Analysis My Life Had Stood a Loaded Gun

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Emily Dickinson is a poet known for her cryptic, confusing language. Words are often put together in an unusual way and create deciphering difficulties for the reader. But behind all the confusion is a hidden meaning that becomes clear, and one realizes that all the odd word choices were chosen for a specific reason. The poem I will try to analyze is My Life Had Stood—A Loaded Gun, or number 754. I find this to be one of her most difficult poems to decode. However, I find the images fascinating and the last stanza very confusing but intriguing. What I first thought the poem was about and what I finally came to a conclusion on are two completely different thoughts. Through answering questions on the poem’s literary elements, thorough analysis of the words, and rewriting the poem in my own words, I came to the conclusion that the poem is about a person who was taken on a journey with someone who saw something in her that was unrealized by anyone else, and the narrator clung to that person through their time together.

First, I will take apart the poem in terms of its use of literary elements. The diction of the poem is abstract and vague, in that it’s hard for the reader to easily understand what the narrator is really talking about. Dickinson uses particular, specific words for description: for example, in stanza four, when talking about a pillow the bird Eider-Duck is mentioned. She could have just said a duck’s or goose’s feathers, but she specifically writes Eider-Duck, which I found out is a fowl known for it’s fluffy feathers (hence the appropriate connection to the pillow). Dickinson also uses the word ‘sovereign’ when talking about the woods the narrator and companion walked through. Why she would use a word synonymous with ‘supreme power’ I wasn’t able to figure out yet. The tone seems reflective, as if the narrator is retelling the story over, having thought about it many times. There is one point when irony is used—the last stanza is full of confusing words that contradict each other and are certainly not what one would expect after reading the preceding line. I feel the rhetorical situation is the narrator telling a story, perhaps something that happened long ago, and reflecting on it. Dickinson’s use of dashes—though she uses them frequently in all poems—assists to the feeling of story-telling. There are a few occasions throughout the poem when the use of dashes gives the idea of the narrator pausing and adding in a little extra information, maybe something that helps the reader understand the situation more. I think the reader is having a one-on-one meeting with the narrator, though the reader is never formally or specifically addressed. I think it could be that the narrator has gone off on a bit of a tangent, and is perhaps talking almost to his or herself, and glances back to the reader every once in a while to make sure he or she is still paying attention.

There is plenty of figurative language in this poem, which adds to the poem’s richness. There are several metaphors: “loaded gun” (which I think is a metaphor for life), “Vesuvian face” (volcano), and “Yellow eye” (which I am not sure about), “Yellow Eye” and “emphatic Thumb,” which stand for some kind of weapon. Personification is also used: the narrator talks about mountains that “straight reply,” and a Vesuvian face that “had let its pleasure through.” Imagery is also used: apart from the killer first line and title giving a strong visual image of something that’s teetering on edge, the words “upon the valley glow” makes me think of the sun crowning over a mountain range, and feeling the sun on my face.

As we studied in class, Emily Dickinson is a master at rhyming. This poem uses both exact and near rhyme. The structure of the poem is in stanza form—six four-line sections. Exact rhyme is used in the first and last stanzas, in ABAB form, book-ending the poem and giving it some symmetry. Within the four ‘internal’...
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