Taylor Swift is related to Emily Dickinson! ‹ Literary Hub


Olivia Rutigliano

March 4, 2024, 12:39pm

In news both thrilling and topical, it turns out that the great 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson and the twenty-first-century American bard Taylor Swift are related. Since Taylor is about to release an album called The Tortured Poets Department, this news could not, frankly, come at a better time.

According to Today, the genealogy company Ancestry has discovered that Swift and Dickinson are sixth cousins, three times removed: “Swift and Dickinson both descend from a 17th century English immigrant (Swift’s 9th great-grandfather and Dickinson’s 6th great-grandfather who was an early settler of Windsor, Connecticut)… Taylor Swift’s ancestors remained in Connecticut for six generations until her part of the family eventually settled in northwestern Pennsylvania, where they married into the Swift family line.”

Of all the poets to whom she could be related, Emily Dickinson is a great one. Not only is the Belle of Amherst a legit tortured poet, but Taylor’s been leaning into vaguely old-timey influences. She’s said that she sometimes writes in a genre she thinks of as “Quill,” a flowing, old-fashioned sensibility; “If my lyrics sound like a letter written by Emily Dickinson’s great-grandmother while sewing a lace curtain, that’s me writing in the Quill genre,” she said when accepting the Nashville Songwriters Association International songwriter-artist of the decade award in 2022. Also, Taylor’s friend Hailee Steinfeld has played Emily Dickinson in the Apple+ TV show Dickinson from 2019-2021.

People have suspected that Taylor read some Emily Dickinson before or during writing her Evermore album, since the word “evermore” (really “forevermore,” but who’s counting prefixes apparently?) appears in the poem “One Sister have I in Our House.” (The Gaylors are going to have a field day with this, since that poem’s about Emily’s sister-in-law/lover Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson. The line is “Sue forevermore!”) Evermore was released on Dickinson’s birthday, December 10th. I have no idea what’s a coincidence anymore and what’s not.

Regardless, one sister Taylor does have in her house! The Tortured Poets Department includes the DNA of Emily Dickinson, which is a very fun twist. Considering Swift’s old American ancestry, there are probably a few other interesting ghosts in her bloodline.

Emily Dickinson was born December 10, 1830 and died May 15, 1886, after living a relatively solitary, very literary life. None of her poems were published during her lifetime, which does bring her into stark contrast with the oeuvre of Taylor Swift, because we seem to get every single thing that woman’s ever written (I’m not complaining).

Dickinson is one of the best-read 19th century poets, but if this connection spurs even more people to read her, that’s fantastic. If anyone’s looking for a starter kit, may I recommend the definitive collection: this chronological collection containing all of Dickinson’s 1,775 poems, originally published in three-volumes by Thomas H. Johnson in 1955. (No one had collected them all in an anthology until that time!) For a biography, I’d go with Martha Ackman’s These Fevered Days: Ten Pivotal Moments in the Making of Emily Dickinson. Either would probably make a very lovely gift, if you’re friends with Taylor and you’re wondering what to get the woman who has everything.

Now, what I want to know is: are Taylor Swift and Jonathan Swift related? It’s not important, but I’ve wanted to know this for a long time. Ancestry, please do your thing.

For more reading, and close-reading, of Emily Dickinson: have we got a trove for you!

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