Emily Dickinsons Collected Poems
Dickinson’s Poetry in the Context of the Romantic Era
“Whenever a thing is done for the first time, it releases a little demon” (Dickinson, n.d.). At first glance, this utterance by Emily Dickinson conveys a negative attitude towards the unique and the new. However, upon second interpretation, this quote manages to perfectly encapsulate the very essence of the Romantic Era as well as Dickinson’s immense influence on literary schools of thought at the time. This essay will discuss in detail this influence. First, a brief explanation of the Romantic Era and a definition of Romanticism will be provided for the sake of context. Then, the forces at work during the Romantic era will be explained with reference to a number of Dickinson’s poems.
Simply put, Romanticism is the “establishment of human life on a pure basis of feeling” (Sreedharan, 2004: 128). To the Romantic, the medium of feeling or emotion did not replace the medium of thought. Instead, the medium of feeling was the medium of thought. Historical context is key when discussing the Romantic era. During this time, the world and, more specifically, the literary community experienced a surge of freedom in terms of ideas and schools of belief. One of the most prominent schools of thought was the reaction to the rationalization of science and the rise of individuality in artistic works. Such themes are brought across in Emily Dickinson’s Wild Nights (Dickinson, 1999), a poem written in a time when the liberation of women, specifically the sexual liberation of women, was very much taboo. In the poem, the speaker fantasizes about nights she would spend with her lover. Besides the blatant sexual overtones of the short poem which are conveyed through words such as “our luxury!” (Dickinson, 1999:1: IV), Dickinson’s work also speaks to the changes experienced by the intellectual community at the height of Romanticism. One of these changes is the rise of individuality and personal perspective in literary works. The lines, “Done with the compass – Done with the Chart!” (Dickinson, 1999: 2: VI-VII) suggest that the poet, like a representative Romantic intellectual, is blazing her own path without the help of literary works that have come before. And Dickinson’s personal writing style and unique use of grammar stand as testaments to the Romantic emphasis on experimentation. For example, her poetry makes extensive uses of hyphens, as is seen in lines such as, “Rowing in Eden –“, (Dickinson, 1999: 3: IX) and, “Ah – the sea!” (Dickinson, 1999: 3: X) in Wild Nights. What could be interpreted as a mere pause is instead Dickinson conveying the speaker’s apprehension towards the almost infinite liberation (the sea) that lies before her.
Besides its emphasis on feeling and emotion, the Romantic era also influenced individuals to focus less on rational experience and turn their attention to aesthetic experience instead. A major component of this experience was a newfound interest in nature; fittingly, references to nature and all its wonder can be found in almost all of Dickinson’s poems. Her use of the sea as a metaphor for personal liberation in Wild nights, Wild Nights is just one blatant example. But Dickinson’s use of natural imagery did not end with the environment. She made extensive use of animal imagery in her poems in order to convey her themes. A prime example would be the figure of a minuscule bird as a representation of the persistence of hope in her poem “Hope” is the thing with feathers (Dickinson, 1999). This image, when combined with the imagery of inhospitable environments such as “the chillest land” (Dickinson, 1999: 3: IX) and “the strangest sea” (Dickinson, 1999: 3: X), suggests that Dickinson had a more intimate and unique understanding of nature than did most of her peers at the time.
No discussion on Romanticism or Dickinson would be complete without reference to mortality or death. After all, Romanticism was fueled by emotions. Terror and horror, especially towards the thought of the afterlife, were just some of these strong impulses. Yet Dickinson incorporates other emotions in her meditations on death, including confusion and morbidity, as seen in her poem Death sets a thing significant (Dickinson, 1999). These feelings are brought across in lines such as “To ponder little workmanships” (Dickinson, 1999: 2: V). Dickinson was no different from other individuals, as she felt the desire to reflect on traces of a lost loved one after that loved one’s death (O’Sullivan, 2010: 1). Indeed, Dickinson’s confusion towards death is further explored in her short poem Is Heaven a Physician? (Dickinson, 1999). Here, she ponders the healing power of Heaven and how useful it really is if it only occurs after a person has died (Dickinson, 1999: 1: III-IV). Her satirizing of the afterlife is given even more gravitas in the second half of the poem, when she questions the debt she owes to God. Her words, “But that negotiation I’m not a party to –“, (Dickinson, 1999: 2: VII-VIII) suggest that she is not only displeased with God, but also angry at Him. However, it is interesting to note that the poem ends on a hyphen. This could mean that the speaker is still indecisive with regard to her opinion about the afterlife, or even that she hopes that the reader will not share her decidedly cynical attitude towards Heaven.
“That it will never come again is what makes life sweet.” (Dickinson, n.d.). While perhaps oversimplified, this quote by Emily Dickinson seems to perfectly encapsulate the ever fleeting mortality of the human condition. However, it also speaks to the pure uniqueness of the Romantic era. Although Romanticism shaped Dickinson, our current understanding of Romanticism would not be possible without Dickinson’s influence, specifically her penchant for nature, her near obsession with morbidity, and, above all, her love for the individual.
Publication is the Auction: Literary Interpretation
Dickinson’s poem “Publication –is the Auction” deals with the speaker’s disdain toward the publication of an author’s works. The speaker seems to regard the act of publishing work as an act of selling oneself short, compromising one’s purity and integrity. In the first line, the speaker conveys the impersonality of publication by comparing it to an auction, something detached and businesslike. The speaker goes on to say that the only acceptable reason for publishing work is if the author is struggling with poverty and needs to publish to survive. Next, the speaker brings in personal experience by stating she would rather turn white because of staying in her attic and, presumably, writing poetry which will never be seen. The speaker also incorporates the concept of a higher being as the creator of thoughts. This higher being then passes thoughts on to the writer, or “Him Who bear / It’s Corporeal Illustration” (10-11). The image of a poem being something that can be bought and sold as a commodity continues throughout the poem.
Many of the words in this poem have more than one meaning and function in multiple ways. The word “publish” is used to mean both commercialization (i.e. publishing books for sale) and releasing something to the public non-commercially. The definition of the word “auction” is also interesting, because it mentions that the object being bid on will go to the highest bidder. This definition implies that not only is the object only worth monetary value, but that the monetary value is almost arbitrary. To say that publication is like an auction is to say that the reason for publishing is not even to share something, but simply to make the most profit possible. Many of the other words, such as “parcel,” “merchant,” and “price,” create a very businesslike and cold image.
The poem gives no indication that the speaker is anyone but Dickinson herself. The context of the poem is simply a single speaker expressing feelings on writing and publication. Her attitude and the poem’s tone are passionate in an assertive yet non-threatening way. She is angry toward the entire concept of publication and what it does to a person. The diction is a few steps above casual speech, but it is not complicated. The ease of the diction allows the reader to better understand the meaning of the poem. It is also an example of the poem’s message; the diction, just as the author, does not put on airs.
The open form of this poem made scansion more difficult. There is a clear rhyme scheme and some classic poetic devices are present, but these aspects are not altogether grouped in familiar ways. The first stanza is composed of two pairs of rhyming couplets, in which the first rhyming couplet is two lines ending in near rhyme with the words “auction” and “man,” thus creating an “a-a-b-b” rhyme pattern. The remaining three stanzas are quatrains with various rhyme schemes and rhythms. The second stanza has a much more obvious rhyme scheme of “c-d-c-d.” In the third stanza, the rhyme scheme is broken up, with a pattern of “e-f-g-e.” This variation in common rhyme scheme is jarring to the reader. The last stanza has the same rhyme scheme as the second, with a pattern of “h-i-h-i.”
The prevailing foot of the poem is trochaic, with the actual meter varying from line to line. The first line of each stanza is clearly trochaic tetrameter. The fact that the beginning of each stanza is clearly identifiable provides a stable anchor for the rest of the lines. Some of the lines have an extra beat hanging at the end, which almost allows the reader to carry over the beat into the next line, helping the enjambment. The caesurae and the enjambment that almost always follow are the poet’s tools to control the discourse time, forcing the reader to pause at certain words and think of their meaning not only in the current line, but also the lines before and after the word.
There are medial and terminal caesurae in virtually every line, which force the reader to stop and concentrate on certain words or phrases. For example, in the first line of the second stanza, “Possibly –but We –would rather” (5), there are two caesurae. The first caesura disconnects the word “possibly” from the rest of the line. One of the reasons for this, aside from distinguishing the word as being important, is that the actual word “possibly” could link back to the last two lines in the previous stanza in which the speaker says that “Poverty –be justifying / For so foul a thing” (3-4). The addition of the word “possibly” indicates the speaker’s apprehension to even admit there is a good reason for publishing one’s work. The third stanza is almost all enjambment, even carrying its thoughts over to the next stanza with the lines “It’s Corporeal Illustration –sell / The Royal Air / In the Parcel –Be the Merchant” (11-13). This enjambment is paired with syntactic doubling, because a line could easily refer to the line before it or after it.
The figurative language in this poem is the most interesting and refreshing characteristic of it. The entire poem is an extended metaphor in which publication is the tenor, and an auction is the vehicle with which the tenor is described. The concept of publication seems cold, impersonal, and very money-driven to the speaker. An auction is exactly that –an object is sold to the highest bidder as fast as possible with the main concern being how much profit the seller will make. The comparison of publication to an auction reveals information about the writer’s feelings toward the subject.
Within the extended metaphor of the auction lie more metaphors and imagery. In the second stanza the speaker mentions “white” and “snow.” She says she would rather become pale and die in her attic than sell her “snow.” She says she would rather go pale and go “unto the White Creator” (7), which is presumably a metonymy for God. If the “White Creator” is God and “Thought belong to Him who gave it / Then –to Him Who bear / It’s Corporeal Illustration” (9-11)), then the “white” and “snow” are the poet’s thoughts and poetry itself. This entire reasoning creates an entirely different metaphor.
Dickinson’s “Publication –is the Auction” is a speaker’s protest against publication because of what it does to a person’s soul and their thoughts. Publication degrades the human spirit by putting an arbitrary price on it. The speaker feels so strongly about this that she implies she would rather essentially sit in her attic and die than publish her work and allow her mind, soul, and integrity to be compromised.
The Construction and Depiction of Madness
I Felt a Funeral in my Brain presents a narrative image of one slowly descending into madness and gives the reader a first person outlook on the whole ordeal. This poem, written by Emily Dickinson, a depressed antisocial poet, was written in 1862 in the solitude of her own home. Dickinson uses metaphors and imagery of funerals, planks, and mourners to describe the situation at hand. The main theme of this poem is one’s journey into madness, from the beginning where “Sense” (line 4) is still reasonable, until the end, where “a Plank of Reason broke” (line 17). Throughout the poem, Dickinson tells a story, not from her own experience, but rather from her imagination and contemplations over a loss of reason and insanity. This expository poem I Felt a Funeral in my Brain gives Dickinson’s view that one’s journey into insanity is originated by ones imagination by using imagery, metaphors, and a narrative story.
From the first stanza of I Felt a Funeral in my Brain, Emily Dickinson uses morbid metaphors in her narrative. From the first line, one can tell that it is not a literal funeral, but instead a metaphorical death. Dickinson is using the metaphor of a funeral to represent that part of her, most specifically her reason, is dying. Dickinson presents this poem in such a way as to think this situation is happening to her. When she says “I felt a Funeral in my Brain” (line 1), she is not saying that feels like it is in her brain; instead it is part of her. She uses the image of “mourners to and fro” (line 2) to show that her thoughts are restless and jumbled. When she mentions the constant treading in line three, this can be explained as her thoughts metaphorically racing inside her head. The line, “That Sense was breaking through” (line 4) seems as if she is trying to gather her thoughts but her reason is slowly giving away. This first stanza directs the reader into a melancholy state of mind by using a metaphor of a funeral and imagery of the senses to convey her ideas.
In the second stanza of I Felt a Funeral in my Brain, Emily Dickinson plays on the human senses to draw the reader into the poem. She leads into the second stanza by saying “and when” (line 5), which shows the reader this is a narrative poem. In the sixth line, the poet refers to the service being “like a Drum.” This is unusual, because funerals are a quiet event and therefore drums are not usually acceptable in this sort of setting. However, Dickinson could be relating the drums to a headache because her thoughts and reason are both swarming around in her brain. Next, she says her head is “beating-beating- till I thought my mind was going numb” (lines 7-8). This shows that her brain is starting to numb, and while the pain is leaving, her sensations of her reason are diminishing. Through this stanza, the reader can see the open progression of Dickinson’s dwindling reason.
Dickinson completes the metaphoric funeral by placing her unreasoned self into a coffin and closes off any hope for the restoration of reason. She begins the third stanza with the words “now then” (line 9) which continues her narrative. In this stanza, she is using the metaphorical funeral by showing how she is being put into the coffin, left, and the emptiness in her head is challenging her reason yet again. She mentions a religious term in line ten when she says they “creak across my Soul.” Her soul symbolizes the ground on which the funeral has taken place; it is the last solid part of her reason and self since the rest of her is left for dead. One thing she is certain of is the sounds she hears while in her metaphoric coffin. She says she hears the pallbearers placing her in the coffin and walks over her soul “with those same Boots of Lead, again” (line 11). The word “again” is important because this appears to the reader that she still holds onto her five senses. It is also important because it indicates that she has heard these “boots of lead” before, sometime in her life span, however she cannot recall when or where she has these recollections. Finally, she ends the stanza with saying, and “then Space-began to toll” (line 12). Because everyone has finally left, she is abandoned with her own thoughts and the emptiness is taking its strain on her brain. This stanza begins the rapid departure of her brain and is continued in stanza four.
From the lonely emptiness ending in stanza three, Dickinson advances in her forlorn state and uses metaphors to describe her predicament in stanza four. She compares heaven and earth when she says, “as all the Heavens were a Bell” (line 13) and symbolizes the noise to be church bells ringing for the death of her sanity. The bell is another repetitive term such as the treading and beating mentioned earlier before. These lines could be the most important lines in the poem because it shows the passing of her reason into a world of metaphors and similes that only she can understand. Dickinson then realizes how far she is cut off from the human race when she writes, “and I, and Silence, some strange Race” (line 15). This shows the bleakness of her situation; she is so segregated from the rest of the human race, “silence” is her only companion left. She describes her rationality in saying, “wrecked, solitary, here” (line 16). While her thoughts are not running rampantly through her brain, she is now alone and her brain is separated from the sensible world that she once knew. This stanza completely cuts the poet off from anything realistic and leaves her in her own world of solitude.
Emily Dickinson finishes her poem by losing all consciousness of her reason and leaves almost an unsettling taste in the reader’s mind. “And then a Plank in Reason, broke” (line 17) shows that she still had a piece of reason left, but it is now gone for good. She is dropped from the one piece she had left and has lost all rational support. It is then noted that she “hit a World, at every plunge” (19). This shows that she can see other worlds in the sense of madness and can realize things she never understood before. The final line of the poem, “and finished knowing-then” (line 20) supports the idea that she cannot contain any more knowledge because she is now fully insane. The poem is wrapped up quite abruptly with the last word “then.” There is no clear ending to this poem, however, some interpretations could be that she gets amnesia, she dies at the end of the poem, or she was dead at the beginning, she just did not know. I Felt a Funeral in my Brain leaves the reader wanting a more ameliorative ending.
I Felt a Funeral in my Brain introduces more questions throughout the poem than it answers, and leaves the reader confused and checking her own sanity. Throughout the poem, Dickinson progresses with the loss of rationality. She uses many images, such as funerals, mourners, bells, and services to convey her ideas on sanity. She portrays the poem as a narrative, going from stanza to stanza describing the life forming details of her insanity. Overall, Emily Dickinson makes an effective case about the stages of becoming insane and the last phase that completes one’s brain from losing all reason.
Constructing One’s Identity in the Romantic Context
Emily Dickinson once said: “We meet no stranger but ourself.” This quote relates strongly to the theme of identity within her poems. It can be taken to mean that it is easy for us to get to know others. To understand oneself, however, is a much more difficult task. As people, we are constantly evolving, so truly knowing ourselves is a never ending journey. Much of her body of work relates to searching for one’s own identity, as well as exploring what it means to be a woman in the Romantic Era. In this essay, I will be discussing Dickinson’s views on her personal identity, as well as the identity of women in general during the Romantic Era. I will be focussing mainly on “The Wife”, with supporting evidence from “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” and “The Soul selects her own Society”.
“The Wife” offers a strong critique of the lack of identity many women suffered during the Romantic Era. The lines “[s]he rose to his requirement, dropped / [t]he playthings of her life” is the harsh reality of what happened when women were married (Emily Dickinson, The Wife, verse 1, lines 1-2). The term “playthings” implies that anything a woman was involved in was not to be taken seriously (Emily Dickinson, The Wife, verse 1, line 2). It also expresses the idea that women’s hobbies were something simple and childlike. They needed something to pass the time until they were wives and mothers and had ‘real’ work to do. A woman would need to grow up and rise above them to do the “honourable work” of a wife (Emily Dickinson, The Wife, verse 1, line 3). Along with losing their name, women would lose their sense of personal identity, and become an addendum to their husband’s identity. Their worth would not be determined by their own achievements, but by the status of their husband.
Looking at this poem in relation to Dickinson’s life, it makes sense that she feared the institution of marriage and what it would mean for her. Poetry was her life and gave her a sense of identity. If she married, however, her poetry would be considered her “[plaything]” (Emily Dickinson, The Wife, verse 1, line 2). She would have to give it up, and it would “lay unmentioned” (Emily Dickinson, The Wife, verse 3, line 9). This poem gives birth to another dangerous idea: women only truly become women when they marry. Until then, they are still children preoccupied with “playthings” (Emily Dickinson, The Wife, verse 1, line 2). The fact that Dickinson remained unmarried in spite of this public opinion shows the strength of her convictions. She was confident enough in herself and her poetry to consider herself a woman, even without the approval of society.
“The Soul selects her own Society” reinforces Dickinson’s belief in staying true to oneself. In a time when women were expected to attend every large social gathering and force intimacies with each other, she subverted expectations and chose to live a life apart from others. Rather than pretend to be someone she was not or fake pleasantries with the other ladies in her circle, she would take one or two close friends, and “[shut] the door; / [o]n her divine majority” (Emily Dickinson, The Soul selects her own Society, verse 1, lines 2-3). The term “divine” implies that going against the norms of society in this way was considered almost sinful. However, the speaker is simply not impressed by status or grandeur. The speaker is even “unmoved [by] an Emperor… kneeling” (Emily Dickinson, The Soul selects her own Society, verse 2, line 7). It is widely speculated that Dickinson was deeply agoraphobic. Rather than live a life of constant social interaction – and therefore terror – she built a life that she could be content in.
“I’m Nobody! Who are you?” shows Dickinson’s contentment with her solitude. The line “they’d advertise – you know!” evokes images of advertising for a freak show, and shows what an oddity the speaker would have been considered at the time (Emily Dickinson, I’m Nobody! Who are you?, verse 1, line 4). Women were expected to be social climbers. As previously stated, the position of a women in society was determined by her husband. As such, women were expected to seek advantageous matches. A woman content with being a nobody would have been unheard of. The speaker is not only content with her lowly status, the idea of being someone of import is “dreary” to her (Emily Dickinson, I’m Nobody! Who are you?, verse 2, line 5).
In conclusion, it can be seen that Dickinson spent her life trying to understand not only herself, but also the world, through the lens of her poetry. She hid herself in solitude, finding it more worth her while to plumb the depths of her own identity than to take on the acquaintance of too many others. As she said, “We meet no stranger but ourself”. Understanding her own thoughts and feelings was more important to her than understanding those of others. What was expected of young women at the time held no interest to her. Instead, she buried herself in her poetry, and found herself there. She eschewed all of the ways in which young women of the time gained an identity, such as entering society and marrying well. In lacking an identity in the eyes of society, she found her true identity. Though mostly alone, she had poetry as a constant companion. Unlike other young women of the time, her identity was not linked to that of her husband or father. Her identity was merely the qualities she found within herself, in the confines of her solitude.
Dickinson, E. 1896. Love, Poem 17: The Wife. The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Series One (Lit2Go Edition). Retrieved November 12, 2016, from https://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/114/the-poems-of-emily-dickinson-series-one/2395/love-poem-17-the-wife/
Dickinson, E. 1896. Life, Poem 13: Exclusion. The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Series One (Lit2Go Edition). Retrieved November 14, 2016, from https://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/114/the-poems-of-emily-dickinson-series-one/2337/life-poem-13-exclusion/
Dickinson, E. 1960. I’m Nobody! Who are you?. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Retrieved November 11, 2016, from https://poets.org/poem/im-nobody-who-are-you-260
The Concept of Ambiguity and Its Significance
Emily Dickinson, in most of her poetry, proves to cherish ambiguity. Some of her poems can be perceived in multiple different ways of which none are right or wrong. Depending on how the reader sees and interprets the poem, the meaning is twisted to fit their view. The ambiguity in her writing relates to the idea that human beings cannot tell what the world means, but they try to figure it out anyway. Dickinson offers explanations and answers in a way that does not state them as facts, but proposes them as possibilities. In her poems “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died-” and “I died for Beauty – but was scarce”, Dickinson uses ambiguity to suggest that there are several different ways to view the mysteries of the world.
In the poem “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died-“, Dickinson proposes answers to the question of the existence of divinity in the world. The narrator has died and is lingering around, with other people, waiting for the presence of “the King” (“I heard a Fly buzz” line 7). The “King”, in this use, is God. They want to witness a sign that there is divinity in the world around them. The only sign of anything in the room, however, is a fly. The ambiguity of the poem comes into play with two different readings, one negative and one positive. In the negative reading, the poem tells the tale of the anti-climax in the belief of divinity. People wait their entire lives in search of a sign of God, or divinity. In death, they hope to see a hint of what they believe in, but instead all there is is a fly buzzing about. In this reading, humans never get to experience God, despite their life-long beliefs. In the positive reading, on the other hand, humans ultimately see to see that everything is divine, including the fly. This interpretation suggests that the fly might be God, and even though there is no way to be sure, there are subtle hints. The fly is described as “Blue”, which is a color that is associated with the Virgin Mary and divinity (“I heard a Fly buzz” line 13), and it appears between the light and the narrator, which hints at light being a representation of understanding or heaven (“I heard a Fly buzz” line 14). This reading proposes that although there may never seem to be signs of true divinity while alive, humans will ultimately understand that everything they saw was divine. The two separate ways to interpret this poem were purposefully designed by Dickinson as offerings to the question of divinity that humans will never know the answer to. This poem’s ambiguity can lead readers in either direction, altering the meaning and the answer they see.
The poem “I died for Beauty – but was scarce” tells the tale of two deceased people. One has lived life for beauty, and the other has lived for truth. The two talked at night until the moss that grew covered their lips and their names. This poem offers to readings in the same way as the poem, “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died-“. The negative reading suggests that death and nature ultimately obliterate all of the high-minded searches for things like truth and beauty. These noble pursuits are nothing when death approaches. The names of truth and beauty, and the names of the people who devoted their lives to these virtues, are covered up by the growth of nature, and seemingly forgotten. The positive reading, however, proposes that as divinity is in everything, the moss is divine too, even as it grows and covers up noble pursuits. Also, the death of those in the name of beauty and truth represent universal unity. Although the two individuals may have spent their lives completely separate from each other, they are joined in death. There is solace in the unity of death, and the divinity of the moss proves to be special in covering the individuals. This poem’s ambiguity offers two different interpretations. One views the negative side of death in that it destroys all noble pursuits that have been life-long. The positive side offers comfort in the idea that death is a type of unity that all meet at, and that divinity can be found in even the miniscule things, such as moss. The ambiguity of the poem leads to different readings, and the reader is the one who decides how they view the message of the poem.
In “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died-“ and “I died for Beauty – but was scarce”, Emily Dickinson uses purposeful ambiguity to propose different possible answers to questions that human beings may never know the answer to. Questions about the divinity of the world and the aftermath of death can never be answered. Dickinson offers several different interpretations of her poems in order to propose possible answers. There is no right or wrong way of viewing the messages of the poems, because there is no right or wrong answer to the mysteries of the world. The technique of using ambiguity alters the poems meanings because each reading offers a different message. The reader sees and understands what they read the poem to mean, whether negative or positive, it is neither right nor wrong, and Dickinson created her writing specifically to suggest that the answers to the questions she writes about are arbitrary and can never really be answered.
The Dark Side of Love
Emily Dickinson’s poem, “My Life Had Stood – A Loaded Gun,” explores grim themes found behind the romanticized perception of love. In the beginning of the work, Dickinson shows the headstrong and volatile nature of the speaker. A man chooses this woman and accompanies her intimately throughout their lives. She affirms that she feels fully content with this man, and as a result, she states that she is prepared to protect their relationship via any means necessary. Despite the speaker’s apparent satisfaction, the last section of the piece reveals that she would rather die than live a lonely life without her partner. This poem illustrates that embracing love may beget traits of weakness such as dependency, jealousy, and obsession.
Dickinson’s work introduces the speaker as a woman with a great deal of explosive potential. In the first stanza, she describes herself as a loaded gun sitting in the corner, remaining idle until the day she is claimed: “The Owner passed – identified -/And carried Me away -” (3-4). With these depictive details, the speaker initially exudes an aura of fortitude. However, upon closer examination, it can be argued that this woman is the host to a range of weaknesses. Dependency is the trait of weakness that is most immediately exhibited in the poem. While likening herself to a firearm undeniably portrays the speaker as an intimidating being, one must not ignore her blatant hesitation. She does not attempt to independently realize her potential. Instead, the speaker willingly waits to be selected and swept away by a man. She sees an opportunity for growth and mobility, but feels her only chance to achieve this fulfillment is through a relationship. The release of her power depends solely on the incorporation of a powerful, masculine figure (Gelpi).
The woman’s dependency continues to be displayed, more aggressively, in the poem’s final stanza. Just as she refuses to properly begin her personal journey without the man, she feels equally unable to carry on after his death: “Though I than He – may longer live/ He longer must – than I -” (21-22). While the speaker may possess some degree of newfound power, the control rests only in the hands of her owner (“Commentary”). He is the driving force that fuels and enables the woman. In her mind, the extent of her progress reaches its limit on the day that she loses him. Dickinson’s work emphatically expresses the speaker’s dependence on the man who claims her.
With such heavy reliance on the man, it is natural that the speaker also presents signs of possessiveness. She clearly demonstrates this behavior in the poem’s fifth stanza: “To foe of His – I’m deadly foe -/ None stir the second time -/ On whom I lay a Yellow Eye -” (17-19). Her hostile words are delivered mercilessly, outlining the inevitable fate of her adversaries. Humans crave certainty and, as a result, can easily become jealous creatures. A jealous attitude often indicates the presence of insecurity (Pelusi). This logic seamlessly applies to the woman in Dickinson’s poem. Her jealous tendencies are irrefutable, and they likely originate from a shaky sense of self. In the beginning of the poem, she could do nothing more than sit inactively before the arrival of the man. She can barely function or produce even the slightest amount of self-confidence without her partner. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that she struggles with severe insecurity and feels the need to jealously ambush those who catch the eye of her companion.
As her unhealthy mindset shows, the speaker relies on extreme means to maintain her grip on the man. The woman’s helpless and protective nature reveals that her image of strength is merely an illusion. Beneath this facade lies great fragility. The combination of these factors results in an obsessive personality. The speaker is completely consumed with her feelings for her owner. As she perceives it, her function is simply an extension of the his power and will (Yukman). The man’s existence wholly dictates her actions, urges, and interests. Furthermore, she is willing to kill in the interest of preserving her relationship. Such intent goes well beyond the boundaries of normal, healthy concern. Just as the speaker’s low self-esteem may contribute to her possessive tendencies, it can also encourage her to obsess over the man. Jealousy and imagined threats can lead to obsession, as well (“Dealing”). Rather than practicing autonomy, the woman carries every facet of her relationship to an extreme.
Emily Dickinson’s poem, “My Life Had Stood- A Loaded Gun,” is centered around a woman who is described as hardened and powerful. Underneath that exterior, however, she possesses several significant weaknesses. While she does metaphorically relate herself to a gun, a weapon is only dangerous in the hands of its owner. In Dickinson’s work, this owner is a man who discovers the speaker and claims her. Naturally, her most distinct weakness is dependency. She relies entirely on the man to motivate and enable her. Because he is such a crucial element of her life, she must cope with intense feelings of insecurity and jealousy. She dispenses serious threats in order to protect their relationship. As these personality traits suggest, the woman’s nature is extreme and obsessive. Though she initially appears strong, at her core, the speaker is desperately weak.
“Commentary on ‘My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun’”. Columbia Granger’s World of Poetry Online. 2010. Columbia University Press. Web. 29 Mar. 2010.
“Dealing With an Obsessive Lover”. India Times. 1 Feb. 2010. Web. 2 Apr. 2010.
Dickinson, Emily. “My Life Had Stood- A Loaded Gun”. Backpack Literature,3rded. Longman, 2006. Print.
Gelpi, Albert. “Emily Dickinson and the Deerslayer: The Dilemma of the Woman Poet in America”. Shakespeare’s Sisters: Feminist Essays on Women Poets. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar. 1979. Web. 29 Mar. 2010.
Pelusi, Nando. “Jealousy: A Voice of Possessiveness Past”. Psychology Today. 1 Jul. 2006. Web. 1 Apr. 2010.
Yukman, Claudia. “Breaking the Eschatological Frame: Dickinson’s Narrative Acts.” Emily Dickinson Journal. 1992. Web. 29 Mar. 2010.
The Symbolism and Significance of Nature in the Poetry
To Emily Dickinson, a keen botanist, nature was a beautiful mystery, and throughout her life spent vast amount of time among plants, yet never felt connected to the natural world. Her writing reflects this lack of connection, and the inability to penetrate nature, when describing the grass that “closes at your feet” in ‘A narrow Fellow in the Grass’. This incapability to be a part of nature is further demonstrated in many of her other poems; in ‘A Bird came down the Walk’ she is unable to offer “a Crumb” to the bird, and she is unable to reach the “so far” water of ‘What mystery pervades a well!’ In ‘A narrow Fellow in the Grass’, Dickinson presents a paradox; man is distant from nature, yet in close proximity, to show man’s lack of understanding of nature. She describes nature in detail, displaying not only her passion for it, but her physical closeness, however uses the simile “divides as with a Comb” for the grass, which is a juxtaposition of the natural and unnatural, demonstrating her lack of understanding, and therefore emotional distance. This is further emphasised by the dash which ends this line, representing a barrier between man and nature, despite nature being “at your feet”.
Dickinson in this way mocks Romanticism and Transcendentalism, which believed in the connection between man and nature, which to her was not simple. This poem presents the complexity she sees in the relationship, and how difficult it is for a human to know nature. Dickinson not only presents a lack of understanding towards nature, but a detachment on nature’s part. Whilst Dickinson may want to know nature, nature is indifferent towards man, which she shows by explaining nature’s inclination towards the “cool” ground. “Cool”, while literally is about temperature, has connotations with disinterest, aloofness, and distance, and is later reflected in the display of “cordiality” between man and nature – a formal, stilted relationship. The detachment between man and nature shown in ‘A narrow Fellow in the Grass’ is also portrayed in Dickinson’s ‘What mystery pervades a well!’ However, here she uses eerie imagery to convey this; she suggests that nature is alien to her, describing it as “from another world”, and thus it is out of reach to her – although this juxtaposes with her personification of nature as a “neighbour”, which has friendlier, more familiar connotations. The most frightening however is the simile of the “abyss’s face”, which suggests that she cannot really see nature; it is a black hole in her knowledge and understanding of the world, an element of a dark presentation of the relationship between man and nature.
A further presentation is the danger of nature to man, which in ‘A narrow Fellow in the Grass’ is immediately evident, as snakes have deceptive and deadly connotations in the Bible account of the Garden of Eden. Dickinson also describes the movement of the snake as “a Whip lash”; a fast, violent, and unpredictable movement, one which was particularly frightening to her, as she suffered from epilepsy, which made such aggressive, jerking movements more terrifying. Such description is juxtaposed with the “Unbraiding” that comes after, which both reinforces the idea that nature is a mystery to Dickinson, and also further demonstrates how unpredictable nature is, making it therefore, a destructive and dangerous force. It is also within this stanza that the meter changes, and many of the lines become catalectic, which highlights the hazards of nature towards man. Also in ‘A narrow Fellow in the Grass’, Dickinson uses the metaphor of “spotted shaft that is seen”, suggesting that the snake is a weapon of nature. This displays how dangerous nature is; that it uses weaponry, an army against man. This danger is further highlighted by the sibilance of this line, which sounds like the threatening hissing of a snake, and further reiterates Dickinson’s presentation of the danger of nature to man. Despite nature being presented as a danger to man, it is also shown to be a higher power, demonstrating Dickinson’s awe of the natural world. She refers to nature as “Him” with a capital, which suggests it is Godly in her eyes, and has a great power. This further highlights the point that she does not understand nature, as Dickinson, whilst she was religious, did not hold all Christian beliefs, and was unsure of God’s powers. In addition to this, she later in the poem refers to “Nature’s People”, who appear elevated, due to their capitalisation, and seems to have respect for them, regarding them with “cordiality”. This could be both a reference to God’s disciples, and to the missionaries Dickinson was surrounded by, who she respected, despite not understanding them or their ideas, which had her casted out as a ‘no hoper’. In spite this underlying suggestion of conflict in her faith, Dickinson’s likening of nature to God is a powerful metaphor which lifts it, and creates a further distance in the relationship between man and nature.
The elevation of nature is also suggested in ‘A Bird came down the Walk’, but is presented through regal imagery, instead of Biblical. Dickinson describes the bird’s head as “Velvet”, which has connotations with Kings, and conjures up the image of a crown. This displays how highly she thought of nature, and again how distant it was to her, as in America, where she was from, there was no monarchy, so it was something she did not understand. Dickinson was in awe of nature, and the elevation of it amongst her poetry demonstrates this. Dickinson also suggests that perhaps nature is so above her, that she can never reach it; it will never allow her to be a part of it. She explains in ‘A narrow Fellow in the Grass’ how she observed when the “Grass divides” but then goes on to describe how it “closes at your feet”, not allowing her to enter its world. She also writes that she could not “secure it” as it “wrinkled” from her reach, displaying its reluctance to let her near it. This is similarly displayed by Dickinson in her poem ‘A Bird came down the Walk-‘, in which she offers the bird “a Crumb” but he flies “home” , and “Leaps” to be as far from her as possible. Nature being shown purposefully acting to keep her out suggests how frustrated she felt by being unable to connect to nature, as no matter how hard she tried, she never became any closer to it. In this way, Dickinson further presents the relationship between man and nature as greatly distant.
Dickinson sees nature in many ways; she is in awe of nature, she is terrified of nature, she is intrigued by nature, and she is confused by nature. These juxtaposing thoughts show just how great man’s lack of understanding is of the world around, and how far man is from understanding. The key idea Dickinson presents throughout her nature based poetry, is that man and nature are distant beings; no matter how much man may try to reach nature, he will never succeed.
Adjusting to Darkness in Dickinson’s Poem
In Emily Dickinson’s 419th untitled poem, more commonly known by its first line, “We grow accustomed to the Dark-“, the speaker describes two distinct situations in which people must gradually adjust to “darkness”. The first portion is fairly lucid, using concrete images to portray a simple nighttime farewell that describes the time it takes for eyes to adapt to a lack of light; however, though the final stanzas comment on the same theme of reorienting oneself amid obscurity, this last portion is ensconced in symbolism and conspicuous abstraction. Only by examining the similarities and differences of both can a clear message be extrapolated from the poem. Utilizing the ease and palpability of the poem’s first two stanzas as a foundation, Dickinson makes the metaphorical analogy that people need time and courage to adjust not only to the physical darkness of night, but to the emotional darkness of the mind, as well.
The poem begins with two stanzas containing concrete, perceptible imagery that establish the mood, theme, and basis for the message that the poem will build upon. It begins with broad strokes (“We grow accustomed to the Dark -/ When light is put away”) and continues to describe how we “fit our Vision to the Dark -” as the “newness of the night -” requires. In these few commonplace observations, the speaker immediately establishes a communal point of view, thus implying a collective importance to the act of adjusting to the darkness. By using the word “dark”, the speaker foregoes more sweet and somber synonyms such as “night” in favor of a word that has massively negative connotations, ranging all the way from sadness to evil and even death. The capitalization intensifies the power and absoluteness of the word – an effect that is compounded by the phrase “light is put away.” The verb phrasing of “put” implies that light, and therefore darkness, is beyond our control. “Dark” also suggests feelings of isolation (a lack of light correspondingly implies a lack of people), as well as dismal skepticism (we cannot be sure of much without our sight). Both of these emotional connotations are amplified by the specific scene Dickinson creates. “The Neighbor holds the Lamp/ To witness her Goodbye – / A Moment -” and unadjusted to the dark, “We uncertain step.” Like the darkness, the goodbye forces the literal isolation of “We” and makes that same collective markedly timorous.
The trepidation and gloom created by the diction and imagery of the first two stanzas is reinforced by their structure. The stanzas have no rhyme scheme at all; such a form would detract from the anxiety and unrest found in other parts of the poem. The repeated use of dashes in the poem at line breaks and in the middle of phrases creates a frantic slant to the narration (such as in the line, “A Moment -/ We uncertain step”). When read out loud the dashes create an intriguing choice for readers: to speed up in breathy haste and ascribe a frenetic nature to the speaker’s uncertainty, or to leave a disquieting pause and contribute to the tremulous mood and overall dismal feel of the poem. The dashes also create halting moments in an otherwise steady rhythm and meter of alternating iambic tetrameter and trimeter. Yet this raises an interesting question: why utilize such a strict meter when it betrays other facets of the poem? The answer is two-fold. The speaker says we “meet the Road – erect -“, implying that there is a relatively well-worn path out of physical darkness and courage to call upon for the journey. Following this, the steady march of the iambs could be used to mimic the simple steps one can take to leave physical darkness; just put one foot in front of the other. But there is also a simpler option: it was made to be broken.
In the final two stanzas of the poem, the structure undergoes several key changes indicating not only that different “larger – Darknesses” are being discussed, but also helping to elucidate key facets of these new nights. Generally, the form begins to interact with poetry on a sensual level. When the speaker describes how some attempt to leave the darkness “And sometimes hit a tree / Directly in the Forehead”, meter and rhythm mimic these tactile interactions. There are multiple stresses on top of each other in “sometimes hit” so that the sound upon pronunciation is noticeably harsher – as if an actual hit has taken place. The symmetry of “Directly in the Forehead” actually looks like two objects about to knock into each other and the difference in meter between its iambs and the previous lines’ flawed stresses – as well as having five short syllables preceding two long ones – makes the line positively arresting. Both of these formal points emulate the actual content of the line, creating a heightened connection between poem and reader which indicates that these darknesses are of a much more sensual, personal nature.
Rhyme is also used to symbolize aspects of the adjustment to these new darknesses. The second line in stanza four, ending in “Tree”, actually synchs in rhyme to the fourth line, “But as they learn to see -“. The second and third lines of the last stanza also rhyme: “something in the sight / Adjusts itself to Midnight -“. These rhymes indicate the closeness to realizing true sight; in the first example they are learning to see and are one line apart; in the second example adjustment is achieved and the lines create a couplet. Yet the role of the last line in this new pattern creates an added dimension to the reading: “And Life steps almost straight.” If life is stepping straight, one would expect a rhyme to go with this happy ending – yet there is none. Instead, despite the suffix “ight” being repeated in the last line as in the previous two, there is no rhyme. It is strikingly close to, but not quite, a rhyme – just as life can “almost” step out of the darkness.
The form of the final stanzas indicates that the new darknesses within the poem are of a more intimate and tragic nature, but to ascertain their exact composition as mental darknesses one must unpack the abstract images Dickinson uses to describe them. For example, the concept of plural “darknesses” that are “larger” – more painful, more gloomy – than the “Dark” described previously is an invaluable characterization. The darknesses are also characterized as “Evenings of the Brain”, and when “The Bravest” try to escape them, they end up getting hit in the “Forehead”. The metaphor to “Evenings” as well as the plurality of the darkness suggests that these darknesses recur regularly, and the use of two cerebral nouns, “brain” and “forehead”, indicates that they occur in the mind. This reading of darknesses is supported by the following lines: “When not a Moon disclose a sign – / Or Star – come out – within -“. The moon and star, possible solutions to physical darkness, are converted to an indefinite nature and used as metaphorical solutions to the many evenings of mental darkness. The fact that the potential solutions could be internal in nature also speaks to the mental aspect of the darknesses.
Dickinson’s poem utilizes an amalgam of form, rhythm, and imagery which are all based on the varied connotations of the word “dark”; however, marked distinctions within those areas ultimately reveal a metaphorical analogy between a literal, physical darkness and metaphorical, mental darknesses that are ultimately more personal and more tragic. The exact composition of that cerebral gloom remains ambiguous, forcing readers to make a personal connection to their own problems – those recurring evenings of mental darkness that are impossible to step away from – while at the same time encouraging them to recognize the collective importance of working against such events.
Life Journey As Described In Because I Could Not Stop For Death
Life after death is a topic that humans know the least about, as a result this leaves us with a sense of uncertainty. Emily Dickinson wrote a poem in iambic meter called “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” to tell a story about a character’s journey through life, which helps explain the concept of the cycle of life. In the first line, the poem opens with the title’s name “Because I could not stop for Death,” this portrays that the speaker did not want to stop for death. However, the speaker seems to personify the concept of death as a gentleman in the following line “He kindly stopped for me” since death had the intention to stop for them. The final two lines of the stanza refer to a “carriage”(3) the gentleman took this person for a ride on, and inside with the two characters is “immortality”(4). Dickinson’s use of diction depicts the sense of death as a kind man, which suggests the emotion of comfort because she got inside his “carriage”. On the other hand, her use of the word “held” contrarily implies that the speaker did not want to stop because it hints that she was not there voluntarily. The “carriage” is a major symbol of the journey from life to death because it is used to tell the story chronologically as if it were an actual carriage ride through life. The author’s choice of words is not giving a clear message, which intensifies the feeling of the unknown because the word “immortality” could have different meanings depending on the reader such as the hope of afterlife or the fear that there will be nothing after death.
Throughout the second stanza, it continues on with the story by describing their journey into more detail. “We slowly drove-He knew no haste”(5) gives the sense that death is not in a rush because there was no reason to rush since death is a natural part of life. A prominent poetic device used many times by the author was alliteration. For example, the speaker states “And I had put away/My labor and my leisure too,/For His Civility,” the two words labor and leisure are two components that people have throughout their life, which is work and their free time. The speaker is implying that they had to give up these two factors in their life for death since he was “civil.” The third stanza begins to go into detail about their surroundings informing the reader that they had passed a school which is where the children “strove”(9). This choice of diction and its placement provides us with the sense of the children trying or giving effort. This relates to the past line in the previous stanza because once the character “put away”(6) their work and free time, it seems as if they set aside their effort to live as well. Throughout the third stanza, there are more examples of alliteration: “recess” and “ring”(10), “gazing” and “grain”(11), and lastly “setting”(12) and “sun.”(12) These details are placed in alliteration pairs to help emphasize the journey and give it a deeper meaning. It shows the different stages throughout life for instance, the children at recess is the childhood stage, while the harvested grain field they pass is the adulthood stage, and the setting sun is to imply the elderly stage. The use of imagery of the “gazing grain” also refers to the cycle of life since the grain gets harvested, to only be grown again in the following year. These details can be found in lines 9-12, and the importance of these lines is the fact it shows a shift in the meter since it switches from tetrameter to trimeter as well.
As the story continues, it seems to be getting vaguer the closer you get to the end rather than becoming more informing. The speaker claims “He passed us,” referring to the sun, which seems to not be possible. Considering the fact that this cannot happen it gives the poem a sense that leaves the reader to interpret the statement whichever way they want to. Dickinson uses the poetic device anaphora with the word “passed”(13) since it is stated three different times it reminds the reader that they are on a journey. In the fourth stanza it is acknowledged that the speaker is a woman because the details “gown”(15) and “tippet”(16) prove that she is wearing a gown and scarf. The fifth stanza contains more indistinct symbols as well such as the “house”(17) that was in the ground refers to her own grave. This symbolizes the final stage of life for the character which is death. In lines 18 and 20, the word “ground” is rhymed with itself which is unusual to the reader since the poem has had a rhyme scheme of ABCB the entire poem. The fact that now the scheme loses its pattern it creates emphasis on the image of the ground, which makes us take notice of the detail as the final resting place.
The final stanza seems to conclude the poem because the journey began in the past tense but now the speaker begins telling it through present tense. The speaker states that ever since then the “centuries”(21) passed, except it actually felt as if it was “shorter than the day”(22) meaning that she has no sense of time. Due to the fact that people do not actually know what life after death is like, Dickinson deepens the sense of unknown eternity by making it seem as if the narrator cannot keep track of time. This leaves the interpretation up to the readers, which adds onto the tone of mystery because they can either take it as a positive thing such as a place after death with no sense of time or in a negative sense that she is gone for good into a void of nothing. The “horses heads”(23) symbolize the front of the carriage, and the image that they “Were toward eternity”(24) shows the reader that they were going toward the stage of life after death.
Emily Dickinson wrote this poem to tell a story to prove that death is both unavoidable and unknown. The story was told as if the speaker was beyond the grave except she narrated it as if it were a journey in chronological order. It started from the beginning when the “carriage” took her until it dropped her off at her final destination which was her grave to show the last stage of her life. Dickinson utilizes the format of slant rhyme to write the story, which creates the tone of mysteriousness. Since the rhyme scheme is hidden it makes the story become elusive which relates to the topic of death being so uncertain. Dickinson also added many details which were ambiguous such as “dead for centuries”(21), and since she is not direct with her diction it leaves the reader to interpret it whichever way. This was done on purpose by the author because Dickinson is trying to describe the cycle of life to help answer the question that most people cannot which is what happens after death. The author doing this creates an unclear answer as to what happens however, it does inform the reader about the relationship between life and death. Even though Dickinson does not answer the question she does portray that life cannot happen without death, which gives us the sense of reassurance that death is just another part of the cycle of life and should not be feared.
Analysis Of Emily Dickinson’s Because I Could Not Stop For Death
At least at surface level of Emily Dickinson’s famous poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” the poem includes a personified Death who contradicts his classic trope of a terror educing entity in American literature, especially at the time. Upon meeting Death, the narrator proceeds on a journey with him and Immortality in order to spend the narrator’s assumedly last day visiting several locations. The poem ends in a twist with the narrator stating that the carriage ride had occurred an eternity ago. “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” can represent a countless number of subjects concerning Death and what comes after. Despite the almost limitless interpretations, readers often choose to classify the poem one of two ways: a comforting view of death and the afterlife or as an ironic, even devious, plethora of darker undertones set to mess with the reader’s mind.
The beginning of the poem appears similar to other writers at the time considering that the narrator “could not stop for Death” (Levine, et al. 101). In fact, without reading any further, the reader could presume that she feared Death, which would explain why she would not stop for him. However, the second line reveals that Death has “kindly” stopped for the narrator (Levine, et al. 101). At this point, Dickinson shows that the narrator’s relationship with Death strays far from more conventional interactions concerning him. It becomes apparent that the narrator does not dread Death and that he, in turn, acts as a courteous gentleman towards her. The term “kindly” feels ironic when comparing Death to his more traditional roles as an evil entity that takes as he pleases, with no consideration for the outcome of what he does. Afterwards, the reader learns that the narrator, Death, and the ever-silent Immortality accompany each other in a carriage. This carriage represents the journey to the afterlife. Which brings up the question that if Death had chosen to leave her there, would she have to wander around aimlessly, in between worlds, for the rest of eternity? This could indicate why she views Death as benevolent.
Death knowing “no haste” could be taken in various ways (Levine, et al. 101). It could have a literal meaning and merely imply that he did not feel rushed to go anywhere else. Yet, numerous people die each minute, so why would he not have to rush off to attend to them? Does this suggest that Death cannot abide by the same rules of time that all humans endure? Otherwise, this might have a representational meaning behind it and refer to a hearse taking her body to a cemetery. Next, we find out that the narrator has “put away” her “labor, and […] leisure too, for his civility” (Levine, et al. 101). The aforementioned line could signify that she has disregarded her duties and things that she cares for in favor of giving Death her undivided attention. Although the poem is lacking a reason as to why she would do this.
Vibrant imagery that begins to affect the audience’s interpretation of the poem saturates the entirety of stanza three. The first two lines could reflect the narrator’ own childhood, when she used to play games with her friends. Dickinson’s choice to use the word “children” instead of pupils or students could support this interpretation (Levine, et al. 101). Still, the phrase could also point to the concepts of youth, innocence, and knowledge. Many Romantic and pre-Romantic writers, poetry and books that Dickinson would have familiarized herself with, often used children to symbolize youth and innocence (Fletcher 2018). The following line is of particular interest. Dickinson does not only capitalize “Ring,” but she goes as far as to put dashes around it to ensure that her audience stops for a second and digests the phrase (Levine, et al. 101). The line could have a literal, childlike notation and solely talk about children playing with “the Ring” referring to a game. Still, the choice of “Ring” brings to memory the famous childhood song, “Ring Around the Rosie,” which is said to be a song about ‘The Black Plague.’ But with this discovery, brings on the startling contrast of Death characterized as “kind” in this poem to a more malevolent interpretation of him condemning thousands of lives including children in just a few years. The third line can be taken in two ways similar to the previous lines. The imagery of grain could symbolize food, a substance vital to life. Yet, with the line comes another hidden allusion to Death’s more traditional role as the Grimm Reaper. Finally, the line about them passing the Sun could also indicate a darker side to Death seeing as how death and night are often linked to each other in literature.
The first line of stanza four paired with the previous stanza could reference to the classic trope of one’s life flashing before their eyes as they die. On the other hand, the Sun could symbolize life passing them. The notion that Life passes them works well with the ideas of previous lines representing phenomena such as youth, knowledge, food, beauty, and happiness. The subsequent line uses phrases such as “quivering [and] chill,” which could indicate that the temperature has dropped substantially. The coldness could signify that there are ghosts present due to the trope of temperature dropping whenever a spirit comes near. The next line goes on to indicate that the narrator has a “gossamer” gown on (Levine, et al. 102). The gossamer gown could symbolize a multitude of notions. The first concept states that the narrator’s dress could be a wedding gown (Patchava & Aroustamian 2017). Though, that raises the question of who she intends to marry. A more obvious presumption would suggest that she aims to marry Death. Besides, the audience tends to forget about another entity in the carriage along with the narrator and Death, Immortality. This idea gains weight when pondering the last stanza given that she recalls that it has been years since the carriage ride and Immortality would assumedly go hand-in-hand with eternity. In fact, Immortality’s silence could indicate that their union is not a loving one and could symbolize how Dickinson felt about marriages. Still Ian Fletcher in the Literary Yard has a different perspective on Dickinson’s word choice. He explains that gossamer also means “a spider’s web” and that it could indicate that the narrator feels trapped inside a web with Death acting as the spider (Fletcher 2018).
The final stanza concludes the motion that the poem began with. In this stanza, the narrator starts off with calling her grave a house which is as discomforting as it is disorienting. Houses remain associated with feelings of warmth, safety, contentless, even family whilst graves typically provoke feelings of unease, fear, and cold. The narrator starts to sound vaguer and more abstract, almost cold, disinterested, and depersonalized. The ending, especially, feels almost bitter and
After reviewing the entirety of the poem, it becomes apparent that it could hold one last emblem for Death. Although the individual lines may hold a comforting or ominous atmosphere depending on the reader’s perspective, it becomes apparent that the poem, as a whole, feels more reassuring about the subjects of death and the afterlife. This could show that the poem itself is symbolic for Death. Society deems him as “evil,” even though they only focus on one part of him: the end. Dickinson alludes to there being no true Death in the poem, the spirit prevails and goes onto eternity. This could indicate why she felt comfortable around Death, because she was heading towards a new beginning, not the end.