Above all else, Dickinson’s poetry struck me because of her ability to incorporate such deep, emblematic meaning into so few words and stanzas. Her unconventional use of punctuation and capitalization as well as the strange enjambment and sentence structure found in her poetry is certainly part of the reason these poems are so loaded.
The dashes at the end of most lines provide a visual separation of the poems’ rhythm and draw attention to the few lines that do not end in dashes – they “melt” more easily into the following line instead of causing the reader to “rest” rhythmically between lines. Most of her poems also end with a dash, which is reminiscent of an ellipsis to me. The poem doesn’t ever really seem to end, as if Dickinson is directly prompting us to reflect upon its meaning or perhaps even continue it in our own minds.
And what up with her strange capitalization? I was most deeply affected by it in poem 620. Dickinson capitalizes the last words of her first four lines: “Sense”, “Madness”, “Eye”, and”Majority”. To me, such capitalization implies a deeper meaning associated with the words. Maybe she’s trying to draw greater attention toward the mainstream’s idea of what madness and sense is and what traits are associated with these words; the true definitions of “Madness” and “Sense” may be more subjective. The fact that these words are capitalized practically sanctifies them – they appear to hold boundless meaning. The capitalized word “Chain” at the end of the poem was particularly affecting. To the poet, those who stray from the majority are seen as prisoners, perhaps “bound” to isolation or confinement because of their strangeness. This is pretty appropriate considering Dickinson was kind of a nutbar and spent the majority of her later life in isolation. What does Dickinson’s unconventional use of capitalization mean to you? What capitalized words struck you as especially meaningful in any other poems?
As for Dickinson’s actual lyrics, I noticed a pattern of associating human characteristics with more mechanized, inhuman objects or ideas. 372 separates the body into parts in order to describe the aftermath of great trauma. The nerves are immobile like tombs, and the feet move mechanically. The body seems to be its own funeral procession. Poem 764 is a complete metaphor that describes life under the obedience of a greater power (perhaps a lover, a muse, or even God?) to be like the relationship of a gun and a hunter. Just as the aforementioned poem, Dickinson’s final stanza deals with human mortality. The poem may be separating mortal existence from the immortal soul. This theme continues in poem 598, which deems the mind to be as powerful as God; it is nothing less than a vessel that interprets and humanizes Divine thought and inspiration. Once again, mechanization of human traits is apparent, with the brain’s absorption of knowledge of God’s world being likened to a sponge’s ability to absorb water in a bucket.
So, what do you make of Dickinson’s poetic style? How does it highlight her poetry’s meaning? Do her common themes of mortality and death lead you to draw deep conclusions about our existence, or are they too sad and morbid – simply a result of her lack of social interaction and insane desire to isolate herself? This is kind of an elementary question, but which poems most stood out to you and why? What clues or insight do they give you regarding Dickinson’s life and experiences?