Rhyme, Rhythm and Natural Imagery

June 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

By looking at Emily Dickinson’s poem 666 “I cross till I am weary,” we can see the poet’s connections between the nature of life or spirituality and the subtleties of rhyme as well as meter; this link is important because it sets a tone for the reading of the poem. Dickinson’s natural imagery in this poem is important because it both defines and adds momentum to the narration. The rhyme scheme is staggered and alternates between true rhymes and slant rhymes. In many ways, the tone of the poem reads in much the same way we experience nature, with a lack of consistency and control.

Poem 666 opens, “I cross till I am weary/ A Mountain- in my mind-” (1-2). The speaker seems to be struggling with something, pushing herself over this hurdle until she is exhausted at the end of the day. The term “Mountain” is capitalized placing emphasis on a great and possibly insurmountable obstacle. The speaker continues, “More Mountains- then a Sea-/ More Seas- And then/ A Desert- find-,” (3-5) again capitalizing the names of these vast entities of nature: Mountain, Sea, Desert. The poet seems to realize that no matter how many obstacles she overcomes in life, and no matter how large, there will always be more. The first stanza consists of five lines, as is common for a Dickinson poem, although the rest of the stanzas throughout the poem consist of only four lines forming quatrains. The only two rhymes found in this first stanza are “mind” and “find.” These are also the only two terms that are important in setting the tone of the poem that do not have the emphasis imparted by capitalization; however, by rhyming the two together, Dickinson gives them their own separate type of emphasis. The rhymed terms in the first stanza allow the reader to discover a second a theme apart from that of nature. The meter of seven, six, six, four, four sets up the rocky, challenging rhythm that continues throughout the rest of the poem.

In the second stanza, the speaker claims “And my horizon blocks/ With steady- drifting- Grains/ Of unconjectured quantity- As Asiatic rains-” (6-9). She does not know what lies ahead of her because what she can imagine of her future is somewhat ‘blotted out’ by this unknown number of occurrences in the present. Dickinson continues on with this theme of traveling through nature and across the world by referring to “Asiatic rains.” The meter in this stanza is six, six, eight, and five, continuing the inconsistent rhythm of the poem. The two rhyming words used in this stanza are “Rains” and “Grains” which address the same image in varying ways and refer to the natural theme of the poem as opposed to the rhyming words from the first stanza, which referred to the more personal theme.

Dickinson continues into the next stanza, “Nor this- defeat my Pace-” (10), saying that no matter how unsure she is of the future or how difficult life becomes she will not slow down or be diverted from her path: “It hinder from the West/ But as an enemy’s salute/ One hurrying to Rest” (11-13). She does not want to die until she can be at peace with her life. These three lines seem to shift the poem from simply the natural world into the spiritual world as she considers her final “rest.” This quatrain also allows the poem to be read in a different way, one that references a speaker who is constantly working and struggling and is, therefore, ready to move on from his or her mortal life. As a result of the connection between the natural and spiritual worlds in this particular stanza, the two rhyming words are “West” and “Rest,” with “West” indicating a part of the natural world and “Rest” symbolizing the spiritual. The meter is the same in the third quatrain as it is in the second.

The fourth quatrain reads, “What merit had the Goal-/ Except there intervene/ Faint Doubt- and far Competitor-/ To jeopardize the Gain?” (14-17). Dickinson seems to be questioning why it is necessary to suffer. She wonders what the point in testing one’s faith is because it seems to only lead to doubt and conflict. As if the poem is acting as the further proof of this non-answer, this questioning stanza also lacks any true rhyme. It could be said that “intervene” and “Gain” are slant rhymes, but the ambiguity of the rhyme scheme in this stanza seems to act as a symbol of the ambiguity of life, death, suffering, etc. However, the meter still remains the same.

Next the narrator proclaims, “At last- the Grace in sight-/ I shout unto my feet” (18-19). The speaker sees “Grace,” which could mean God, and she jumps to her feet to shout this like she has just caught sight of someone she has been waiting a very long time to see again: “I offer them the whole of Heaven/ the instant that we meet-” (20-21). If a reader thinks of this designated person as someone who is dying, it sounds a little backwards that the narrator says “I offer them.” However, it could be that, because she has her own beliefs and her own pieces of Heaven in the natural world, she is merely offering what she knows of Heaven as she enters the spiritual world. On the other hand, the poet could be speaking as if she has already died and she is ready to offer “the whole of Heaven” to her family and friends when they join her in death. True rhyme returns to this stanza with “feet” and “meet,” two words that seem to suggest a journey of some sort, keeping in theme with the rest of the quatrain. For example, Dickinson could be referencing the journey from the natural world to the spiritual world.

The final stanza begins “They strive- and yet delay-” (22). The speaker seems to be referring to the human race as a whole as they continue to “strive” or struggle and work hard despite being continuously set back. “They perish- Do we die-” (23): with so many people failing to succeed and dying around her, it becomes apparent that she too might die very soon. Finally, with the statement “Or is this Death’s experiment-/ Reversed- in Victory?” (24-25) it is possible that the speaker is proposing that maybe the fact that people live as long as they do is itself the victory against Death. Again, this final quatrain is without a true rhyme, which is important because it is the end of the poem and it ends with another unanswered question, recalling the fourth stanza.

Naturally, rhyme and meter can have a major effect on how the poem is read and how it is understood. These poetic techniques are able to affect the meaning of a work of poetry almost as much as the words themselves. Dickinson uses meter to influence the natural imagery that carries poem 666 to its final stanza while, at the same time, utilizing rhyme as a denotation of the shifts between the spiritual and the natural. The Emily Dickinson poem examined above, “I cross till I am weary,” exemplifies the importance of rhyme and meter when setting the tone of a poem.

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