Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dickinson, Themed Poetry

Considering Dickinson's poetry as structured by a series of general concerns (in this case, death, publication and marriage) is a common approach to her work. Look at the poems in one of these thematic groups and argue for what you think Dickinson is saying about it.



  1. When one looks at her poems when they are group together by theme, I think it is much easier to understand what she is saying about each subject. While they all comment on different aspects of each respective subject, they all seem to carry a similar tone or feel about them. The way I interpreted them was this:

    Publication: To Dickinson, publication equates to the selling of one's soul. It's as though she views art (poetry in particular) to be putting a bit of one's self into into a tangible state. When you publish you work, you are essentially selling part of yourself for money. It is clear that she does not have a high opinion of publishing one's work too frequently, and that may explain why so few of her works were ever published.

    Marriage: This one was a little harder for me to understand, but what I got out of it was that marriage itself was not bad, but the social pressures pushed onto the wife. She seems to think that marriage constrains and binds the wife, often against her will. One good example of this is the opening lines of 857:

    "She rose to His Requirement - dropt
    The Playthings of Her Life
    To take the honorable Work
    Of Woman, and of Wife -"

    I think she's using the term "honorable" sarcastically here, and instead is commenting on the loss of innocence and free-spiritedness that is lost in marriage.

    Death: I thought her descriptions of death were somewhat ambiguous. Although the poems concerning death were dark, and somewhat foreboding, I never got the feeling that she was trying to portray death as some horrifying figure. In fact, I thought that 479 treated death almost with awe and respect. More than anything, I think she seems to be commenting on the eternity and power of death.

    - Josh

  2. Emily Dickinson’s outlook on death appears to be morbidly realistic. She seems to focus on the actual acts of burial and death rather than pose questions about death and an afterlife. I believe this is where she differs from most poets of her time. It seems that Dickinson writes about the more concrete aspects of life and death (more so than others at her time, at least). She does occasionally talk about things like “eternity” and “immortality” but she does so in a much more straightforward manner than anyone we have read so far. I do not feel as if I am being asked to contemplate the vast complexities of life, death, and humanity’s place in it all when I read Dickinson. I may be completely reading her wrong, but it seems to me that she is just saying, “people die. That’s how it works.”

    ~Shannon Durington

  3. Death seems to be a major theme in quite a bit of Dickinson's poetry. I feel that Emily Dickinson's work is constantly commenting on the fact that we're born, we live, we die, and that's that. After all, death is inevitable and Dickinson doesn't try to outrun that or avoid it, when you die, you die, and that's what happens. She doesn't treat death like a lot of poets have. She personifies that profile quite often. For example in "Because I could not stop for death," she personifies death's character in the poem as a suitor. This suitor seems to be calming, and she refers to death as kind and civil. She seems to be showing that death doesn't have to be scary, it can be a calm experience, and even if you're not ready for it, sometimes it has to happen. She keeps reminding us through a lot of her poetry that this is not necessarily a bad thing and that it is going to happen to all of us at some time.

  4. From reading Dickinson's poems on death and pain she makes it seem like death is not really a big deal. She doesn't seem to be scared of death, she doesn't really even seem to be wondering what may happen after death. Almost all of the poems refer to death being cold in some way and there really is no better descriptive feeling for death than that, just purely cold as she seems to see it.

    479 line 14 "The Dews drew quivering and Chill"
    372 line 13 "First - Chill - then Stupor - then letting go -"
    355 line 19 "...Grisly frosts..."
    line 21 "But most like Chaos-Stopless-cool

    She seems to feel as if once death gets here we will just embrace it and be ready for it without any reason to fear it.