In this book, Charles Murphy explores the still unfolding rediscovery of Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), our foremost American poet, as a mystic of profound depth and ambition. She declined publication of almost all of her hundreds of poems during her lifetime, describing them as a record of her wrestling with God, who, in the Puritan religious tradition she received, she found cold and remote. Murphy places Dickinson's writings within the Christian mystical tradition exemplified by St. Teresa of Avila and identifies her poems as expressions of what he terms theologically as "believing unbelief." Dickinson's experiences of love and her confrontation with human mortality drove her poetic insights and led to her discovery of God in the beauty and mystery of the natural world.
Monsignor Charles Murphy, PA, STD, is former rector of the North American College in Rome and, among other pastoral responsibilities in the Diocese of Portland, Maine, founded the permanent diaconate program. He is the author of several books, including At Home on Earth: Foundations for a Catholic Ethic of the Environment, Wallace Stevens: A Spiritual Poet in a Secular Age, and Belonging to God: A Personal Training Guide for the Deeper Catholic Spiritual Life. He holds a bachelor's degree in Latin and Greek from the College of the Holy Cross, a master's degree from Harvard, and the doctorate in sacred theology from the Gregorian University in Rome.
"Charles Murphy's book weaves together an amazing range of sources: literary and theological, mystical and personal anecdote. It explicates Emily Dickinson's poetry with delight and sensitivity and raises the reader's awareness of her spiritual aspirations and fragile beauty of soul. It is an exploration of poetry and prayer that will be valued by all those who are drawn to either or both."
Marie Noonan Sabin, author of Evolving Humanity and Biblical Wisdom
"Charles Murphy's examination of Emily Dickinson's poetry in the Christian mystical tradition adds another layer to the growing corpus of serious treatments of her work as so much more than simply private lyric verse. In brief compass and with great care, Murphy enlarges our sense of the possibilities that Dickinson's genius lays before us. No one who reads this book will ever think quite the same again about her poetry."
Paul Lakeland, Fairfield University, author of The Wounded Angel: Fiction and the Religious Imagination
"A small and inexpensive volume, this book might be a good way for students of English literature to get introduced to the genre of mystical writing within a more contemporary and secular context. Conversely, it might help students of mystical theology to see its expression in a more contemporary and secular writer."
"This little book offers a fine introduction to the Christian mystical tradition and to the work of one of America's most creative and innovative poets."
Spirit & Life
"Look no further if you are interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the holy mystery of Emily Dickinson's poetry. Weaving together history and biography as well as writings from mystics, popes, and poets, Charles M. Murphy skillfully explores the `sacramental consciousness' of one of America's greatest poets."
Betsy Johnson-Miller, author of Rain When You Want Rain and Fierce This Falling
"Margery Kempe's autobiography was lost for 400 years. Thomas Traherne's meditations were rescued from a trash heap after the author's death. This book now demonstrates, more than 130 years after Emily Dickinson's death, how we're only beginning to see her poems for what they were."
Jon M. Sweeney, editor of A Course in Desert Spirituality by Thomas Merton
"In exploring this poetic example, Murphy has created a literary criticism of theological depth that enlightens another facet of the singular Emily Dickinson. Recommended for parish and academic libraries."
Catholic Library World