Professor John Williams
10 October 2013
Emily Dickinson: A Poetic Legacy
Since Emily Dickinson’s death in 1886, generations of people have discovered the works of this unique poet. Her privatized lifestyle was the cause of approximately 2,000 poems to be published, turning Dickinson into a poetic legacy. Her works go into great meanings that resemble her daily observations. Dickinson would always take a step back form reality and study everything from nature, to human behavior. Her findings are the foundation to her success. Dickinson lived a reclusive life, but through her poems, she used powerful language and consistent themes to become recognized as one of the most prestigious poets in American history.
In many of her poems, Dickinson uses a strong, forceful language to signify different aspects of death. Perhaps the most prominent theme of her work, Dickinson wrote a lot of poetry attempting to find out as much as she could about this unknowing subject. In her poem I heard a Fly buzz-when I died, Dickinson explores what the feelings are moments before the arrival of death. She describes the arrival of death as a calming feeling, “The Stillness in the Room Was like the Stillness in the Air – Between the Heaves of Storm.” A few lines deeper into the poem, as she lay on her deathbed, Dickinson notices insignificant distractions coming from a tiny fly, buzzing and hovering around the room. Dickinson uses this technique in many of her poems. She takes a minor character, such as the fly to signify death. Its importance is so apparent that (as it says in line 14) it comes between the speaker and “the light.” This meaning of action represents the fly’s significance at the poems most climatic moment.
Dickinson’s usage of symbolism in Because I could not stop for Death creates another perspective for her overlying theme of death. In this poem, death is personified as a human who is accompanying her on a journey from life, to the afterlife. Dickinson immediately welcomes his presence; in the line “He kindly stopped for me— The Carriage held but just Ourselves—And Immortality,” the voice of the poem indicates that death is presented in a very non-frightening manner. Because she welcomes death very straightforwardly, death could be a representation of several different people with significance in her life. No matter whom the death is symbolized as, it is constantly, through each poem, trying to build a personal relationship with the speaker of the poem. Although, you will see that unlike reality, where we would assume death to have all of the power, the speaker of the poem, presumably Dickenson herself, is the one who has the control throughout. We can see this is evident in the poem Because I Could Not Stop for Death. In the first two lines of the poem, Dickinson takes control of the situation when she says how “I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me.” This represents a different type of action that Dickenson is trying to emphasis in her poem: one’s self. The belief in the power of the self is an idea and theme that Dickenson tries to exemplify a significant amount of times through her poems. That being that the speaker of the poem, as I mentioned already, has the power to control the actions in the poem. Dickenson attempts to make readers realize a new side to the idea of a speaker. Most times we see the theme of a poem controlling the speaker; In Dickenson’s poems we often see the opposite, the speaker controlling the theme of the poem. This is evident in her poem Tell all the Truth but tell it slant. The last two lines “The truth must dazzle gradually, or every man be blind” establish this theme. The theme of this specific poem is about ignorance. As a way to combat this ignorance, Dickinson uses a technique that explains to people not just how to speak, but how to speak in an appropriate way. She uses a combination of both assertive and commanding words, such as “must dazzle