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Emily D ickinson. Biography. born in Amherst, Massachusetts, USA, December 10, 1830. Her quiet life was infused with a creative energy that produced almost 1800 poems and a profusion of vibrant letters .

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Emily d ickinson

Emily Dickinson


Biography

Biography

  • born in Amherst, Massachusetts, USA, December 10, 1830. Her quiet life was infused with a creative energy that produced almost 1800 poems and a profusion of vibrant letters.

  • Amherst, a strict Calvinist community, 50 miles from Boston, well known as a center for Education, based around Amherst College.

  • Her family were pillars of the local community; their house known as “The Homestead” or “Mansion” was often used as a meeting place for distinguished visitors.

  • Emily’s father was strict and keen to bring up his children in the proper way. Emily said of her father. “his heart was pure and terrible”. At a young age, she said she wished to be the “best little girl”. However despite her attempts to please and be well thought of, she was also at the same time independently minded, and quite willing to refuse the prevailing orthodoxy’s on certain issues.

Calvinism is the theological system associated with the Reformer John Calvin that emphasizes the rule of God over all things as reflected in its understanding of Scripture, God, humanity, salvation, and the church.


Emily as a young woman

Emily as a young woman

  • Her lively Childhood and Youth were filled with schooling, reading, explorations of nature, religious activities, significant friendships, and several key encounters with poetry.

  • Her most intense writing years consumed the decade of her late 20s and early 30s; during that time she composed almost 1100 poems. She made few attempts to publish her work, choosing instead to share them privately with family and friends.

  • Among her peers, Dickinson's closest friend and adviser was a woman named Susan Gilbert. In 1856, Gilbert married Dickinson's brother, William Austin Dickinson. All of the Dickinson siblings, as well as Gilbert, lived on the large Dickinson Homestead in Amherst.


Emily and her seclusion

Emily and her seclusion

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by anxiety in situations where the sufferer perceives certain environments as dangerous or uncomfortable, often due to the environment's vast openness or crowdedness.

  • In her later Years Dickinson increasingly withdrew from public life. Her garden, her family (especially her brother’s family at The Evergreens), close friends, and health concerns occupied her.

  • Dickinson's seclusion from 1885 onwards was probably partly due to her responsibilities as guardian of her sick mother. Scholars have also speculated that she suffered from conditions such as agoraphobia, depression and/or anxiety. It was also during this time that Dickinson was most productive as a poet, filling notebooks with verse without any awareness on the part of her family members.

  • In her spare time, Dickinson studied botany and compiled a vast herbarium. She also maintained correspondence with a variety of contacts. One of her friendships, with Judge Otis Phillips Lord, seems to have developed into a romance before Lord's death in 1884.

As a result of her seclusion, Dickinson became known as the woman “who dresses wholly in white…writes finely but no-one ever

sees her.”


Emily s death

Emily’s death

  • Dickinson died of kidney disease in Amherst, Massachusetts, on May 15, 1886. She is buried on the family Homestead, which is now a museum.

  • She left precise instructions for her funeral such as the route to be taken from her house to the churchyard and the white dress she was to be laid out in.

  • After her sister's death, Lavinia Dickinson discovered hundreds of her poems in notebooks that Emily had filled over the years. The first volume of these poems was published in 1890, with additional volumes following. A full compilation, The Poems of Emily Dickinson, wasn't published until 1955.


However

However…

  • Dickinson was very eccentric in her use of punctuation and capital letters. Generally her odd use has the purpose of emphasis. After her death, Thomas Wentworth Higginson an editor, whom did not fully understand the nature of Dickinson’s talent when she was alive, had edited her poems and made some “corrections”. As a result much of her power in this unusual style was lost in the alteration.

  • Emily Dickinson's stature as a writer soared from the first publication of her poems in their intended form. She is known for her poignant and compressed verse, which profoundly influenced the direction of 20th century poetry. The strength of her literary voice, as well as her reclusive and eccentric life, contributes to the sense of Dickinson as an indelible American character.


What s so special about dickinson

What’s so special about Dickinson?

  • Explores death, morality and immortality.

  • Endings of her poems are often left open

  • Sets herself a task of definition (hope, despair, pain, joy)

  • Mixes abstract concepts and concrete details.

  • Words and issues given attention by unconventional use of capital letters and the dash.


I felt a funeral in my brain

I felt a funeral in my brain

  • An account of the progress of a funeral from the perspective of the person in the coffin

  • Probably written in 1861- difficult period for Dickinson as she had both religious and artistic doubts.

  • Had a complicated and disappointed feelings for Samuel Boules (Editor of Springfield Republican Newspaper).


Emily d ickinson

Written in the first person narrative, past tense.

Suggests physical and intense experience

Abolishes barrier between sickness of the mind and the body.

Repetition- impacts her physically

Use of dash captures the insistent nature of noise. It also fragments the comprehension of the text.

From Brain (1) to mind (8)- physical intensity lessened, becomes more psychological. However, it is thought Dickinson found no clear distinction between mind and body

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,

And Mourners to and fro

Kept treading - treading - till it seemed

That Sense was breaking through -

And when they all were seated,

A Service, like a Drum -

Kept beating- beating- till I thought

My mind was going numb -


Emily d ickinson

Repetition of “And” suggests sense of forward motion, powerless to stop

The “I” becomes disorientated, boundary between internal and external collapses. The last two stanzas maybe seen as if the speaker is entering death.

Experience from physical to psychological has developed a spiritual quality

Marks time- decisive moment

Reduced to just hearing as sound fills the room

Sense of Isolation- shipwrecked from life. Cut-off along with silence and left “here”. Startling immediacy to this moment

Poem is moving again

“Plank” (image of grave) in “Reason” did not hold up- cannot make sense

“I”, a new experience- new levels, new worlds, to finish “knowing”. What does Dickinson “know”?

And then I heard them lift a Box

And creak across my Soul

With those same Boots of Lead, again,

Then Space - began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,

AndBeing, but an Ear,

And I, and Silence, some strange Race,

Wrecked, solitary, here -

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,

And I dropped down, and down -

And hit a World, at every plunge,

And Finished knowing - then -


Knowing

“Knowing”

  • Poets knowledge is beyond finished

  • Speaker has finished imagined funeral with the knowledge of something she cannot express

  • Knowledge itself is finished

  • Dickinson's desire to experience death- beyond the imaginations capacity to do so

  • Or…. Is this poem just a narrative of a nightmarish, terrifying experience?


I heard a fly buzz when i died

I Heard a fly buzz- when I died-

  • This poem can be compared to “I felt a funeral in my brain” as it also explores the transition between life and death.

  • Written in the past tense, in the voice of the dying person, and describes the moment of death.

  • It is important to note that in the Calvinist’s tradition, the moment of death is the moment when the soul faces God’s judgment.


Emily d ickinson

I heard a Fly buzz - when I died -

The Stillness in the Room

Was like the Stillness in the Air -

Between the Heaves of Storm -

The Eyes around - had wrung them dry -

And Breaths were gathering firm

For that last Onset - when the King

Be witnessed - in the Room -

I willed my Keepsakes - Signed away

What portion of me be

Assignable - and then it was

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 -


Emily d ickinson

Detailed evocation of a death scene.

The startling perspective is announced- the speaker is the person dying.

The moment is dominated by the buzzing of a fly in the death-room.

Use of dashes and run on lines take away from the sing-song effect of the hymn form. Instead they get the reader to slow down, providing emphasis.

As death approaches, the mourners gather and wait for the moment when their “King” or God gives judgment. “Be witness”- they are filled with expectancy.

I heard a Fly buzz - when I died -

The Stillness in the Room

Was like the Stillness in the Air -

Between the Heaves of Storm -

The Eyes around - had wrung them dry -

And Breaths were gathering firm

For that last Onset - when the King

Be witnessed - in the Room -


Emily d ickinson

Speaker has tidied up her legal affairs and waits for the moment of death

However, it is not the presence of God coming to claim her soul that has filled her but a fly who has “interposed” and filled her consciousness.

Arrival of a fly might suggest human decay and corruption- is Dickinson trying to tell us that death cannot be managed, arranged or ordered.

Syntax becomes fractured with dashes- as moment of death approaches, failure of consciousness of sight and sound blur and become one.

The stumbling, buzzing fly comes between the dying person’s sight and source of light. The buzzing fly suggest life is a comedy rather than a tragedy. The buzzing is unexpected, like a drunkard disturbing the solemnity of an important occasion.

Images of light and darkness- speaker is plunged into the darkness of death and the moment has passed

I willed my Keepsakes - Signed away

What portion of me be

Assignable - and then it was

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 -


I heard a fly buzz when i died1

I heard a fly buzz- when I died-

  • The ending of the poem, and the anti-climax it describes, suggests that humans have no way of knowing if the immortal life with God, that their faith actually professes, actually exists.

  • “I could not see to see-”: is this the message of the poem that after dying all is darkness and emptiness? Is that the significance of the dash that ends the poem?

  • This may offer evidence of Dickinson’s lack of faith in the afterlife with God.


Emily d ickinson

"Hope" is the thing with feathers—That perches in the soul—And sings the tune without the words—And never stops—at all—And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—And sore must be the storm—That could abash the little BirdThat kept so many warm—I've heard it in the chillest land—And on the strangest Sea—Yet, never, in Extremity,It asked a crumb—of Me.


Emily d ickinson

Written in 1861 ( same as “I Felt…” and “I heard…”) after a difficult period in her life, Dickinson becomes optimistic and reveals a cheerful, resilient mood.

Use of physical features to DEFINE an abstract experience. (One of her definition poems)

Although the poem consists of a series of comparisons, Dickinson does not use the word “like”. Hope is not “like” a thing with feathers, it IS the thing with feathers.

Her direct and confident statements make her definition vivid and immediate.

Like religious symbolism, Hope is imagined as having some of the characteristics of a bird.


Definition poem physical details defining the abstract

Definition Poem: physical details defining the abstract

Use of metaphors, does not use “like”- a sense of comparisons

Hope- some characteristics of a bird. It can fly and lift the spirit. Feathers are warm and comforting

First line is a confident and direct statement- vivid and immediate

Hope resides in the soul

"Hope" is the thing with feathers—That perches in the soul—Andsings the tune without the words—And never stops—at all—And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—Andsore must be the storm—That could abash the little BirdThat kept so many warm—

The song Hope sings is beyond logic, reason and our own limitations. It is resilient and unceasing

In times of distress and uncertainty, Hope may seam but a “little bird” i.e. it may seem slight but it is powerful and can comfort many


Last stanza outlines dickinson s personal experience of hope in times of her own anguish

Last stanza outlines Dickinson’s personal experience of Hope in times of her own anguish

  • I've heard it in the chillest land—And on the strangest Sea—Yet, never, in Extremity,It asked a crumb—of Me.

Hope has offered comfort and has asked nothing in return. Hope is generous and others-seeking.

The last stanza is a solemn note as it gives Hope the dignified celebration it deserves.

Form: Sing song nature is achieved with half rhymes, enjambment (run-on-lines), repetition and alliteration


There s a certain slant of light

There’s a certain Slant of light

  • This poem explores a state of mind in which the comfort of hope is absent.

  • In its place there is despair which she associates with a certain kind of winter light falling on the landscape.

  • The poem was probably written 1861 (like the other three poems we have studied) during which she suffered a major personal crisis.

  • The speaker sees the light as an affliction, affecting the inner landscape of the soul.


Emily d ickinson

There's a certain Slant of light,

Winter Afternoons –

That oppresses, like the Heft

Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –

We can find no scar,

But internal difference,

Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –

'Tis the Seal Despair –

An imperial affliction

Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –

Shadows – hold their breath –

When it goes, 'tis like the Distance

On the look of Death –


There s a certain slant of light1

There's a certain Slant of light

Striking simile: Winter and church music depicts the heaviness of the soul. The light is oppressive on the speaker.

There's a certain Slant of light,

Winter Afternoons –

That oppresses, like the Heft

Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –

We can find no scar,

But internal difference,

Where the Meanings, are –

The image becomes music- Dickinson blurs the senses (synesthesia) which creates a feeling of disturbance.

No physical wounds but affects her inner life/ soul and brings despair.

One could say she is suggesting a relationship between Heaven and humanity. Heaven seems to be cruel to humanity.


There s a certain slant of light2

There's a certain Slant of light

Seal: Royal stamp/ Closed communication, Authoritative style.

The Hurt in stanza 2 cannot be explained, it is without remedy.

“Tis”- the slant of light is a sign of despair- both a psychological and a spiritual condition

None may teach it – Any –

'Tis the Seal Despair –

An imperial affliction

Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –

Shadows – hold their breath –

When it goes, 'tis like the Distance

On the look of Death –

“Seal” and “Imperial”: message is sent by a higher authority. Message: Human mortality beyond contradiction?

Movement from inner landscape to external one

Light causes the world to be still and hushed.

Passing of the light does not lift the feeling of despair but in fact leaves a chill- Distance is seen between present and death.

Dash= The unknown into which we all face.


Emily d ickinson

  • First published anonymously in 1861 where two lines were altered by the editor to achieve an exact rhyme and another was changed to make the meaning clearer.

  • Central metaphor of the poem is intoxication. This is ironic because Dickinson grew up in a puritan household and her father was a supporter of abstinence from alcohol.

  • It is also ironic that Dickinson chose to write this poem in the common rhythm of hymns.

  • The poem is about nature and how experiencing it is so wonderful and intoxicating that it's like being drunk.


Emily d ickinson

I taste a liquor never brewed –

From Tankards scooped in Pearl –

Not all the Frankfort Berries

Yield such an Alcohol!

Inebriate of air – am I –

And Debauchee of Dew –

Reeling – thro' endless summer days –

From inns of molten Blue –

When "Landlords" 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!


Emily d ickinson

An exaggerated playful tone is established from the first line. Liquor tastes of something never existed before- of nature

Central metaphor: intoxication brought on by a joyous appreciation of life.

Celebrates the joy of excess, a reckless, indulgent joy

The poem describes the speaker’s sense of delight in the beauty of the world around her.

The extravagant imagery captures the mood of dizzy happiness that infuses the poem.

I taste a liquor never brewed –

From Tankards scooped in Pearl –

Not all the Frankfort Berries

Yield such an Alcohol!

Inebriate of air – am I –

And Debauchee of Dew –

Reeling – thro' endless summer days –

From inns of molten Blue –


Emily d ickinson

Images of flowers as inns or taverns and bees as drunkards gives the poem a sense of cartoon humour.

Last stanza: does not show the world’s beauty as a sign of God’s creativity. The inhabitants of heaven are presented as faintly ridiculous, enclosed and maybe envious of freedom and of the “little Tippler”.

“leans against the- Sun-”- Comic rebelliousness? Applauded by the angels as they swing their hats to honour her?

OR some Christian’s believe the “Sun” is a symbol of Christ. The speaker maybe announcing their intention to enjoy the beauty of the world until they come into the company of Christ

When "Landlords" 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!


After great pain a formal feeling comes

After great pain a formal feeling comes-

  • Written in 1862, some critics believe she was on the edge of madness at the time.

  • There is an absence of personal statement which gives the poem a universal quality, as if the poet is speaking for all who have suffered great pain. The experience is one that all of us will undoubtedly endure at some time or other and may be one you have already endured.

  • Dickinson brilliantly recreates the suffering we undergo after some terrible, excruciating event in our lives. The specific cause of the torment in this poem does not matter; whatever the cause, the response is the same, and, in this poem, the response is what matters.

  • She traces the numbness experienced after some terrible blow. Is numbness one way we protect ourselves against the onrush of pain and against being overwhelmed by suffering? She is discussing emotional pain, but don't we respond similarly to a physical blow with numbness before pain sets in?


Emily d ickinson

After great pain a formal feeling comes-The nerves sit ceremonious like Tombs-The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,And Yesterday-or Centuries before?

The Feet, mechanical, go round-Of Ground, or Air, or Ought-

A Wooden wayRegardless grown,A Quartz contentment, like a stone-

This is the Hour of Lead-Remembered, if outlived,As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow-First- Chill- then Stupor-then the letting go-


Emily d ickinson

Not properly described- Why not?

This pain does not lead to a loss of control but control of formality.

Long sentences in stanza one are pleasant

Contrasting with stanza one, a disjointed movement is formed in stanza 2 with unconnected sensations and thoughts. This reflects the mind’s ability to make sense of experience and derive meaning from it.

Pain results in hard, stone like insensitivity which brings its own kind of contentment. The word “contentment” seems ironic.

After great pain a formal feeling comes-The nerves sit ceremonious like Tombs-The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,And Yesterday-or Centuries before?

The Feet, mechanical, go round-Of Ground, or Air, or Ought-

Wooden wayRegardless grown,A Quartz contentment, like a stone-


Emily d ickinson

Nature of contentment is explained- heavy, deadening oppression when all human sensations become frozen.

This is the Hour of Lead-Remembered, if outlived,As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow-First- Chill- then Stupor- then the letting go-

This is not forgotten even if they survive it.

The experience is likened to that of a person freezing in snow. The thoughts are again incomplete. Has the freezing person survived this ordeal or does the experience continue?


I could bring you jewel had i a mind to

I could bring you jewel- had I a mind to-

  • Although Dickinson was a recluse, she had a wide circle of friends to whom she wrote many letters.

  • Many of her letters took the form of poems, or were written to accompany small gifts that she enclosed.

  • These poems, many of them written as riddles, show the playful and humorous sides of Dickinson’s personality.

  • It is thought that this poem was intended as a token of her love although she took considerable pains to disguise the identity of her beloved.

  • One of her most joyful poems.


I could bring you jewels had i a mind to

I could bring You Jewels--had I a mind to--

  • I could bring You Jewels--had I a mind to-- But You have enough--of those-- I could bring You Odors from St. Domingo-- Colors--from Vera Cruz--

  • Berries of Bahamas--have I-- But this little Blaze Flickering to itself--in the Meadow-- Suits Me--more than those--

  • Never a Fellow matched this Topaz-- And his Emerald Swing-- Dower itself--for Bobadilo-- Better--Could I bring!


Emily d ickinson

The first two stanzas the speaker considers the gift she will offer her beloved, the “you” of the poem. She settles on a small meadow flower. The chosen gift is a mark of the speaker’s freedom and uniqueness, and a reflection, perhaps, of her unshowy personality.

The opening line of the poem strikes a note of confidence and playfulness, which is sustained to the end of the poem.

There is a conversational feel to the opening lines, achieved by the length of the line and the phrase “had I a mind to”. This is Dickinson at her most relaxed.

  • I could bring You Jewels--had I a mind to--But You have enough--of those-- I could bring You Odors from St. Domingo-- Colours--from Vera Cruz--

  • Berries of Bahamas--have I-- But this little Blaze Flickering to itself--in the Meadow-- Suits Me--more than those--

This gift gives the speaker a note of confidence and self-ease . It is worth noting the first stanza contains luxurious, exotic gifts which is reflected in the long lines. However, Dickinson employs shorter lines when she settles on her chosen gift which reflects her tone becoming more decisive.


The concluding rhetorical question suggests that the flower is the best gift she could offer

The concluding rhetorical question suggests that the flower is the best gift she could offer.

A jaunty confident tone is evident in the use of the word “fellow”.

  • Never a Fellow matched this Topaz-- And his Emerald Swing-- Dower itself--for Bobadilo-- Better--Could I bring!

Notice how, in this final stanza, the assured, confident tone is emphasized in the use of the word “Never” and in rhyming of “Swing” and “bring”, which closes her argument with a ring of authority.

In its playful, assured way, the poem establishes that the true value of gifts and the true nature of riches cannot be measured in material terms.


Form of poem

Form of Poem

  • Dickinson employs a four line stanza with the rhyme occurring between lines 2 and 4. Unlike other of her poems, there is a conversational feel to the opening lines, achieved by the length of the line and the phrase “had I a mind to”. This is Dickinson at her most relaxed. As the poem proceeds, the tone becomes less conversational and concludes with the magisterial four word last line.


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