Showing posts with label Emily Dickinson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Emily Dickinson. Show all posts

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Major Themes of Emily Dickinson's Poetry.

Main topics


Miss Dickinson dealt with a variety of themes in her poetry - Nature, love, pain and suffering, death and immortality, God and Christ, poetry as art, and so on. The spectrum of topics in her poetry is thus very wide. Each of these themes has been treated in a large number of poems, and therefore it is possible to consider each group separately.


Nature's cure


In some of her poems, Miss Dickinson adopted a conventional approach to nature, praising her as "the gentlest mother" who soothed and comforted her bruised children. But she did not last long with this approach. She generally believed that nature mocks man rather than comforts him. Some of her poems emphasize the decaying and destructive power of nature. Some poems, such as "The Morning after Wo" and "That First Robin I Was So Afraid," analyze nature's betrayal of those hearts that loved her most. In the poem "Apparently No Surprise", in which he refers to the frost killing the flower, he even questions whether nature has any meaning at all. She was also affected by the destructive force of natural winds, rains and storms. Her genuine enthusiasm for the beauty of nature is mixed with an awareness of its innate mystery and strangeness. Unsure of any clear correspondence between God, nature, and man, she remains a skeptic who both admires and doubts. It is not worth seeing the divine spirit in the objects of nature or treating nature as a moral teacher and guide. But he shows unusual skill in recording vivid sense impressions. She described the sunrise and sunset in a single remarkable sentence: "Flaming in gold and fading in purple." She wrote notable poems about birds such as the oriole ("One of those touched by Midas") and the blue jay ("Without a brigade all year round"). Her most famous nature portrait is that of a hummingbird in the poem "The Way of Evanescence." Besides being a realistic record of vivid details about the bird's behavior, the poem "The Bird Descended from a Walk" also shows the great distance between man and nature. Miss Dickinson was much attracted to the neglected and grotesque creatures of nature such as the rat, fly, bat, frog and spider. Her poem "The Narrow Guy in the Grass" deals with a snake and shows the horror and horror that a snake's presence can evoke. In this poem, Miss Dickinson shows her awareness of nature's hostility towards man, even though she believes that nature is merely indifferent overall. Several of her poems deal with the seasons - "Light Exists in Spring", "As Imperceptible as Sorrow". "These are the days when the birds return," "There's a certain slant of light," "Bronze-a Blaze," and "Further in summer than the birds" are also among her memorable nature poems.


Healing with Love


It is generally agreed that Miss Dickinson had at least one personal experience of love and that it led to serious disappointment. The origin of most of her love poems can be found in this personal experience, although the poems can be appreciated without knowing the biographical details. Some of her love poems are psychological studies of repressed desire. Such is "In Winter in My Room," in which the conscious mind denies and rejects the compulsive pressures of the subconscious. Poem. "My Life has stood-a Loaded Gun" deals with the explosive changes that the passion of love causes to the heart. The entire poem here is driven by the concept of an active hunter man who has a passive woman. Once gone, it returns to an inactive state, the state of the weapon it is compared to. Some poems deal with erotic expectations, using the bee-flower image to express physical desire, as in "Come Slowly—Eden" and "The Bee, His Polished Carriage." Two poems—"I am seconded" and "Dare you see a Soul?"—express the writer's enthusiasm and triumph as she imagines herself a real wife and speaks of the superhuman intensity of her passion. The largest group among her love poems are those that deal with the actual meeting of lovers. "His voice is at the door again" is typical for this group. Her most artistic love poems are those dealing with brides and marriage. In these poems, the writer sees herself as the bride of God or Christ. "Of all the souls that stand, they make" is perhaps the best of the many poems dealing with heavenly marriage. Other memorable poems in this category are "My Right of White Suffrage" and "Divine Title-is Mine". It is said that no other American poet of the nineteenth century, neither Whitman nor Poe, ever matched the intensity of Miss Dickinson's love lyrics. She infused her personal relationship with a religious meaning that turned biography into art.


The theme of pain and suffering


A large number of Miss Dickinson's poems deal with pain, its nature, its stages, its effects on the human soul, etc. These poems dealing with misery, anguish and despair throw much light on the nature of Miss Dickinson's own mind and soul. For her, the knowledge of pain was a touchstone for estimating the depth of the human soul. "I Measure Every Grief I Meet" is a poem that introduces her philosophy of pain and analyzes its specific characteristics. This poem tells us that real pain becomes such an essential part of our being that its departure causes a deeper loneliness in the soul. The poem "It Was Not Death Because I Arose" explores the state of shock and numbness that extreme grief causes. The poem deals with the chaos of tortured emotions and the wretchedness of despair. Another poem, "The First Day's Night Became," contemplates the courage needed to endure the initial shock and the relief of coping with the pain of the first day. However, when another day of pain comes, the mind collapses and realizes that the same effort must be made daily for the rest of life. Perhaps her best poem about pain is "After great pain comes formal feeling." Here, the numbed reaction of the soul after a debilitating shock illustrates a fundamental law—namely, that pain is an inevitable aspect of human existence. The stages of pain in this poem move from a funereal atmosphere, centered on the images of ceremony and tombs in the first stanza, to the mechanical wooden world of the second stanza, and finally to the frozen death of the third stanza, where the leaden imagery culminates. in the snowy empty wasteland. This, then, is the way a human being experiences pain, by the complete death of the senses and the freezing of all hope and activity.


The Mystical Themes: Themes of Death, Immortality, God, Etc.


One of Miss Dickinson's unique contributions to American literature is her poetic treatment of the themes of death and immortality. She wrote more than 500 poems on these topics. The scope of her poetic treatment of death ranges from a philosophical exploration of death's relationship to love to a somber reflection on its physical processes. She regarded death as a great unknown and continued to ponder its fascination and mystery. Some of her best writing about death deals with the feelings of a dying person or the physical experiences of the soul leaving the body. Such is "I Heard Flies Buzzing-When I Died", in which we see the contrast between the expectation of death and its realistic occurrence. Another poem in this category is "I Felt a Burial, in My Brain," which borders on the morbid in its depiction of the terrible struggle that brings about the separation of body from soul. The emphasis on feelings of dying and failing strength suggests the terrifying isolation of death. A notable poem in this group is "The Last Night She Lived," in which death is represented as a graceful departure into the sublime waters of immortality. But Miss Dickinson's best poem on the subject is "Because I Could Not Stop for Death," in which death is seen from various angles, and in which her views on death and immortality are rendered with artistic perfection. That Miss Dickinson was inclined to believe in immortality is evident from various poems, but she was always troubled by doubts. In one poem she wrote


The Only News I know, Is Bulletins all Day From immortality


The Only One I meet Is God-


Such poems show her belief in immortality and in God. She considered immortality to be "the subject of the flood". But her view of God is far from orthodox. "I know there is" represents her approach to God. But this assumption of faith in the opening line is qualified by the rest of the poem. until only doubts and an unorthodox attitude remain. In some poems he accepts God as a real personality worthy of respect, an all-powerful ruler. But in others, her attitude towards God is irreverent, calling him "an eminent clergyman", "a robber, a banker, a father" and accusing him of almost "duplicity". Some of her best poems about religion certainly make humorous comments on conventional piety and traditional beliefs. These include "Some Keep the Sabbath in Church" and "The Bible is an Antique Volume". However, many of her religious poems are characterized by a kind of balance between faith and doubt, even if some express unquestioning faith. The poem "I Taste Liquor Never Brewed" describes the ecstasy that accompanies an apparition. The "highest moments of the soul" tell us that few ever perceive a vision of immortality. Perhaps her best poem on the philosophical implications of this vision is "Behind Me-dips Eternity." In the poem "This World is No Conclusion" he explores the puzzling inability of philosophers and saints to prove the fact of immortality, although the opening line is an unequivocal statement of faith. The poem "Safe in Their Alabaster Chambers" is one of her best on the ambiguous relationship between death and immortality.


The Theme of Poetics


Miss Dickinson wrote at least fifty poems on the subject of art. Indeed, poetry as a subject competes with mortality as her deepest concern, if the criterion is a high level of poetic performance. She knew the pitfalls of fine art from her own experience, and in one remarkable poem, "Essential oils are pressed", she compared the poetic process to the extraction of perfume from rose-buds. Other noteworthy poems pertaining to the poetic art are: "The One who could repeat the Summer day", "Dare you see a Soul at the White Heat?" "I would not paint a picture", and "I reckon-when I count at all*".



Miscellaneous Poems


Obviously, not all of Mrs. Dickinson's poems can be categorized under the above headings—many fall into the miscellaneous category. Only a few can be mentioned here. "Success Counts the Sweetest" deals with the law of compensation. "What Soft Cherubs" is a satire about women in fashionable society. The theme of "I got an idea today" is the strange functions and powers of the mind. "The brain is wider than the sky", "The brain is in the groove". "Fighting Loud Is Too Courageous" talks about the courage to fight against emotional pain. "But the poet sings in the autumn" is an appeal to God for the gift of his "sunny" character, which includes God's will. "I am nobody! who are you?" It expresses opposition to propaganda and desire for fame and talks about two dead martyrs. It is not really possible to catalog poetry in this way. The list is very long.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

'Because I could not stop for Death' by Emily Dickinson: Summary, Analysis and Study Questions

One of Dickinson’s most quoted poems, ‘Because I could not stop for Death’ is based on the speaker’s journey from the earth to the grave; and the Death has appeared in the poem as a trusted friend and fellow sojourner of the speaker from the earth to the grave. Here follows the summary and analysis of the poem:

Because I could not stop for Death–
He kindly stopped for me–
The Carriage held but just Ourselves–
And Immortality.

The speaker visualizes Death as a person whom she knew and trusted or believed that she could trust. He might be a gentleman, who at one time or another has acted as her escort. She cannot stop Death when she wants to. So, she has to abide by the call of Death. As soon as the Death arrives, she gets into the carriage, which holds both the speaker and Death and Immortality. 

Dickinson personifies “Death” and uses alliteration of the “c”
She describes this as a pleasant event that takes place in a carriage 
She uses end rhyme in lines 2 and 4 and internal rhyme in line 
Immortality: (or eternal life) is the concept of living in physical or spiritual form for an infinite length of time. 

We slowly drove—He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility–

The speaker and Death drive in a leisurely manner, and she feels completely at ease. The speaker walks away from her busy schedule, such as work and even her leisure time for death. Since she understands it to be a last ride, she of course expects it to be unhurried. 

Civility- politeness, courtes
Uses alliteration of the letters “h” and “l”

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess--in the Ring–
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain–
We passed the Setting Sun–

The speaker notes the daily routine of the life she is leaving behind. Dickinson is talking about the different stages of her life or seeing her own life flash before her eyes. The children at recess symbolize the beginning of her life. The fields of grazing grain symbolize adolescence/adulthood and the setting sun symbolizes the writer’s final years. The tone gets changed. Now, the sense of motion is quickened or perhaps, more exactly, the sense of time comes to an end as they pass the cycles of the day and the seasons of the year.

 The repetition of “we passed” is called anaphora
 She also uses alliteration of the letters “s” “r” and “g”

Or rather--He passed us—
The Dews drew quivering and chill–
For only Gossamer, my Gown–
My Tippet--only Tulle–

The speaker corrects herself and says that the Sun has passed them, as it of course does all who are in the grave. She conveys her feeling of being outside time and change. She is aware of dampness and cold, and becomes suddenly conscious of the sheerness and the dress and scarf which as she now discovers that she has not taken any winter clothes, as she had to start the journey unprepared.

 Sun is personified as “He
Describing being inside the ground; being cold
Also talks about what she is wearing gossamer- material for a wedding dress, tippet (scarf) & Tulle (netting)
Slant rhyme “chill/ tulle”

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground–
The Roof was scarcely visible–
The Cornice--in the Ground–

Finally, the speaker and Death have stopped their carriage and they have reached their destination- a house. It is the slightly rounded surface ‘of the ground’, with a scarcely visible roof and a cornice ‘ in the ground.’   

The house/swelling of the ground symbolizes her gravesite
Cornice: a decorative framework to conceal curtain fixtures at the top of a window casing
Alliteration of the letter “s”

Since then--'tis Centuries—but each
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity—

Cessation of all activity and creativeness is absolute. At the end, in a final instantaneous flash of memory, she recalls the last objects before her eyes during the journey: the heads of the horses that carried her, as she had surmised they were going from the beginning, toward ‘eternity.’ 

Time has passed since her carriage ride with death
Paradox- century (100 yrs) feels shorter than a day
Ends with her realizing that towards the end of her ride with death she figured out that this wasn’t temporary
“Horses Heads  were toward eternity” meaning the horses pulling the carriage were taking her somewhere she couldn’t return from 

She realizes she is dead; that this “ride” is for all eternity 

This is typical Dickinson poem, in which each stanza is a quatrain- four lines. In each stanza the first line has 8 syllables, the second has 6 syllables, the third has 8 syllables, and the fourth has 6 syllables. The overall theme of the poem seems to be that death is not to be feared because it is part of the endless cycle of nature. Her tone is optimistic because she sees death as a friend. 
This poem is a good example of her style, with punctuation dominated by dashes and words intermittently given initial capital letters. The poem is slightly disconcerting, presenting the arrival of death as a friend, or even a bridegroom, to escort the narrator in a leisurely manner towards her tomb.

The personified Death’s actions are ‘kindly’, he shows ‘Civility’ and the journey has ‘no haste’. The central stanza poignantly contrasts children at play with death and the children are the first of three references to the passing of time towards the end of life. They are followed by the ripening grain, ready for harvest, and the setting sun, a frequent metaphor for the end of life.

Describing the tomb as a ‘House’ suggests comfort and the final stanza confirms this, compressing the ‘Centuries’ since the journey into less ‘than the Day’.

There are a number of repetitions, internal rhymes and examples of alliteration in the poem. Consider what these sound features add to a reading and understanding of the poem.

A number of Dickinson’s poems are based on the theme of death. This particular poem is the finest in this category. On the surface this poem seems like just another version of a procession to the grave, but here it is also a metaphor that can be probed for deeper levels of meaning, spiritual journeys of a different sort.

Study Questions:

  1. Focus on the form of the poem , looking at the structure, punctuation, line lengths and the arrangement of the poem’s stanzas. How do these features add interest and meaning to the poem? Also examine the arrangements of the words, phrases and sentences in the poem.
  1. Examine the language used  in the poem, looking at the meaning of words and whether they have negative or positive connotations.
  1. Look at the techniques, imagery and sound devices, alliteration, that has been used? How do these techniques bring out the main themes and ideas in the poem? 
  1. How does the poet make use of rhyme (end and internal), repetition and rhythm?  Why does she do this?
  1. What are the poet’s main ideas that she brings out in the poem and how does he do this? Explain the feelings that the poet conveys throughout the poem.  Describe the poet’s attitude to his subject. Does this change as the poem progresses? Carefully examine the tone throughout the poem and find vocabulary to back up your discussion.
  1. How do you react to this poem?  Does it bring any particular thoughts to mind?  Which poems would you compare this one with?