Belonging Emily Dickinson

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Through the literary and visual deconstruction of Emily Dickinson’s poems “What mystery pervades a well!” and “I have been hungry all the years,’ as well as Phillip Toledano’s visual piece “Days with my father,” it may be apparent that both composers paradoxically explore the notion of belonging and may be suggesting that contrasting experiences with belonging acts as a catalyst in constructing individual identity and their understanding of their sense of belonging.

Both Dickinson and Toledano may be suggesting that the individuals understanding of belonging stems of experiences of its contrast through exploring contrasting experiences of both alienation and integration.

In “What Mystery Pervades a Well!” Dickinson may reveal the paradoxical nature of belonging. In the first stanza, her use of exclamation in “what mystery pervades a well!” and the personification of “the water lives so far—“carries a sense of curiosity and awe. This is perhaps further emphasised in the rhyming couplet structure and use of caesura emulating a nursing rhyme. Together, they establish a sense of wonder and curiosity and highlight the limitations of humanity in understanding and truly belonging to nature. The persona’s limitations may reveal the existence of metaphysical and physical barriers between humanity and nature. This is juxtaposed with the persona’s representation of stoic elements of nature through the personification of the grass who “can stand so close and look so bold” or the sedge who “stands next to the sea...and does not timidity betray,” symbolic of the epitome of the persona’s perception of belonging to nature. The contrasting experiences may reveal the paradoxical nature of belonging in that awareness of belonging highlights an individual’s sense of alienation and drives the individuals yearning for belonging.

Through Dickinson’s symbolism of natural elements of grass and sedges to be inspirations of awe, and the sense of self-awareness carried by her...
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