Emily Dickinson – Untitled (“Wild Nights – Wild Nights!”) (circa 1860)

INTRODUCTION:  Emily Dickinson’s poems have taken many different forms since she wrote them, partly due to the infamous challenges of rendering her unique punctuation marks (and the fact that she was no longer alive when they were first published, so no one could ask her what she meant).  

As you will see in the transcriber’s note for the Project Gutenberg edition of Poems by Emily Dickinson:  Three Series, Complete, this early publication was edited “by her friends, better to fit the conventions of the time” and “her dashes, often small enough to appear as dots, became commas and semi-colons.”  Most modern editors are less concerned with making Dickinson’s punctuation hip and usually try to accurately represent her original intentions.  Check out the Emily Dickinson Archive to see images of her handwritten drafts to decide for yourself.

The attached annotated text is a single poem with comments inserted to show the changes that were made in a modern edition (edited by R.W. Franklin) and allow the reader to consider what effects those shifts might have on meaning and rhythm in the poem – and to give a sense of the endless possibilities contained within 14 lines.

For helpful advice on how to read dashes (including Dickinson’s), check out Ben Yagoda’s essay, “Mad Dash.”   

ANNOTATED DOCUMENT:  dickinsonemily_wildnights


Annotations by:  Rachel Linn

The annotated text is adapted from: 

Works cited & consulted in the annotations: