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Emily Dickinson


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An overview of Emily Dickinson's poetic style.
Information taken from Gale articles and web sources.
Email me for the works Cited page if you're interested.

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Emily Dickinson

  1. 2. <ul><li>S he chose words with stinging freshness; she flavored speech with earthy New England colloquialisms; she often dropped the &quot;s&quot; of the third-person of the present tense to suggest the enduring quality of the action; she emphasized nouns by the striking addition or omission of the preceding article ; she sometimes used singular nouns where plurals were expected and vice versa ; she made parts of speech perform unorthodox functions , used words in startling contexts, coined words when none seemed available or apt. </li></ul>
  2. 3. General Characteristics of her Verse <ul><li>Highly compressed , compact, shy of being exposed. </li></ul><ul><li>Her style is elliptical - she will say no more than she must - suggesting either a quality of uncertainty or one of finality. </li></ul><ul><li>Her lyrics are her highly subjective . One-fifth of them begin with &quot;I&quot; - she knows no other consciousness. </li></ul><ul><li>Ambiguity of meaning and syntax . Wrote Higginson: &quot;She almost always grasped whatever she sought, but with some fracture of grammar and dictionary” </li></ul>
  3. 4. <ul><li>Concreteness - it is nearly a theorem of lyric poetry that it is as good as it is concrete. Even when she is talking of the most abstract of subjects, Emily specifies it by elaborating it in the concreteness of simile or metaphor. Examples #341, 712. </li></ul><ul><li>Use of poetic forms such as alliteration, assonance, and consonance; also onomatopoetic effects, #465. </li></ul><ul><li>Obscurity. Higginson said &quot; ... she was obscure, and sometimes inscrutable; and though obscurity is sometimes, in Coleridge's phrase, a compliment to the reader, yet it is never safe to press this compliment too hard.&quot; </li></ul>
  4. 5. Enjambment <ul><li>lines that do not end with a strong pauses at the end of the line, but continue on into the next line; enjambment usually occurs when there is no punctuation at the end of the line. Example: &quot;Why do I love&quot; You, Sir? Because— The Wind does not require the Grass To answer —Wherefore when He pass She cannot keep Her place. </li></ul><ul><li>-- # 480 </li></ul>
  5. 6. Caesura <ul><li>A pause within a line of poetry, usually indicated by a mark of punctuation (some very elegant poets can achieve this without punctuation) </li></ul><ul><li>The Sunrise—Sire—compelleth Me— Because He's Sunrise—and I see— Therefore—Then— I love Thee— </li></ul><ul><li>-#480 </li></ul>
  6. 7. Irregular Capitalization <ul><li>To personify the word </li></ul><ul><li>To create emphasis </li></ul><ul><li>To establish a parallel between words/ideas </li></ul><ul><li>952 A M an may make a R emark— In itself—a quiet thing That may furnish the F use unto a S park In dormant nature—lain— Let us deport—with skill— Let us discourse—with care— Powder exists in C harcoal— Before it exists in F ire. </li></ul>
  7. 8. Paradox (and oxymoron) <ul><li>A statement that initially appears to be contradictory but then, on closer inspection, turns out to make sense. </li></ul><ul><li>There is a solitude of space A solitude of sea A solitude of death, but these Society shall be Compared with that profounder site That polar privacy A soul admitted to itself -- Finite Infinity. </li></ul>By itself, solitude and space are contradictory, but we know the speaker to refer to the notion that when one is alone, the loneliness is so great that it occupies a “space” This is not an example of paradox, but rather oxymoron because it is combination of contradictory words, rather than a contradictory statement. A paradox is always expressed in a complete thought!
  8. 9. Other Literary Devices Common to Dickinson Personification Apostrophe Alliteration Assonance Consonance Repetition Slant Rhyme Onomatopoeia
  9. 10. <ul><li>In addition, her sense of the anguish of personal existence and of the fragility of all life that appears in her greatest lyrics about death and immortality reflects our own helpless state of mind when we witness the torturous social evils which plague our world and an environment which appears to be progressively worsening. </li></ul>
  10. 11. <ul><li>We also see in her finest poems the same paradoxical mixture of desire and reluctance, of will and withdrawal, of hope and fear which characterize our own efforts at living a fully human life. </li></ul>
  11. 12. <ul><li>Like her, we are looking for God yet doubting that he will be good; we want to live in harmony with nature but are terrified by the vast indifference of an infinite universe; we want love, but we live defensively in isolation within our overcrowded cities. </li></ul>
  12. 13. Themes in Dickinson’s poetry <ul><li>A few themes occupied the poet: love, nature, doubt and faith, suffering, death, immortality - these John Donne has called the great granite obsessions of humankind. </li></ul><ul><li>Love : Though she was lonely and isolated, Emily appears to have loved deeply; perhaps only those who have &quot;loved and lost&quot; can love, with an intensity and desire which can never be fulfilled in the reality of the lovers' touch. Examples: #511, 478, 640. </li></ul><ul><li>Nature : A fascination with nature consumed Emily. She summed all her lyrics as &quot;the simple news that nature told,&quot; (#441); she loved &quot;nature's creatures&quot; no matter how insignificant - the robin, the hummingbird, the bee, the butterfly, the rat. </li></ul>
  13. 14. <ul><li>Faith And Doubt : </li></ul><ul><li>Emily's theological orientation was Puritan - she was taught all the premises of Calvinistic dogma - but she reacted strenuously against two of them: infant damnation and God's sovereign election of His own. There was another force alive in her time that competed for her interests: that was the force of literary transcendentalism. This explains a kind of paradoxical or ambivalent attitude toward matters religious. She loved to speak of a compassionate Savior and the grandeur of the Scriptures, but she disliked the hypocrisy and arbitrariness of institutional church. In one of her poems she approached God in prayer, but she could only worship, she could not pray (#564). At times she came to God in great confidence as in #1052. In another she addresses Him progressively as &quot;Burglar, Banker, Father.&quot; (#49) There are other lyrics which express grave doubt as in # 338, 185 and 376. Other examples are #324,, 1207. </li></ul>
  14. 15. Pain And Suffering : Emily displays an obsession with pain and suffering; there is an eagerness in her to examine pain, to measure it, to calculate it, to intellectualize it as fully as possible. Her last stanzas become a catalog of grief and its causes: death, want, cold, despair, exile. In #241, Emily says &quot;I like a look of Agony.&quot; Examples # 252, 258, 650. Death : Many readers have been intrigued by Dickinson's ability to probe the fact of human death. She often adopts the pose of having already died before she writes her lyric - #712 and 465. She can look straight at approaching death - # 1100 and 547. Other examples # 49, 182, 1078, 1624, 1732
  15. 16. A Copy of one of Dickinson’s poems in her own handwriting
  16. 17. Successful Readings of Dickinson <ul><li>Involves multiple readings </li></ul><ul><li>Involves considering multiple possible interpretations </li></ul><ul><li>Involves EXTENSIVE annotations </li></ul><ul><li>May involve considering the poems around the poem for context </li></ul>