Emily Dickinson

To me, Dickinson has a unique style of writing, which make them seem almost like small meditations.  It is easy for me to imagine Emily shrouded over her desk, attempting to understand the mechanics and workings of the human mind, of power in society, and of the suppression of women in society.  Especially, I think much of her work is centered around the body and the mind, in her personal life, or simply as a broad interpretation.  One of her poems is composed of three stanzas, each beginning with “The Brain is…(1216).”  Another describes, in a very mechanical way, the actions of the body “After great pain (1211).”  In some ways she explores the deep psychological intricacies of the human condition, and in other ways it seems as if she is setting up a system for the way the mind reacts and interprets.

Dickinson uses symbolism and the metaphor aptly.  Many times I feel as if the weight of the poem is so heavy simply because she uses words or statements that have such a broad range of interpretation.  Things like: “Philosophy,” “Beauty,” “My life,” and “Pain.”  Although these words seem to bear down the meaning of a poem, and make it more difficult to see exactly what Emily is talking about in these meditations, the use of metaphors in junction with these broad words, make her statements seem more worldly and global.  Perhaps this is the reason that her poetry has become so widely recognized.  By keeping the subject of a poem mysterious, and by using broad metaphorical statements like she does, the reader is informed of the conflict and resolution of these poems through more abstract and widely understandable means.

I enjoy Dickinson’s poetry, it’s removal from specifics seems to ode to it’s powerful messages.  Here are some questions to think about:

1. Does Dickinson’s poetry rely too heavily on broad abstractions and statements, or is there strength in the broad realizations she makes?

2. What are some of the things Dickinson is attacking or interpreting in her poems.  Are her poems mainly personal, or do they confront societal norms?

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3 Responses to Emily Dickinson

  1. emcd23 says:

    I agree completely that Dickinson weights her poems with heavy, big-concept terms, but I think these ‘broad abstractions’ are nothing but wonderful support for her poetry. Dickinson’s poetry always feels like it’s coming out of the deeply personal (for example, the catalogue of internal pain in poem 372, or the carefully considered/intuited “small meditations” of poem 373), but she also always seems to be taking her own experience and finding the universal in it. Unlike Whitman, she doesn’t use her own name in her poetry, and she doesn’t concentrate heavily on specific external details; rather, everything seems to exist in an internal landscape, where any real-world imagery is presented in the light of symbolism. This, to me, is what makes her poems so powerful; they feel like really intimate moments in the mind or heart, but moments that each person could potentially recognize as their own. This might be a weird way to phrase it, but sometimes it feels less like a long-gone poet talking and more like hearing yourself speak.

  2. jnikol12 says:

    Dickinson, though she spent most of her life as a recluse, addresses surprisingly broad themes that pertain to life within a society rather than issues relating specifically to herself. She is bold in her direct confrontation of the darkest and most terrifying truths of human existence: mortality, societal pressures and “normalcy”, the pain of a traumatic experience, and even spirituality. These themes are incredibly easy to relate to, yet they are by no means impersonal. Like Erin mentioned in class today, actually having experienced grappling with these issues makes one much more likely to relate to and better understand Dickinson’s poetry. Her themes are broad, but Dickinson’s poetry does not lose its gravity or genuineness because her work seems to be so inspired by her own personal experiences.

  3. elliejo44 says:

    I agree with the two comments above- Dickinson’s poetry finds strength in its relatability and universality. Dickinson is the antithesis to the perception of the female poet as a “poetess” only capable of writing poetry that other women could relate to (and thus considered, at the time, inherently inferior). Dickenson’s poems about death, the aftermath of “great pain,” and puzzlings as to what lies beyond “This World” are poems about human experience.
    Dickinson’s poems also address societal norms. Although they are presented in a broad context, which contributes to their relatability, I feel that (at least from the information presented in the anthology’s bio of Dickinson) the poems are deeply personal for Dickinson. Both 620 and 788 discuss the pressure to conform to societal and artistic norms. As an introverted woman who rarely left her home and as a poet that experimented with form, rhythm, and rhyme, Dickinson was well acquainted with the feeling of not being accepted- a feeling that probably resonates with many in her audience today.

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