Defying Conventions: Emily Dickinson's Poetic Rebellion

Categories: Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson's work was, to put it shortly, an act of defiance in and of itself and a reflection on her person. It is very easy to see her as pessimistic in her poetic style, however throughout this essay, we will explore the ways she challenged the conventions of her time through the analysis of her work and poetic style.

Dickinson's life was faced with constant issues as the Emily Dickinson Museum retells by mentioning the deaths of her friends and family, as well as the revival of Christianity which drew in her family members.

This, added to her overall disdain towards social convention and the fact that her escape was in her poetry is reflected in her style. Through the use of capitalization, she would give emphasis to certain words, forcing the reader to read her work from a different perspective; as if every word had a place, giving them a sense of concreteness and symbolism.

This element in her style was also faced with the fact that its use was not consistent, as she capitalized both nouns and adjectives.

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A clear example of this can be seen in poem "I'm Nobody! Who are you?" where the word nobody (a person of no influence or consequence according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary) is capitalized, therefore changing its perception by presenting it as a proper noun referring to a person. Her poetic style is also characterized by the irregular use of rhyme; instead of resorting to the use of what is considered a common rhyme where the sounds are nearly identical, Dickinson would also experiment with rhyme, sometimes using weak forms and Eye rhymes, rather than the commonly accepted one.

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The use of dashes was also very prominent, as it helped to emphasize, indicate the missing of words, replace a comma or introduce a pause in the reading. Her poems were mostly written in short stanzas, and would vary with quatrains, triplets and the use of iambic rhythms in different speeds, but all of them had a certain degree of musicality which was later exploited by artists such as Samuel Barber with poem 1065 Let down the Bars, Oh Death.

The author started writing at the end of the Romantic period, which is characterized by focusing on the narrator's world and their emotions, the beauty of nature and the rejection of social conventions. One way she represented her own world (and the reader's) was to use the "I pronoun to refer not to herself, but to the reader, thus allowing them to project themselves onto her writing, as seen in poem 449 "I died for Beauty, where she uses I" to interchange between two speakers who are ultimately the same person while also separated from the world by the moss, which eventually also covers the names in their tombstones.

Her perceptions of beauty, nature and truth were in fact so deep, that even in a letter addressed to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, she asked if her verse was alive. Going back to her social context, the concept of Nature is also a reflection of her rebelliousness in the way she relates Nature with Beauty and Truth in poem 449, something the Puritans would have considered being evil. Another great example of the Romantic period being reflected in her work is seen in poem 790 Nature, the gentlest Mother where the author uses vivid imagery to depict everyday acts of nature with a sense of awe. With this in mind, it would not be inaccurate to think of her as a pessimistic poet, as her main themes dealt with death, pain, god and religion, and the affirmation of one's individuality.

Despite the fact that she started writing in the Romantic period and had influenced it, traces of the Realist movement can also be seen in her writings. Realism is defined as the faithful representation of reality, which considering Dickinson's use of vivid imagery to represent nature, it would be difficult to see how she could also be a realist; however there is evidence of both movements in her work. Several poems of the author manage to portray elements of realism, while also acknowledging the beauty in nature, as seen in poem 303 The Soul selects her own Society.

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

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Defying Conventions: Emily Dickinson's Poetic Rebellion. (2019, Dec 04). Retrieved from

Defying Conventions: Emily Dickinson's Poetic Rebellion essay
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