Essay on Emily Dickinson Poetry
Emily Dickinson’s writing was influenced by her higher education and close friends that lead her poems to be unconventional and unstructured. She believed that a poet’s purpose was, “To make the abstract tangible, to define meaning without confining it, to inhabit a house that never became a prison. Dickinson created in her writing a distinctively elliptical language for expressing what was possible but not yet realized” (“Emily Dickinson”). Focusing on complex ideas like death and human nature, she leaves her poems open for other’s adaptation however, also provides clear and concise poems. An example of a poem that has multiple meanings is, “I felt a Funeral in My Brain.”
This poem leaves the reader to decide what the meaning is about, some people believing it is talking about losing one’s sanity, but that’s only one interpretation. In contradistinction, Dickson also writes simple poems such as a poem on death called, “I died for Beauty – but was scarce,” involving truth and beauty, where the one character died for truth, and the other died for beauty. This poem is straightforward with a clear meaning; leading to the generalization that some poems have an obvious meaning, while some are up for interpretation. This is all due to her background in higher education as well as her close companions; connecting her background to her distinctive style and structure.
Dickinson’s education and social class contributed to her writings. Born on December 10, 1830, Dickinson lived a privileged childhood in Amherst, Massachusetts (“Emily Dickinson”). From a young age she was educated and surrounded by the sophisticated class. Her father was a lawyer, serving as a representative of the Massachusetts State Senate, state legislature, Congress, and became the treasurer of Amherst College and Amherst Academy (“Emily Dickinson”). In addition, her mother was also educated in the sciences. Her parents’ valued education so they sent her to Amherst Academy until 15, where she frequently visited Amherst College to attend lectures with an emphasis on science (“Emily Dickinson”). This is seen throughout her poems as many of them contain references to nature. This can be shown in “‘Nature’ is what we see-’”:
‘Nature is what we see-
The Hill- the Afternoon-
Squirrel-Eclipse- the Bumble bee-
Nay-Nature is Heaven-
Nature us what we hear-
The bobolink-the sea-
Nay- Nature is Harmony-
Nature is what we know-
Yet have no art to say-
So impotent Our Wisdom is
to her Simplicity” (“Nature" Is What We See - Poem by Emily Dickinson”).
This poem discusses nature in a positive light, describing nature as containing “harmony” and “simplicity”, easy to understand as it is visible all around. Her first mentor, the principle of the academy, Leonard Humphrey, sparked her growing interest in poetry and her love of nature; and her second contributor was Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Poems for New Year’s, inspired Dickinson to try out many different voices in her poems through heightened language (“Emily Dickinson”).
Later Dickenson entered isolation after suffering great loss, allowing her more time to focus on her writing. One of her main companions on whom she wrote letters to was Susan Gilbert, who was her brother’s wife and a beloved friend and critic (“Emily Dickinson”). Many of the poems were written to her and functioned as letters with an additional line of greeting or closing. She valued her friendship with Gilbert and many other companions which is shown in the poem, “I should not dare to leave my friend.” This poem describes a friend that is dying, relying on her to show up at the end, and she mentions how devastated she would be if they lost her faith because she never showed up. This both shows how much friends mattered to her and the devastating aspect of losing a friend to death. Overall, Dickinson demonstrates her education, interest in nature, and the influence of her companions and mentors through her devotion to them in writing.
With her inspiration from others she also inspired future generations through her unique and unconventional poems that can be broadly described as abstract ideas represented by concrete items; frequently referring to death and immortality. Therefore, an ample amount can be learned about literature, expression, and symbolism through her writing. An example of this is shown in one of her poems “Hope is the thing with feathers.” In this poem, “Hope” is the abstract noun that is represented by a bird, or the concrete object. The point Dickinson tries to make through this analogy is to show how hope never goes away; it exists even in the hardest of circumstances and does not communicate by speaking, but by the feeling that keeps us from despair in tough times.
This despair is also a frequent theme as it refers to death and immortality. In another poem referring to death and abstract ideas, “Success is counted sweetest,” success is regarded as the most rewarding when the most sacrifice is required. The concrete item used to represent her idea is war, where the most satisfaction is gained through sacrifice, and the victorious army does not appreciate the victory as much as the man who sacrificed everything (“Success is counted sweetest 112”). Death is also represented by the soldier who lay dying, stressing the idea that the death for another is the truest sacrifice. Both poems above can be summarized to include abstract ideas, like death, described by concrete objects.
Besides death, Dickinson’s writing can be further recognized by her structure. Her writing is consistent in using dashes for punctuation and capitalization in the middle of sentences, however there multiple meanings through multiple versions and different alternating syllable lines. Dashes were used by many writers through correspondence, especially used by women; and though she was far from the only writer to use it, she might have been the only one to depend on it (“Major characteristics of Dickinson’s poems”). She also created many versions of her poems, with different words and meanings to be substituted in during the editing process (“Major characteristics of Dickinson’s poems”). Therefore, it is difficult for editors as she never had any of her poems published while she was alive, expressing her poems as experimental. Most of these structures can be shown below in the poem, “This World is not Conclusion:”
This World is not Conclusion. (7)
A Species stands beyond – (6)
Invisible, as Music – (7)
But positive, as Sound – (6)
It beckons, and it baffles – (7)
Philosophy, dont know – (6)
And through a Riddle, at the last – (8)
Sagacity, must go – (6)
To guess it, puzzles scholars – (7)
To gain it, Men have borne (6)
Contempt of Generations (7)
And Crucifixion, shown – (6)
Faith slips - and laughs, and rallies – (7)
Blushes, if any see – (6)
Plucks at a twig of Evidence – (8)
And asks a Vane, the way – (6)
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit – (7)
Strong Hallelujahs roll – (7)
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth (8)
That nibbles at the soul – (6) (Emily Dickinson).
In this, her use of punctuation and capitalization of words in the middle of lines emphasizes important points, putting a stress on important nouns to notice. In addition, she readily uses nature, religion, music, and medicine, along with other allusions, to support the idea of how people try to understand the world but come to no conclusions. Finally, another important aspect to her writing is her alternating syllable of seven and sixes meter (7676)- the exception of the 8 syllables in the 3 lines, placed in various parts of the poem (Major characteristics of Dickinson’s poems). In conclusion, Dickinson’s writing is almost consistent in her punctuation and capitalization, however it is experimental when considering the varied meanings through multiple versions and different alternating syllable lines.
This all connects to back Emily Dickinson being a fantastic writer, influenced by her education in the sciences, companions, and mentors, leading her poems to be unconventional and unstructured. Her poetry has made a lasting impact on history as she defined some modern pieces through her style, while also connecting historical writing with her punctuation. With all her experiences she helped create poems that were expressive and contained many ideas that were common of that day as she tried to explain social phenomenon through imagery and metaphors. Her contribution to the literary world will not be forgotten as she inspired and will continue to inspire many of the generations to come.