In addition to the fact that she wrote over eighteen hundred poems (EIGHTEEN HUNDRED!!!), I have kind of a strange answer, ... for me, the most surprising element of Emily Dickinson's poetry was how the collective lot of it seems to paint the exact picture of her physical self, ... cold, pale, dark hair in a bun, severe white part down the middle, withdrawn (and notorious for being so), white dress, an old maid, locked away, staring out the window, ... thinking about (and looking like) death waiting for her glorious demise and resurrection. I have rarely met a poet where the quality and subject of her work so bled directly into her character (and vice versa). Astounding!
I actually find Dickinson's use of dashes the most surprising element in her work. Strange, I know, but the way that she uses dashes to convey meaning, especially in poems that end with a dash, never ceases to amaze me.
I agree with poster #8. The way that Dickinson speaks about death is calming. She seems to hold no fear about death. It has always made me think about taking on her ways of dealing with tough ideas. Personification of an idea seems to make sense, it humanizes the concept. What better way to deal with something in the right way than to turn it into something we can understand- the human and the humane.
I, too, find it intriguing that a woman with so little experience of the world expressed such universal ideas. I know she corresponded with others, but the thinking was hers. I wonder if she would be surprised at the fact that we are still talking about her personal reflections so many years after the fact.
Emily Dickinson and her poetry has always been so interesting. I have always wondered why she was so fascinated with death. So many of her poems deal with death. In "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" poem, Emily treats the subject of death as a kind friend. Death is kind enough to stop by. This has always amazed me. Most people think of death as the enemy, but not Emily Dickinson. Death is as a gentleman caller. He is kind enough to visit. Dickinson's calm acceptance of death is intriguing.
I have always been fascinated by Dickinson's poetry, and certainly I was surprised by the passion in her work for somene who had so little human contact but obviously a vast human understanding. 'He Fumbles at My Soul' illustrates a profound observation on relationships Dickinson herself is unlikely to have experienced, but clearly imagined and understood. 'I Heard a Fly Buzz' is similarly descriptive of imagined events suffused with realistic emotion and description.
I am continually surprised with how relevant and universal her poems are. There are as meaningful and "modern" feeling today as they would have been when they were first published. I always read her poems and think to myself "that is so true!" A few favorites where this is especially true for me:
"Much madness is Divinest Sense"
"There's a Certain Slant of Light"
"One Diginity Delays for All"
"Hope is a with a thing with feathers"
For me, it was the fact that her poetry often goes against my visions of what a woman of her time and place should have been thinking about. She has poems that seem to reject religion at a time when almost all Americans were religious. She has poems that seem to be quite sexual at a time when (again, to me) an American woman (particularly an unmarried one) would not have been thinking about sex, much less writing about it. These aspects of her poetry were very surprising to me when I first read her.
I began reading Dickinson when I was in sixth grade. I have always been amazed with how a person, seemingly locked away from the world with very few visits away from her home and garden, could be so in tune with the world, humanity, and all the levels of emotion we humans experience. Dickinson has a way of expressing these emotions and events/thoughts in such a fresh way, that even today there are multitudes of ways to interpret and understand on so many levels. She helped me get through my first real heartbreak in college as I saw so many of her poems in a new light during that period of time in my life. She was a genius, and still so very relevant to our world today.
You will receive many answers to this because there is so much in her work that is surprising. I would say that one of the most powerful elements that always seems to hit me in Dickinson's poetry is how the refuge of the individual is the seat of all inquiry and rumination. I find it extremely empowering that Dickinson writes about what it means to be alone in all of its intensity and power. How she intended for it to come across is subject to so many different interpretations. Yet, at a time when conformity and collectivity were embraced as something that was mandatory, Dickinson possesses unbelievable courage to write about what it means to be alone. Her vision of "aloneness" is one where there is pain, joy, reflection about the nature of self, yearning, and an instant where the real reflection about one's state of being in the world can be revealed and expressed. In poems like, "I'm Nobody, Who Are You," some intensely complex emotional responses to being apart from society are revealed. I find that these themes are more applicable today than ever. Dickinson's reflection about the notion of self is something that can be revisited throughout one's life as one's own sense of identity changes through maturation. It is in this idea where her work is not merely surprising, but representative of powerful insight and quality literature.