How Emily Dickinson Recognized True Poetry

Emily Dickinson’s test of poetry:

If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know. Is there any other way.

Dickinson gave this definition in 1870 to Thomas Wentworth Higginson. I found it in Edward Hirsch’s How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry, which I am thoroughly enjoying. You can read the first chapter, including more on the quote, online thanks to the Poetry Foundation. 

“With her bare, alert senses she could almost hear violets grow and feel the robin’s heart beat. Like Emerson, she found in each drop of dew, in each grain of sand, a copy of a universe.” 

Praise for Emily Dickinson by Nardi Reeder Campion in a 1973 essay for the New York Times titled “A Delayed ‘Obituary,’ ”