Dickinson is able to so effectively present the importance of sight because in 1864, she spent seven months in Boston undergoing eye treatment. In Poem 327, she appears to be reflecting on this experience, as well as exploring further possibilities, hence the use of the conditional tense. This is undoubtedly a poem of praise for vision, yet this is balanced by the solitary nature of the poem which creates a sense of pathos. Whilst traditionally women’s poetry was considered to be more polite, this is definitely not true of this poem, which uses raw, visceral imagery to emphasise the importance and power of sight.
Dickinson establishes three distinctive parts to the narrative; before the narrator ‘got [her] eye put out’; after the event and the possibility of her regaining her sight in the future. Dickinson refers to the narrator’s loss of sight as her having her ‘eye put out’. The aloof expression with which she relates such a critical event immediately excites the reader’s attention. Pathos is created with the narrator mourning for her loss and reminiscing about times when she ‘liked…to see’. Furthermore, by capitalising ‘Eyes’, Dickinson emphasises the word and portrays the ideal quality that eyes now possess for the narrator. The reader is able to appreciate that the narrator has needed to find a way to cope without sight; she is no longer one of the ‘other Creatures, that have Eyes/ And know no other way-‘.
Through blindness, the narrator has been forced to develop her imagination. The strength of her imagination is portrayed as something which is, perhaps, better than ‘finite eyes’ and it appears that the narrator has almost been enlightened since losing her sight. Dickinson conjures up intense, eidetic images of ‘Meadows…Mountains…Forests…Stars’. In the final stanza, Dickinson equates the mind’s eye with the imagination and ‘[her] soul’, implying that sight is affected by our thoughts and pre-conceptions. She also suggests that people need to look out through ‘the Window pane’ and perceive what is outside the limitations of their own body. This is possibly something the narrator is able to do now that her mind is no longer affected by her sight.
Sight holds such great importance for the narrator that it is bound up with a wide range of emotions. When the narrator is first presented with the possibility of regaining her sight, she declares ‘my Heart/ Would split, for size of me’. The forced cesura makes the reader pause, and the exclamatory quality of the syntax reflects the ‘split’ and its release of energy and bountiful emotions. The repetition of ‘mine’ suggests the narrator’s hunger for ownership of the images. If she owned them, she would be able to satisfy her need by looking at them whenever she desired. In the penultimate stanza, Dickinson uses dashes to isolate ‘to look at when I like’. This is the climax of the poem and the isolation of this phrase highlights the magnificent phenomenon of sight. The narrator expresses her resignation to a life without sight ‘So safer – guess…’. However the narrator does also seem to be aware of the benefits of remaining blind because whilst sight is presented as being incredible, it is also presented as dangerous ‘Where other Creatures put their eyes- / Incautious – of the Sun’.
The poem describes a very solitary experience, about the narrator in commune with some higher power. The narrator’s Romanticism is illuminated by her passion for and desire to hold on to the minutiae of the beauty of nature. This is evident from her description of ‘The Motions of the Dipping Birds’ and ‘The Morning’s Amber Road-‘. The use of capital letters highlights the significance these images hold for the narrator and the detailed descriptions demonstrate that her mind’s eye can contain finer details alongside the vastness of the large features of nature, such as ‘Meadows’ and ‘Mountains’.
Dickinson uses hyperbolae ‘my Heart/ Would split’; ‘The News would strike me dead’ to portray the intensity of the narrator’s emotional experience. One of Dickinson’s contemporaries, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, employs a similar hyperbolic technique to demonstrate her passions ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways’. This is not the only parallel which can be drawn between the two poets; both show a similar confidence in being able to discuss the soul through poetry. Browning says ‘My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight’, while for Dickinson, the issue of the soul appears not just in this poem, but is several others too, such as Poem 280 and Poem 309.
The way in which Dickinson sets out the stanzas in this poem seems to reflect the narrator’s response to losing her sight, through the way it builds and intensifies emotion. From something quite ordinary like ‘other Creatures’ in the first stanza, the emotional intensity rises in the second stanza, continues to do so in the third stanza and climaxes in the fourth, before falling in the fifth, in reflection of her resignation. The more frequent use of dashes as the poem progresses act to punctuate and emphasise what the narrator is saying and also indicate the build up of emotion.
The isolation and repetition of ‘mine’ in the third and fourth stanzas illustrates the tension and selfish nature of the narrator. The poem climaxes in terms of intensity in the fourth stanza and Dickinson then brings the intensity down to safer levels, which is highlighted by her use of the word ‘safer’ in the first line of the final stanza. The repetition of ‘other Creatures’ provides balance to the poem. The symmetry is strengthened as a result of the similar emotional tones in the first and fifth stanzas. This could be reflective of the symmetry and balance of nature, of which Dickinson has shown herself to be exquisitely aware.
Through her different poems, Dickinson has shown her remarkable ability to sympathise with the varied challenges that people experience in their lives. It is this ability that makes her poetry as a whole so vivid and emotional. Her skilful use of syntax, hyperbolae and imagery conveys the power and importance of sight
McNeil, Helen ed., Emily Dickinson: Everyman’s Poetry, Orion Publishing Group, 1997Merriman, C.D., Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) URL: http://www.online-literature.com [17 January 2007]
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