I TOLD MY SOUL TO SING: Finding God with Emily Dickinson

I Told My Soul to Sing: Finding God with Emily Dickinson

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“LeMay elegantly combines accessible literary analysis with her own spiritual memoir of search, doubt, and faith.”

— “New and Noteworthy” Pick, Sojourners Magazine

“Creative and soul-stretching…Many of those who identify themselves as spiritual but not religious might adopt this American poet as their patron saint after reading this fascinating book.”

“Kristin LeMay's captivating I Told My Soul to Sing: Finding God with Emily Dickinson is a hybrid of devotional writing, spiritual memoir, and literary analysis—and the kind of book we wish we saw more often. It is a daring endeavor...LeMay deftly combines literary analysis with her faith experiences in a way that enriches the well-loved poems of Emily Dickinson, while simultaneously widening the genre of spiritual autobiography. Widen your understanding of the highly personal ways in which art and faith intersect.”

Image Journal

"To be read and reread one essay at a time, this book is worth a permanent place on the bookshelf of any reader seeking spiritual engagement regardless of religious or secular affiliation."

Emily Dickinson International Society Bulletin

“What is remarkable about the book is the personal struggle it enacts....I read this book, then, as a spiritual memoir, accomplishing deeply inward work through what would seem the very ordinary tasks of literary criticism—working out linguistic puzzles, charting poetic breakthroughs, tracking down biographical details, holding on to these twenty-five poems over the course of a decade and allowing them to “challenge and deepen my spiritual life, my beliefs and doubts"....It is work that she invites us to as well, offering us both eyes to see with and a “spiritual companion” with whom to “approach those fundamental questions that leave us trembling.”

Anglican Theological Journal

“For anyone who appreciates good poetry (Dickinson), good writing (LeMay), or thoughtful engagement with modern concerns (beauty, mortality, prayer, for instance), this would be a good read.”

Religious Herald

“This is great stuff – knowledge and data mixed with insight and imagination, which informs and enriches not only our reading of the poem, but our way of understanding God.”

Thinking Faith

“An interesting combination of genres and approaches that could have easily gone awry. But it works, and it works well. Dickinson, in LeMay’s hands, becomes more than a poet; she is a friend . . . a mentor, a fellow pilgrim in a spiritual journey, and eventually a kind of saint.”

Tweetspeak Poetry

"LeMay turns to the poetry of Emily Dickinson the way others turn to sacred texts, and her beautiful book makes you wish more people would follow suit. Through her deep engagement with Dickinson’s poems—by turn prayers, partners, revelations, songs—LeMay has written a book that is, in Dickinson’s words, ‘the Heart’s portrait – every Page a Pulse,’ every page a kind of faith."

— Sarah Sentilles, author of Breaking Up with God: A Love Story

I Told My Soul to Sing is an exuberant and captivating contemplation of faith and spiritual renewal. LeMay shares her own doubts and struggles alongside a thoughtful new reading of Emily Dickinson’s brilliant poems, and what results is a shimmering jewel of a book.”

—Dinty W. Moore, author of The Mindful Writer

“As Plutarch’s Lives brought together the Greeks and Romans, Kristin LeMay’s I Told My Soul to Sing reaches across more than a century to show her connection to Emily Dickinson.  Both struggle with the desire to find God and the tribulations of believing. A brilliant analysis of the bond between life and poetry, written with sensitivity and talent.” 

— François Bovon, Frothingham Professor of the History of Religion Emeritus, Harvard Divinity School

“Part spiritual autobiography, part homage to Emily Dickinson’s inexhaustible poetic genius, and part exuberant close readings of the astonishing poems in which Dickinson wrestles with questions of faith and belief. Kristin LeMay’s I Told My Soul to Sing is a valuable study of the poet’s heterodox imagination. Despite her subtitle, Finding God with Emily Dickinson, LeMay does not shackle Dickinson to a procrustean bed of doctrine and piety, dilute the poet’s astringent ironies, or flatten the provocative ambiguities. LeMay has a gift for choosing unfamiliar poems from the canon and for judiciously quoting and interpreting them. Her chapters on Dickinson’s attitude to death, mortality, immortality, and beauty are especially compelling. We put down LeMay’s book convinced that, like Whitman, Dickinson ‘contained multitudes.’ I Told My Soul to Sing is a smart, seriously playful, winning, and readable addition to the growing archive of critical commentary on a quintessentially elusive, thorny, and linguistically daring American poet.”

— Herbert Leibowitz, editor Parnassus: Poetry in Review

“The personal need driving this athletic and urgently persistent discussion could not be more candid: Kristin LeMay says of Emily Dickinson, ‘I won’t let her go until she blesses me.’ LeMay honors Dickinson’s courage as a doubter, but LeMay’s craving for faith trumps that. This book’s implied reader is someone very attracted to religious faith; but even an atheist can enjoy the book’s provocative illuminations of Dickinson’s life of spiritual longing, fear, and anger, in which questions cut deeper than answers.”

— Mark Halliday, poet, author of Keep This Forever and Stevens and the Interpersonal