ote what manyconsider to be truly American poetry.
To understand why Dickinson is considered abrilliant writer of American poetry, one must know about the time period in which shewrote her poetry. Dickinson wrote during the era of American literature known as the Ageof Expansion (Perkins 869). This was during the first half-century after the Civil War tothe First World War which was approximately 1865-1915 (Perkins 869). During this timeperiod, American literature went through many drastic changes.
American writersprogressively moved from romanticism to realism (Perkins 870). Realism was a muchmore realistic interpretation of humanity and its destiny (Perkins 870). This new approachaddressed a larger and more general audience than the writings of the Romantic era(Perkins 870). Although Dickinson is considered a writer from the Age of Expansion, herstyle of writing combined elements from the Romantic and Realism eras (Perkins 872).Order now
Emily Dickinson was from the Amherst village which possessed a deeply rooted identityfrom Puritanical America (Perkins 872). Dickinson wrote with such a style andcompassion that her poems are still among the most popular of all American poetry today. All but a few of her poems were published after her death. This is a great symbol ofAmerican Patriotism for the fact that she wrote from the heart and not for a paycheck. Allof the elements combined were poured into everyone of her works and because of this,Dickinson is a symbol of American poetry. Throughout Emily Dickinson’s poetry there are three main themes that sheaddresses: death, love, and nature.
Another aspect of Emily Dickinson’s work thatfascinates many critics is the importance and the impact of the word in her poetry. InDonald E. Thackrey’s essay The Communication of the Word, he talks about how thepower of the individual word, in particular, seems to have inspired her with nothing lessthan reverence (Thackrey 51). Dickinson approached her poetry inductively, that is, shecombined words to arrive at whatever conclusion the patterns of the words suggested,rather than starting out with a specific theme or message. Instead of purposefully workingtoward a final philosophical point, Dickinson preferred to use series of staccatoinspirations (Thackrey 51).
Dickinson frequently used words with weight in her work,and as a result her works usually cannot be grasped fully in one reading withoutdissecting each word individually. Often Dickinson would compile large, alternativeword lists for a poetry before she would come to a decision on which word was justright for the impact she wished to achieve (Thackrey 52). For example, this poemdisplays Dickinson’s use of alternative, thesaurus-like lists:Had but the tale a thrilling, typic,hearty, bonnie, breathless, spacious,tropic, warbling, ardent, friendly,magic, pungent, winning, mellowtellerAll the boys would come?Orpheus’s sermon captivated,It did not condemn. Eventually, Dickinson came to rest on the word warbling, but one can see themeticulous care that she put into the decision on which word to use. Another poem ofDickinson’s that shows her compositional method is Shall I Take Thee? the Poet Said. In this poem, Dickinson discusses from where the power of the world comes.
Shall I take thee? the poet saidTo the propounded word. Be stationed with the candidatesTill I have further tried. The poet probed philologyAnd when about to ringFor the suspended candidate,There came unsummoned inThat portion of the visionThe word applied to fill. Not unto nominationThe cherubim reveal. In the preceding poem, one can see the artistic style come through her composition.
Thebest representation of that particular idea comes from the author Donald Thackrey whenhe says,” It is significant that the revealed word comes unsummoned in a flash ofintuition. . . .
and yet the implication of the poem is that the revealing of the word must bepreceded by the preparatory, conscious, rational effort of probing philology. . . She herself was well aware that inspiration, while all-sufficient when present,seldom came even to a great poet”(Thackrey 53). Emily regarded the words she used asliving entities that could have being, growth, and immortality (Thackrey 54). Thisattitude toward language comes through clearly in the following six-line poem about thenature of the word.
A word is deadWhen it is said,Some say. I say it justBegins to liveThat day. The idea that the word comes from the experience behind it takes precedence overthe notion that a word is wasted when the vocal chords stop moving. Words haveconnotations that encompass the entire circumference of the idea in addition to itsdenotative worth (Thackrey 54). The complexity of the single, written word defined thelimits of communication between human beings and, therefore, symbolized the isolationof the individual?a concept that can be seen in Dickinson’s personal, reclusive life.
The Love of Thee?a Prism Be’: Men and Women in the Love Poetry of EmilyDickinson, an essay by Adalaide Morris, a feminist critic, examines how Dickinsonviews love with an allegorical neatness created in her poem The Love of Thee?a PrismBe (Morris 98). Emily Dickinson believes that it is the prismatic quality of passion thatmatters, and the energy passing through an experience of love reveals a spectrum ofpossibilities (Morris 98). In keeping with her tradition of looking at the circumferenceof an idea, Dickinson never actually defines a conclusive love or lover at the end of herlove poetry, instead concentrating on passion as a whole (Morris 99). Although she neverdefined a lover in her poems, many critics do believe that the object or focal point of herpassion was Charles Wadsworth, a clergyman from Philadelphia. Throughout Emily’s lifeshe held emotionally compelling relationships with both men and women.
Thedifferences in the prismatic qualities of each type of relationship come through inDickinson’s prism imagery. Morris summarizes these differences in her essay:In one the supremacy of the patriarch informs the rituals of courtship,family, government, and religion; in the other , the implied equality ofsisterhood is played out in ceremonies of romantic, familial, social, and even religiousreciprocity (Morris 103). In her poetry, Emily represents the males as the Lover, Father, King, Lord, andMaster as the women take complimentary positions to their male superiors, and manytimes the relationship between the sexes is seen in metaphor?women as His LittleSpaniel or his hunting gun. The woman’s existence is only contingent to the encirclingpower of the man (Morris 104).
It could be noted that the relationship with her fathercreated some of the associations that Dickinson used in her work, her father beinginvolved in government, religion, and in control of the family. Dickinson’s linkedimagery in her male love poetry focuses on suns, storms, volcanoes, and wounds (Morris100). There are always elements of disturbance or extremes and explosive settings. Thereare also repeated examples of the repression of love causing storm imagery to becomesilent, suppressed volcanic activity, something on the verge of explosion or activity. Ofcourse, in the repressed individual the potential for explosion or action can be verydangerous, and frequently in Dickinson’s work this kind of love relationship ends of withsomeone receiving a wound (Morris 100). The Imagery of Emily Dickinson, by Ruth Flanders McNaughton, in a chapterentitled Imagery of Nature, examines the way the Emily Dickinson portrays nature inher poetry.
Dickinson often identified nature with heaven or God (McNaughton 33),which could have been the result of her unique relationship with God and the universe. There are a lot of religious images and allusions used in her poetry, such as the rainbowas the sign of the covenant God made with Noah. Dickinson always held nature inreverence throughout her poetry, because she regarded nature as almost religious. Therewas almost always a mystical or religious undercurrent to her poetry, but she depicted thescenes from an artistic point of view rather than from a religious one (McNaughton 34).
One of the most obvious things that Dickinson did in her poetry was paying minuteattention to things nobody else noticed. She was obsessed with the minute detail ofnature?paying attention to things such as hills, flies, bumble bees, and eclipses. In thesedetails, Dickinson found manifestations of the universal and felt the harmony thatbound everything together (McNaughton 33). The small details and particulars thatcaught her eye were like small dramas of existence (McNaughton 39).
Each poem waslike a tiny micro-chasm that testified to Dickinson’s life as a recluse. Dickinson’s createddramas were not static, but everything from the images she used to the words she chosefor impact contributed to a moving picture (McNaughton 39). In the following poem,Dickinson writes how nature acts as a housewife sweeping through a sunset:She sweeps with many-colored brooms,And leaves the shreds behind;Oh, housewife in the evening west,Come back, and dust the pond!You dropped a purple ravelling in,You dropped an amber thread;And now you’ve littered all the EastWith duds of emerald!And still she plies her spotted brooms,And still the aprons fly,Till brooms fade softly into stars,And then I come away. Dickinson artistically shows the sunset in terms of house cleaning (McNaughton36).
The themes of domestic life and housewifery are displayed in the preceding poem. Only somebody with the observational powers and original creativity like EmilyDickinson could see something so unique and refreshing in a sunset. Dickinson also sawnature as a true friend most likely because of her time spent alone with it. She describesnature as a show to which she has gained admission. Dickinson saw friendship andentertainment in the world of trees, bees, and anthills.
The Bee is not Afraid of Me is anexcellent example of Dickinson’s communion with nature. The bee is not afraid of me,I know the butterfly;The pretty people in the woodsReceive me cordially. The brooks laugh louder when I come,The breezes madder play. Wherefore, mine eyes, thy silver mists?Wherefore, O summer’s day?Also, consider the minute detail that Dickinson pays the world of bugs and insects.
Convicted could we beOf our Minutiae,The smallest citizen that fliesHas more integrity. And part of another poem:And then he drank a dewFrom a convenient grass,And then hopped sidewise to the wallAnd let a beetle pass. Each of the previous four lines creates images and scenes from a kind of miniaturepainting that Dickinson works to create (McNaughton 39). More is achieved through theuse of precise description than could be done by examining the philosophical aspectsbehind a nature. Dickinson always felt as if she were one of them, the creatures of nature,and she felt more at ease with her world of crickets, dew, and butterflies.
Even thoughspending life as a recluse seems like undesirable to most people, our world owes a debt ofgratitude to Emily Dickinson for the way she introduced us to her world of nature in sucha different and special way. It is quite obvious that if anyone portrays American poetry, Emily Dickinsondoes. Not only did she blend as an American poet in the Age of Expansion, but she stoodout with her own originality. She was able to stand out as a brilliant woman in a unsteadyand chauvinist time in American History. Emily Dickinson’s works have been a modelfor perfection and originality of American poetry for many years and are showing nosigns of ever fading away.
Works CitedMcNaughton, Ruth E. The Imagery of Emily Dickinson. University ofLincoln, Nebraska, 1949. Morris, Adalaide.
The Love of Thee?a Prism Be. Feminist Critics ReadEmily Dickinson. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983. 98-113.
Perkins, George and Barbara Perkins. The American Tradition inLiterature. Boston: McGraw Hill College, 1999. Thackrey, Donald E. The Communication of the Word. Emily Dickinson:A Collection of Critical Essays.
Sewall. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall,1963. 51-69. BibliographyWorks CitedMcNaughton, Ruth E.
The Imagery of Emily Dickinson. University ofLincoln, Nebraska, 1949. Morris, Adalaide. The Love of Thee?a Prism Be.
Feminist Critics ReadEmily Dickinson. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983. 98-113. Perkins, George and Barbara Perkins. The American Tradition inLiterature. Boston: McGraw Hill College, 1999.
Thackrey, Donald E. The Communication of the Word. Emily Dickinson:A Collection of Critical Essays. Sewall. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall,1963.