Emily Dickinson

- Dickinson, unlike most women of her time, never married.

- Avoiding the responsibilities of marriage allowed her time to write.

- As a spinster, the community viewed her as someone with a lot of extra time on her hands. She would be asked to be involved in church and community activities, but she told the other ladies that she would rather not be involved in these things.

- She did not usually entertain guests, but if visitors came for tea, she listened to their conversations from outside the room.

- All in all, Emily Dickinson led a very solitary life.

- Most of her work was written between 1859 and 1865 (although Civil War was underway, her work rarely reflects this).

- Her work was not published while she was alive. Some of her poems were sent to others in letters.

- Dickinson does not reveal in her poems at what point in time she was writing


- Dickinson is compares faith and microscopes.

- Faith is a part of religion and microscopes are a part of science.

- Religion vs. Science- a way of looking at things before the enlightenment

- After the enlightenment, people said that faith was great to get over sickness, but one still should not throw away their medicine.



I taste a liquor never brewed,
From tankards scooped in pearl;
Not all the vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an alcohol!

Inebriate of air am I,
And debauchee of dew,
Reeling, through endless summer days,
From inns of molten blue.

When the landlord turn the drunken bee
Out of the foxglove's door,
When butterflies renounce their drams,
I shall but drink the more!

Till seraphs swing their snowy hats,
And saints to windows run,
To see the little tippler
Leaning against the sun!

- In most of her poetry, Dickinson uses slant rhyme, or half rhyme (ex. pearl and alcohol). This style of writing makes her different from other poets.

- She twists the wording around in her lines of poetry (ex. line 5- I is the subject).

- In #214, she says that she gets drunk off of the air, and she is intoxicated by life itself.

- A "tippler" (line 15) is one who drinks. She says she will drink until she is ready to stop.


- #241 talks about death.

- She says that the look of agony is so real she likes it.

- Lines 7 and 8 may be like Jesus sweating drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemene.

# 249


Wild Nights! Wild Nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild Nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile the winds
To a heart in port, --
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart!

Rowing in Eden!
Ah! the sea!
Might I but moor
To-night in Thee!

- This poem talks about love. Her closest relationships with men were usually by correspondence, but she seemed to have a healthy fantasy life.

- 1st stanza- She dreams of being with a man.

- 2nd stanza- Outside, there is a storm, and she wants to find security in the man that she is with.

- In the last stanza, she says that if they were together, it would be like being in the Garden of Eden, and they would "moor," or have sex.



There's a certain slant of light,
Winter afternoons
That oppresses, lik the weight
Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings, are.

None may teach it anything,
'T is the seal, despair, --
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.

When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, 't is like the distance
On the look of death.

- When Dickinson writes, sometimes her punctuation gets in the way and you have to ignore it.

- 1st stanza- In #258, she states the light in the winter is oppressing to her because it comes in at a low angle. Sunshine and cathedral tunes are supposed to be uplifting, but they seem to depress Dickinson.

- line 6- The scar is inside. She is internally affected.

- This oppression leads her to despair in the 3rd stanza.

- In the 4th stanza, she says the light is oppressing when it comes, but even more oppressive when it goes.


- 1st stanza- The soul chooses who it will commune with and locks everyone else out.

She is the divine majority and then there is everyone else.

- 2nd stanza- She is like a princess on her tower looking out at suitors. She does not even care that they are out there.

- 3rd stanza- Out of many people, she picks only one.



The difference between Despair
And Fear -- is like the One
Between the instant of a Wreck
And when the Wreck has been --

The Mind is smooth -- no Motion --
Contented as the Eye
Upon the Forehead of a Bust --
That knows -- it cannot see --

- X- Greek letter chi

Chiastic structure- when you can arrange the parts of a poem on the letter chi

despair     fear       line 1 goes with line 4
instant      after       line 2 goes with line 3

- If you are in a wreck, at that moment, you feel fear, but later in you will feel despair.

- 2nd stanza- The mind is like an eye that cannot see.


- Dickinson appears crazy to everyone else.

- lines 1 and 2- What appears crazy to everyone else may be seen from a different perspective to be sane.

- lines 3 and 4- What may seem to make sense because everyone else agrees to it mat really be crazy.

- lines 5-8- if you go along with everyone else, fine, but if you disagree society will put you in the looney bin.

- Society says we need conformity in order to show individuality.



This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,--
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.

Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!

- 1st stanza- Dickinson says that she is writing a poem about nature.

- 2nd stanza- She says for the countrymen to be nice to her because she is writing about nature and they love nature.


- 1st stanza- The poet's job is to take ordinary things and intensify them.

- 2nd stanza- Poets put a lot of meaning into a few words and make others wonder why they did not think of the same thing.

- 3rd stanza- Poverty means lack of insight, vision and imagination. By bringing out the riches of his own internal life, the poet shows us how impoverished we are.

- 4th stanza- He is so unconscious of what he really has, you cannot really rob him because he is a fortune to himself.



I died for beauty but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
"For beauty," I replied.
"And I for truth,--the two are one;
We brethren are," he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

 beauty = truth = goodness

- At the highest level, these three things are equal; however, at lower levels they can be separated.

- 1st stanza- Two people are buried in adjoining graves. She died for beauty and he died for truth. The stereotype,at the time,was that guys were pursuing knowledge and women were pursuing beauty.

- 2nd stanza- They ask each other what they died for.

- 3rd stanza- Since one died for beauty and the other truth, they decided they were kindred spirits. As kinsman, they talked throughout the night until they were forgotten and the moss had covered their names on their tombstones.



I heard a fly buzz when I died;
The stillness round my form
Was like the stillness in the air
Between the heaves of storm.

The eyes beside had wrung them dry,
And breaths were gathering sure
For that last onset, when the king
Be witnessed in his power.

I willed my keepsakes, signed away
What portion of me I
Could make assignable,--and then
There interposed a fly,

With blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz,
Between the light and me;
And then the windows failed, and then
I could not see to see.

- 1st stanza- A fly is buzzing around at the moment of her death.

- 2nd stanza- Everyone is sitting around the room crying and waiting for a revelation.

- 3rd stanza- Everyone is still waiting and in comes a fly. The fly is a symbol that death is near.

- 4th stanza- She loses herself and the ability to see and the fly comes in to do its work.



It was not death, for I stood up,
And all the dead lie down;
It was not night, for all the bells
Put out their tongues, for noon.

It was not frost, for on my flesh
I felt siroccos crawl,--
Nor fire, for just my marble feet
Could keep a chancel cool.

And yet it tasted like them all;
The figures I have seen
Set orderly, for burial,
Reminded me of mine,

As if my life were shaven
And fitted to a frame,
And could not breathe without a key;
And 't was like midnight, some,

When everything that ticked has stopped,
And space stares, all around,
Or grisly frosts, first autumn morns,
Repeal the beating ground.

But most like chaos,--stopless, cool,--
Without a chance or spar,--
Or even a report of land
To justify despair.

- 1st stanza- The bells are ringing so it is daytime.

- 2nd stanza- She did not know what was happening but on one hand it was like fire was coming across her flesh; on the other hand, her feet were very cold.

- synesthesia- when you can feel everything all at once.  It is a sign of chaos

- 4th stanza- Her death was like midnight- everything stopped.

- line 24- no sign of land means there was no hope to even justify the despair of not being able to get somewhere



Mine -- by the Right of the White Election!
Mine -- by the Royal Seal!
Mine -- by the Sign in the Scarlet prison --
Bars -- cannot conceal!

Mine -- here -- in Vision -- and in Veto!
Mine -- by the Grave's Repeal --
Tilted -- Confirmed --
Delirious Charter!
Mine -- long as Ages steal!

- line 1- White is a symbol of purity . She says he is mine because I chose him.

- line 3- Scarlet symbolizes depravity or sin.

- line 6- Whoever had claim to him died, so he is her's now.

- line 9- He will be her's forever.


- 1st stanza- The brain is larger than the sky because it can hold the sky and everything in it.

- In poetry, usually the word mind would be used and not brain.

- 2nd stanza- the brain is also bigger than the sea.

- 3rd stanza- A poet is like God because they both have the power to create.



Of all the souls that stand create
I have elected one.
When sense from spirit files away,
And subterfuge is done;

When that which is and that which was
Apart, intrinsic, stand,
And this brief tragedy of flesh
Is shifted like a sand;

When figures show their royal front
And mists are carved sway,--
Behold the atom I Feferred
To all the lists of clay!

- Election in Puritan theology signifies the chosen ones to be saved. Here Dickinson is doing the electing and she is electing only one.

- Dickinson had a way of picking the nonstandard word. In line 3, we would expect flies instead of files.

- lines 3 and 6- what was and what is stand apart

- Beauty is changing just as everything else is.

- We will see our true selves when we die and see each other spiritually.

- Only one atom will be preferred out of many.

- lines 11 and 12- possibly a word play- Atom/ Adam- Adam in the Bible was made of clay

Publication -- is the Auction
Of the Mind of Man --
Poverty -- be justifying
For so foul a thing

Possibly -- but We -- would rather
From Our Garret go
White -- Unto the White Creator --
Than invest -- Our Snow --

Thought belong to Him who gave it --
Then -- to Him Who bear
Its Corporeal illustration -- Sell
The Royal Air --

In the Parcel -- Be the Merchant
Of the Heavenly Grace --
But reduce no Human Spirit
To Disgrace of Price --

- Dickinson did not publish much in her lifetime.

- 1st stanza- When you publish, you are selling your mind. If you are poor and must support a family, then that might be a possible reason to publish.

- enjambment- running over from one stanza to the next (ex. 1st and 2nd stanzas)

- line 5- we is the royal we which means that someone is so much of a person, a singular will not cover all of them

- lines 7 and 8- She is not going to lose her publication virginity.

- 3rd stanza- The thought first belongs to the writer and then it belongs to the person who is being written to or about.

- line 13- parcel-little packets that Dickinson sewed her work into

- 4th stanza- You cannot put a price on poetry.



Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school where children played,
Their lessons scarcely done;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then 't is centuries; but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.

- This is one of Dickinson's most famous poems.

- 1st stanza- She is comparing death to a suitor coming to call. Immortality symbolizes a chaperone.

- 2nd stanza- She put away her fun for death because she was dead.

- 3rd stanza- children- childhood

grain- maturity

setting sun- death

- 4th stanza- They were moving so slowly that it seemed as if everything was passing them.

- 5th stanza- The house is her grave and the roof of the house is the ground.

- 6th stanza- Though it does not seem long, it has been centuries since she noticed the horses heads were pointed toward eternity.



Remorse -- is Memory -- awake --
Her Parties all astir --
A Presence at of Departed Acts --
At windows -- and at Door --

Its Past -- set down before the Soul
And lighted with a Match --
Perusla -- to facilitate --
And help Belief to stretch --

Remorse is cureless -- the Disease
Not even God -- can heal --
For 'tis His institution - and
The Adequate of Hell --

- 1st stanza- Remorse is memory awake and not happy. You keep reliving acts that you have done or left undone that keep crowding around your windows and doors.

- lines 4 and 5- The past is on fire.

- 3rd stanza- Even God cannot kill remorse because it is His institution. Remorse makes hell hell.


- 1st stanza- He swept her off of her feet. I was like she was a gun and he suddenly realized it was his.

- 2nd stanza- The two got together and now they go hunting in the woods. "Speak for him" means that the gun has been shot and the mountains echo.

- 3rd stanza- When she smiles, or the gun shoots, there is a flash of light.

- 4th stanza- He is sleeping with the gun in his hand. He would rather hold onto the gun than the pillow.

- 5th stanza- She (the gun) says that if you are his enemy, she will shoot you and you will not stir again.

- 6th stanza- She cannot die but she cannot live without him, and she does not know how to get rid of herself.


- The frost is killing the flowers but does not mean to kill them.

- God is watching the frost killing the flowers and is pleased.

  In Winter in my Room
I came upon a Worm --
Pink, lank and warm --
But as he was a worm
And worms presume
Not quite with him at home --
Secured him by a string
To something neighboring
And went along.

A Trifle afterward
A thing occurred
I'd not believe it if I heard
But state with creeping blood --
A snake with mottles rare
Surveyed my chamber floor
In feature as the worm before
But ringed with power --

The very string with which
I tied him -- too
When he was mean and new
That string was there --

I shrank -- "How fair you are"!
Propitiation's claw --
"Afraid," he hissed
"Of me"?
"No cordiality" --
He fathomed me --
Then to a Rhythm Slim
Secreted in his Form
As Patterns swim
Projected him.

That time I flew
Both eyes his way
Lest he pursue
Nor ever ceased to run
Till in a distant Town
Towns on from mine
I set me down
This was a dream.

- This poem is unlike any other poem by Dickinson.

- 1st stanza- The worm symbolizes a penis, an image of masculinity. She ties up the worm and goes on her way.

- 2nd stanza- The worm has grown up but it still had the string around it.

- 3rd stanza- He is talking to her and tells her that she is not very friendly.

- lines 28-31- These lines seem to imply sex.

- 4th stanza- She kept running and running and finally sat down and realized it was a dream.



My life closed twice before its close;
   It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
   A third event to me,

So huge, so hopeless to conceive,
   As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
   And all we need of hell.

- This poem actually rhymes which was unusual for Dickinson.

- She has apparently gone through two crises and is waiting to see if there will be another one. These crises seem to involve losses of important people to her. She says that one day they will meet again in heaven.

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Edited by Group 1: Winter 1999 English 303-02