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent". Victor Hugo
The enigmatic allure of language, as a critical means of identification and
exploration, remained a primary force throughout Emily Dickinson’s life. Her
perceptive and innovative use of poetic space, sound, and impetus established
a resonance and commune with her immediate environs, which can be viewed
as proceeding from a profoundly musical sensibility. When acknowledging the
self-conscious use of music in Dickinson’s poetry, both as a source of imagery
and as a strategy for shaping her terse, condensed poetic line, music provided
the ground on which the superstructure of her poetic thought was built and a
condition of being toward which it aspired. This essay investigates Dickinson’s
intersections with music and text as bilingual practice. It addresses her
innovative use of musical device, metaphor, and rudiment as an expression of
her desire to communicate with, and connect to, diverse and disparate

Key words: music, poetic sound, jazz, nineteenth-century music books
Original languageEnglish
PublisherVernon Press
Number of pages162
ISBN (Print)978-1-64889-092-5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

"The Language of Emily Dickinson" provides valuable insight into the cryptic, complex, and unique language of America’s premier poet. The essays make each subject of exploration accessible to general readers, providing sufficient background and contextual information to situate anyone interested in a better understanding of Dickinson’s language. The collection also makes a substantial contribution to Dickinson studies with new scholarship in philology, musicality, and manuscript study. Cynthia L. Hallen, creator of the invaluable Emily Dickinson Lexicon, offers a detailed examination of Dickinson’s words and phrases that are lexically alive and semantically vital. Nicole Panizza, an accomplished pianist, explores Dickinson’s poetic relationship with music as bilingual practice. Holly L. Norton outlines the surprising connections between Dickinson’s poetry and rap music, and Trisha Kannan contributes to recent discussions regarding Dickinson’s fascicles, the manuscript “books” that contain just over 800 of Dickinson’s 1,789 poems, by reading Fascicle 30 in relation to the work and life of John Keats.
This book will be of interest to scholars of Emily Dickinson and advanced readers of poetry—such as those in upper-level undergraduate English courses and graduate students in departments of English—as well as to general readers with an interest in Emily Dickinson.


  • Music
  • Poetic sound
  • Jazz
  • Nineteenth-century music books


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