Diction and Syntax in Emily Dickinson's Poetry

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Emily Dickinson: Poetry Essay

One of the most acclaimed American poets, Emily Dickinson—the reclusive, heartbroken genius—asserts her position among such greats as Walt Whitman through her extremely individual style. Her unconventional meter, heavy-handed employment of dashes, and seemingly random capitalization are the trademarks of a body of poetic work notable for its deeply sensitive exploration of the human condition. By avoiding the flowery and romantic style of poetry common during her time, Dickinson has been able to provide her readers with a clear and illuminating vision of the world through her eyes. Three of her more popular poems, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?,” “Heart, we will forget him!,” and “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain,” all speak to Dickinson’s strengths as an innovative and gifted poet by portraying those qualities for which her poetry is so well-known.

Living a mostly hermetic life for many years, Dickinson shut herself away from the world, maintaining social contact only with close friends and relatives through letters. This loneliness resonates in her poem “I’m Nobody! Who are you?,” but in the end, takes on a somehow positive tone: I'm Nobody! Who are you?

Are you-- Nobody-- Too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise, you know.

How dreary--to be-- Somebody!
How public--like a frog--
To tell one’s name-- the livelong June--
To an admiring bog!

Despite being branded a “Nobody,” which is apparently looked down upon by some unknown “they,” the speaker and her new-found companion brush off the more acceptable position as a “Somebody” as a tiresome task. By capitalizing “Nobody” and “Somebody,” Dickinson personalizes a person or being who otherwise might be completely anonymous to the reader—who would be, in fact (aren’t all “nobodies” anonymous?) If one reads the poem without the dashes, the rhythm and meter sounds obvious and plain. The unusually placed dashes, however, break up the previously...
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