Emily Dickinson 3

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B) The riddle we can guess
We speedily despise -
Not anything is stale so long
as yesterday’s surprise -

How important is the idea of riddling in Emily Dickinson’s poetry? Cover a range of poems in your answer, and discuss at least four of them in close detail.

During the late nineteenth century, Emily Dickinson (1830 - 1886) featured as one of the few female poets in the largely male-dominated sphere of American literature. Although she authored 1800 poems, only seven were published during her lifetime - why? Emily Dickinson has always provoked debate; over her life, her motivations for the words she wrote and the interpretations of those words. It can be argued that Emily Dickinson herself, was as ambiguous, as misunderstood and as elusive as her poetry. As a outlet for relentless examination of every aspect of her mind and faith her poems are both expository and puzzling. Her conclusions are often cryptically implicit and largely dependent on the readers ability to put together the pieces - to see the connections and implications. Amy Lowell said "She was the mistress of suggestion....and to a lesser degree, irony" The ruses and riddles in her poems came from her; and as such she too was a riddle.

The riddle was important to Emily Dickinson for several reasons. She wished to reason with her own feelings despite her contradictory beliefs - she wished to be one who "distils amazing sense / from ordinary meanings (#448)". For her, life, nature and faith were all riddles in themselves. None of these three come with all the answers, although clues are given - her poems both deal with and mirror this phenomenon. And through a riddle, at the last -

sagacity must go - (#501)
(In these lines Dickinson doubts the sense of religious claims about life, death and life after death). Her cryptic language thus became part of her search for truth and personal clarification. She couched her poetry in ambiguous, complex and multi-layered language - in this form it became both a defence, and a game. The riddles concealed her anarchy, her dissension and her audaciousness in questioning the status quo. She achieved her most audacious commentaries and attacks on American perceptions and values through riddle and ruse; by ellipsis, dodge, a vague daring, an evident superiority of language and idea, staying virtually unknown . The ambiguities in the riddles were her defence against authority, religious tyranny and "norm" thinking. The mischief and play concealed within her poems: the riddles; were games designed both to amuse and test the ingenuity of her readers and critics alike. Play was a way of transcending the rational...play was freedom...abandon, diversion, riddle, improvisation. Emily Dickinson’s poetry was an introspective search for answers to her inner turmoil. Contained within these poems - of specific importance the riddles - are the personal literary devices which as exploratory structures...give tentative order to the chaos of her emotions and thoughts.

Emily Dickinson presented her riddles through both established language devices and her own vision of the scheme of poetry. According to her perceptions and logic if one is to be more than a passive observer...one must exercise some essential control..for Emily Dickinson this control often took the form of linguistic violation. Her imagery and personification methods were particularly effective in establishing complex multi-layered poems, which relied for meaning and aesthetic effect on the readers awareness and intuition. One of the important functions of her poems were to decode the riddles she perceived in life, and search for the answers to her questions. As a consequence her poems have an expository nature - parallelling the actions of the reader as she/he attempts to decode and expose the core of the riddle. It has been argued that for Emily Dickinson, because life was uncontrolled and...
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