portrait of Emily Dickinson


a digital humanities project

Our findings on...


Our results clearly show that Dickinson writes with ellipsis more often than not. 68/90 poems in our corpus (~75.5%) contained at least one instance of ellipsis. The type of ellipsis occurring the most in our corpus was clausal, possibly because we decided to include clausal connectors, such as individual conjunctions and prepositions, in the clausal category. If the clausal type was separated by elided material into subcategories, such as clausal verbal, clausal nominal, or clausal other, it would be easier to see exactly what is going on within the clausal type, thereby allowing for visual distinctions between true clausal ellipsis and ellipsis of clausal connectors.

Instances of verbal and nominal ellipsis are almost equal within the corpus, a surprising result being that nominal subjects typically have to be explicit in English, especially within forms of written English. Constructions with ommitted subjects (falling into the nominal ellipsis category) are usually ungrammatical to the point of losing intended meaning, yet the meaning can still be generally understood in the poems comprising our corpus.


Through our analysis, we found that themes of nature, religion, emotion, and death were most prevalent in our corpus. This outcome confirmed our hypothesis that Dickinson wrote most frequently on these themes and also aligns with her reputation as a poet. We also discovered much more nuance in imagery than we originally expected because even within poems, themes did not fit within discrete categories. Some imagery was literal and some was metaphorical, and depending on the reader's interpretation, the classification of each poem by theme could differ.

We were not expecting the count of themes such as "the mind" and "solitude" to be as low as it was in our corpus. We assumed that because Dickinson had a reputation for being a solitary individual, separated from the going-ons of larger society, she would write more about her solitary experience and her own intellectual pursuits. We also expected the theme of writing to appear more across the corpus than it did because Emily Dickinson strongly embraced her identity as a writer. Additionally, in the poems where writing was mentioned, it was always described as a noble and challenging pursuit.

Correlations between our data

Neither independent variable (year written and presence of recipient) seemed to dictate the presence of ellipsis in the poems of our corpus. Ellipsis, whether present or not, appeared (or did not appear) consistently throughout the three time periods to an almost equal degree. From this, we can start to conclude that Dickinson's employment of ellipsis was a natural style rather than something that was cultivated or strengthened over the span of her active writing years.

There was no apparent correlation between presence of ellipsis and presence of a recipient. In our corpus, the 3 categories of ellipsis presence were essentially equal no matter if there was a recipient or not. It could possibly be that Dickinson's poems were never originally intended for a specific recipient, that Dickinson did not alter her style depending on audience, or that she did not believe ellipsis would impede a recipient's understanding of the poem's message. Either way, this outcome was contrary to our intital expectations, as we believed poems with recipients would exhibit clearer, less elliptial language so that a poem's message would be clear to its intended reader.

There was no true correlation between presence of ellipsis and theme of poem other than the frequency at which a certain theme or value of ellipsis presence appeared across the corpus. The count for 'yes' ellipsis and nature-themed poems was considerably higher than all other variations of theme and value of ellipsis presence simply because nature was such a prominent theme across the poems of our corpus.


Some closing thoughts

Through our analysis, we gathered further proof that Emily Dickinson indeed consistently wrote with a highly elliptical style and that even within the bounds of ellipsis, she was more unconventional in her employment of it. Instead of making sentence constructions more concise by removing redundancy, Emily Dickinson's employment of ellipsis further obscures the meanings of sentences and poems as a whole regardless of who she was writing to or what she was writing about.