While much of Emily Dickinson’s poetry has been described as sad or morose, thepoetess did use humor and irony in many of her poems. This essay will addressthe humor and/ or irony found in five of Dickinson’s poems: “Faith” isa Fine Invention, I’m Nobody! Who are you?, Some keep the Sabbath Going toChurch and Success Is Counted Sweetest. The attempt will be made to show howDickinson used humor and / or irony for the dual purposes of comic relief and tostress an idea or conclusion about her life and environment expressed by thepoetess in the respective poem. The most humorous or ironic are some of theshorter poems, such as the four lined stanzas of “Faith” is a FineInvention and Success Is Counted Sweetest.
In “Faith”. . . , Dickinsonpresents a witty and biting satirical look at Faith and its limitations. Whileit still amuses readers today, it must be mentioned that this short poem wouldhave had a greater impact and seriousness to an audience from the periodDickinson lived in. Dickinson was raised in a strict Calvinist household andreceived most of her education in her youth at a boarding school that alsofollowed the American Puritanical tradition she was raised in.
In this short,witty piece Dickinson addresses two of the main obsessions of her generation:The pursuit of empirical knowledge through science, faith in an all-knowing,all-powerful Christian god and the debate on which was the more powerful belief. In this poem Dickinson uses humor to ease her position in the debate on to thereader. Dickinson uses her ability to write humourously and ironically (as seenin her suggestion of the use of microscopes) to present a firm, controversialopinion into what could be dismissed as an irreverent, inconsequential piece ofwriting. In Success. .
. , Dickinson’s emphasis is less on humor and more onexpressing irony. This poem may be partially auto-biographical in nature. Dickinson made few attempts during her life to be taken as more than an armaturepoetess. On one occasion, she sent a collection of her poems to a correspondentwho was also a published poet.
His criticism of the poems devastated Dickinson,and she never made another attempt towards publishing her works. In Success. . . ,Dickinson reflects on the nature of success and how, ironically, it can be bestappreciated and understood by those who have not achieved it and have no tasteof it. As in “Faith”.
. . , Dickinson powerfully presents her thoughts ina few lines. The poem deals only with one, ironic but universal, idea in itsshort length.
It is the bitterness expressed at this irony (as found itDickinson’s juxtaposition of the words sweetest and sorest, separated by twolines) that is most felt by the reader. While the previous poem expresses thepoetess’ bitterness and sorrow with one aspect of her life, I’m Nobody! Who AreYou? uses humor without irony to address another. In this poem, Dickinson styleappears almost child-like in its of descriptions including frogs and bogs, aswell as the lively energy expressed by the poem through its use of dashes andbrief wording. Dickinson seems to be addressing her spinster, hermit-likeexistence (I’m Nobody) and her preference to it. The poetess seems to relatethat her situation has not left her without a sense of humor, but in fact hasallowed her to maintain a child-like outlook on life rather than adapting to theboring norms of her society ( How dreary – to be – Somebody!).
She mocks theconventional need for self-importance through publicity (How public – like aFrog – / To tell one’s name – the livelong June -), suggesting that the audienceisn’t that interested ( / To an admiring Bog). She instead seems to idealize hersolitude by creating the mysterious feeling of a secret society of socialoutcasts (Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!). In this poem, sheeffectively uses humor to soften a critique of certain members of her society. While this poem is longer than the other poems discussed, it too is able toexpress the quality of brevity and lightness in that it’s composition is full ofdashes, with even full sentences broken into short, quick actions that easilyroll off of the tongue when spoken aloud (How dreary – to be – Somebody). Thetechnical composition of this poem is two stanzas, however, Dickinson is able torefresh the form with her use of dashes and short words to give it