The Themes of Emily Dickinson's Poetry
Emily Dickinson was a great American poet who has had a lasting effect on poetry, yet she was a very complicated poet in the 1860's to understand, because of her thought patterns. Dickinson wrote from life experiences and her deepest thoughts. She wrote for herself as a way of letting out her feelings. Dickinson Wrote 1,775 hundred poems but only published seven in her life time because she did not write poetry for publishing. In fact, Emily Dickinson left a letter to her family telling them to destroy the stack of poems that she had written after her death (Kinsella,et al. 418). Dickinson's way of writing was very unique and different; she was definitely a poet before her time. She had a deep love of poetry and was inspired by great women writers of the 1850's when her father passed away. By 1860, Dickinson experienced a huge breakthrough in her writing; most suspected that it was because of a tragic end to a love affair (Ruby and Milne,eds. 8: 127). Dickinson's most popular themes were love, nature, alienation and loneliness and death, which were influenced by her very private and isolated lifestyle.
Dickinson was a very passionate poet and wrote with intensity about all of her themes, but in the theme love, Dickinson was the most emotional and earnest. The theme of love was a subject of pain and heartache for her. She would write about passion she could not have and the prior love affairs and the men she longed for but could not attain. This longing and pain usually turned into self-pity in her poems. Dickinson's most famous love poem, "I cannot live with you," is a perfect example of longing for love and self-pity. In the poem the speaker is describing different lives she and her lover cannot share together. The couple can't live in the world together, they can't die together, they can't rise after death together, and they can't be judged by God together. The couple can only remain apart and communicate through the "oceans" that separate them, remaining with the hopelessness and desperation of never being able to be with each other ("Emily Dickinson "I cannot live with you" 2-3).
Another example of Dickinson's longing for passion is the poem "Wild nights! Wild nights!". The poem is about lusting for sexual passion. The "heart in port" is describing the lover's embrace and how the use of a compass or chart is not needed for direction. The speaker is trying to imply that the couple doesn't need directions or instruments to help them reach a specific destination, and she is trying to use the sea as a comparison, because the sea is a common image for passion. Another way of viewing this poem is portraying it as a religious experience. The poem doesn't have to be seen as a sexual experience; the lover could be God. The speaker could be describing the relationship he or she has with God and the joy and fulfillment he or she gets from it ("Emily Dickinson "Wild nights! Wild nights!" 1-2). Overall, Dickinson views love as a very exciting, emotional, impulsive, sorrowful, and depressing feeling. However, she always desired love in her life and wanted to be loved in return. All of these viewpoints are portrayed in her love poems.
The theme of nature is also a very extensive part of Dickinson's writing. She began noticing nature when she became secluded and started spending many hours in her garden. Many think that Dickinson started to have a love for nature because she had very few people to socialize with, so she turned to nature as a companion. In the poem "A narrow fellow in the grass," Dickinson goes into great detail without giving away the identity of the snake, making the reader think. This poem is presented in the point of view of a child, but the speaker is an adult looking back on his or her childhood ("Emily Dickinson "A narrow fellow in the grass" 1). The speaker gives many clues in the poem to hint that it is a snake they are talking about. For example, "The grass divides...
Cited: Kinsella, Kate, et al. Prentice Hall Literature: The American Experience. Upper Saddle
River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004.
Detroit: Gale, 1998.
Ruby, Mary K., and Ira Mark Milne, eds. Poetry for Students. Vol. 8. Detroit: Gale, 1998.
Ruby, Mary K., ed. Poetry for Students. Vol. 4. Detroit: Gale, 1998.
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