Emily Dickinson’s original approach to poetry results in startling and thought-provoking moments in her work.
Emily Dickinson explores a variety of themes in her poetry. Her use of concrete imagery and language to convey abstract ideas provides an original approach. Dickinson is a poet of extremes with a large range of emotions from joyous hope to devastating despair. In her most recognisable poems “Hope is a thing with feathers”, “I felt a funeral in my Brain” There's a certain Slant of light” and “I heard a Fly buzz - when I died”. She explores the themes of death, workings of the mind and even hope. It is through these themes she sheds light on startling and thought-provoking perspectives.
Emily Dickinson explores her fascination with death in her poetry. This fascination can be seen in her poem, “ I heard a Fly buzz - when I died”. This bleak title itself has a startling effect. The poem opens in a shocking and disturbing manner. Her descriptions of sound create an eerie atmosphere.
It is the metaphor,” Between the Heaves of Storm- ” that explain to us that the speaker is on her deathbed. The phrase “Heaves of the storm” represent laboured breathing. This poem describes the process of death as the speaker’s sense of vision and logic evaporates with her conscience. The speaker is prepared for death and is patiently waiting for the moment. “ I willed my keepsakes - signed away”.
However “ a Fly” interrupts this moment with a “stumbling Buzz -”. Dickinson employs dashes to convey the sudden, darting way flies can move around a room. The word “interposed” suggests that the fly skewed the dying person and solemn moment of death. The contrast of the small fly disrupting a big moment dismisses the importance and solemnity of death. This startling concept is conveyed through the use of the fly. The fly itself is a symbol of death. Flies are associated with death as they feed on rotten flesh.
In the last stanza of the poem, the speaker’s consciousness begins to ebb away. The colour blue is made to buzz and the repetition of ‘b’ and ‘s’ sounds create a random and disorienting feeling. “ and then the windows failed”, this line suggests the vision of the speaker is failing and that death is approaching vast.
The poem ends with the ambiguous line, “ I could not see to see”.we are left in darkness, provoking us readers to question the meaning. In my opinion, I feel Dickinson is conveying the mystery that is death. We are unable to see beyond the natural world and prepare ourselves - for we do not know.
Dickinson’s fascination with death bleeds into the poem, “There’s a certain slant of light”.Although death is not the main subject matter, the poem conveys its inevitability.
In this poem, where hope is absent, Dickinson describes the merciless oppression of despair. Her reference to “Winter Afternoons” symbolise death as it portrays the dying sunlight. In the final stanza, the poem ends with the lines, “when it goes, tis like Distance On the look of Death -”. Here the division between the human and natural world collide. When the light disappears, the poet conveys the undisclosed road to death in which we must all face.
Through vivid imagery, Dickinson describes the abstract idea of death. This attempt to make abstract concrete is a common feature in her individual approach.
Dickinson provokes our thoughts with her exploration of the human mind. The poem “ I felt a Funeral, in my Brain” is a staggering portrayal of mental anguish. In this poem, we are given a detailed plummet of her mental state. Dickinson wields the process of a funeral to capture her descent into despair.
In the first stanza, the repetition of the word “treading” highlights her on-going suffering. In the second stanza she once again employs repetition with the words “beating” to painfully convey the lack of respite she feels.
Through the use of metaphors, we are able to see the disturbing fragility of her mental state. “Creak across my soul”. Here she is comparing her soul to wooden floorboards. The word “creak” conveys the intense pressure so immense it reaches to her soul. Her reference to “boots of lead” captures the heaviness but it is the words “same” and “again” that supply the power of the line to simultaneously alarm and evoke sympathy.
The further disintegration of her mind is seen in the simile, “As all the heavens were a Bell”.This simile conveys the loudness she feels and her further helplessness as she can do nothing but listen, “ And being, but an Ear”.
The unravelling of her mind reaches a peak when “a Plank in Reason, broke”. Here her suffering and mental anguish intensify, as she drops “down, and down -”.
The final line, “And Finished knowing -then-” once again ends mysteriously. Her authentic style present in her poetry urges us, the readers, to question and see beyond words on a page. In my opinion, the final line conveys the end of her knowledge, that perhaps she herself does not know beyond what she has written and what is to come.
Dickinson continues her exploration of the human mind in her poem, “There’s a certain slant of light”.This poem depicts a mind “oppressed” by a formidable mental burden.
In an unusual way, Dickinson uses the image of winter light to portray a sense of darkness and gloom. This conveys her individualistic style as light normally has positive.
The striking simile “that oppresses, like the Heft of Cathedral Tunes” mixes the senses to indicate the strong oppression of despair.
Capitalised Alliteration of “Heavenly Hurt” captures our attention. God is presented as a harsh oppressor, this is a startling thought as we are led to believe that God provides relief from our burdens. This leads the reader to once again question both Dickinson and Religion. Dickinson in the line, “none may teach it -Any-” suggests the powerlessness of the afflicted.
Contrast to her poems of devastating despair, Dickinson also explores the theme of joyous hope. Unlike the “ There’s a certain slant of light”, “Hope is a thing with feathers” has an uplifting message. Similar to her other poems, Dickinson employs concrete imagery to define the abstract.
In this poem, Dickinson conveys the resilient nature and power of hope to carry through the “chillest land”. Hope is being compared in an extended metaphor to a bird, “that perches in the soul -”.
The tone of the poem is optimistic and inspiring. The unusual comparison of hope to a bird provokes our thoughts to the endurance of the “little bird”. From my perspective this unusual metaphor successfully defines hope. I can relate to Dickinson as I have also experienced the power of hope in what seems to be a hopeless situation.
I have certainly enjoyed studying Dickinson’s poetry as it is filled with varying themes from the bleakest to the most uplifting. Yet it is her ability to encourage readers to question the life that makes her an enjoyable poet.