The Essence of Emily Dickinsons PoetryEmily Dickinson published exactly ten out of one thousand and eight hundred poems during her lifetime. Though a poetic genius of her time, Dickinson was suppressed and neglected. However, this in no way bothered Dickinson, she lacked all concern for an audience. The main reason for this being because she was an extremely private person. She wrote mostly for herself, and loved ones. What captures Emilys poetry is her emphasis on the topic of emotion and pain, the influence captured from subjects and events, and her unique style of mechanics.
Dickinson is known for the usage of emotion in her poetry. One topic she wrote about was death. Early on in Emilys career she was capable of pressing her reflections on the precise moment of death into remarkably concise expressions, stated Porter(67). In many poems, Dickinson doesnt just talk of death, she personifies it. An example is the poem Because I could not stop for Death. Dying is compared to an unexpected ride in a horse-drawn carriage(Daniel 391). Also, Dickinson thought the suffering involved in personal relationships captured the impulse of poetry(Chase 191). This idea of pain expressed in the poetry of Dickinson is seen in the poem Heart! We will forget him. In the following stanza:When you have done, pray tell meThat I may straight begin!Haste!
Lest while youre laggingI remember him!(Johnson 5)We can tell that shes suffering from the memories of a past lover. Dickinson wants her heart to forget about him, so that her mind may do the same. All her life, Dickinson was never married, but spoke very often of a lover in her poetry. However, attempting to relate any of her love poems to a particular man will always be precarious(Chase 153). Although many of her poems speak of a passion for a man, it may not have necessarily been about her. Dickinson could have been writing about any womans life in a certain occasion. Pre-appointed pain was Dickinsons favorite area of feeling, how one chooses it and the consequences of the choice(Adams 464).
In addition to Dickinsons themes, her influences came from certain subjects and events. One of the subjects that emerged in her writing was religion. Dickinson was involved with puritanism all her life. She attended th Mount of Holyoke Seminary School, which specialized in puritanism. However Dickinson attended only one year because she longed for spiritual nourishment, not for the dogmatic belief and tortured conscience(Edison, Religious Influences. N.P.). In other words, Dickinson didnt like to make moral judgements, instead she focused on the limited quality of human action. For example, Nathaniel Hawthorne often described the damage of sin, and what it had upon an individual. Dickinson however was a realist, who was more interested in psychology. She wrote about situations such as, at what point did one reach heaven, and studied views on how grace was given.
Aside from religion, the Civil War also influenced Dickinsons writing. Over half of her poems were written during this time and many believed this is what gave her poetry the tense feeling(Meltzer 44). Dickinson deploys imagery of captivity in the poem I Never Hear the WordEscape. In the following lines: I never hear of prisons broad/By soldiers battered down/But I tug childish at my bars Only to fail again(Johnson 89), Dickinson is identifying herself with a soldier, who is in a sense trapped in the war, as if hes trapped behind bars. Dickinson allows her imagination to run wild, and this is what attracts many readers. The subject of religion and the event of the Civil War influenced Dickinsons poetry tremendously.
Dickinsons unique styles of mechanics are also what separates her poetry from the rest. Dickinson did not follow the rules of punctuation. She often capitalized random words that were of importance to her. Below are the third and fourth lines from the poem Of nearness to he sundered Things: The Soul has special times-/When Dimness looks the Oddity-(Johnson 153). If an editor were to look over these lines, the first thing they would alter is the incorrect capitalization of Soul, Dimness, and Oddity. Also, Dickinson used dashes throughout her poetry. This device gained rhythm and emphasis, stated Dickinson(Meltzer 30). However, the editors did not view it that way. In fact in order to get her work published she was told she needed to change her way of writing(Daniel 377). Dickinson later explained herself to a literary critic. When I try to organize – my little force explodes, she told Thomas Higginson(Bloom 56). Every editor she came across had one goal, and it was to make her writings traditionally poetic(Daniel 377).
Along with Dickinsons incorrect use of punctuation, she was also known for using a variation of literary devices. Slant rhyme(close but not exact rhyming sounds) added a great deal of shock toward Dickinsons poems. This literary device is shown in the poem The Soul selectsher own society. In the following lines:Ive known her from an ample nationChoose One-Then – close the values of her attentionLike Stone -(Daniel 378)One and Stone have a slant rhyme. Dickinson also wrote a lot of her poetry using hymn meters. A hymn meter differs from a traditional meter by counting syllables, not feet. Dickinson however took liberties with the meter. She used enjambment – the breaking of a line where there is no natural or syntactic pause(Campbell, Common Questions. N.P.). For example, in the second stanza of I cannot live with you, she writes:The Sexton keeps the key to Putting upOur life- His Porcelain -Like a cup-(Johnson162).
If Dickinson were traditionally using hymn meters, she wouldnt have marked the first, third and fourth lines with dashes and their would be no pauses. Dickinsons own rules of punctuation and literary devices, is what gave her writing such a personal feeling.
Out of the many characteristics in Dickinsons poetry, her emphasis on emotional pain, the subjects and events that influenced her, and her unique use of mechanics, is what capturethe reader. By just reading a couple of her poems, one could infer that she was a personal writer.
She expressed her beliefs, feelings and conflicts in whatever way that she felt, at that very moment. Dickinson wrote a lot about emotional pain, which seemed to follow her, throughout life. Also, she based her themes on subjects and events that affected her, such as religion and war. Her interesting style of writing is also refreshing, seeing that she wrote according to her rules and no ones else. Numerous critics told Dickinson that her writing would not appeal to the popular style back then. However, Emily Dickinsons poetry is now greatly appreciated worldwide.