April 25, 1999
To Die or Not To Die
Suicide was not a widely discussed topic in the 1800's although, it commonly appeared as a theme in many literary works of that time. The action of killing one's self is not a classified psychological disorder, but there are many disorders where suicide is the end result. This is why suicide is a commonplace subject within the psychological field in present day society. The poem "I Started Early- Took My Dog," by Emily Dickinson, can be interpreted as making strange reference to a suicide. Freud says, "Suicide is a response to loss (real or symbolic), but one in which the person's sorrow and rage in the face of that loss are not vented but remain unconscious, thus weakening the ego."(Freud p.246). Dickinson uses several elements in her poem to relate this theme such as tone, imagery and rhyme. It is told through the first person point of view of an unknown speaker. Dickinson begins the first line of her poem by writing in iambic tetrameter. In the second line she switches to iambic trimeter and proceeds to alternate between the two. This rhyme scheme proves to be particularly effective in complimenting the subject of the poem-- the ocean. When a reader looks at the poem it is easy to see the lines lengthening then shortening, almost in the same fashion that the tide of the ocean flows and ebbs. I started Early- Took my Dog And visited the sea- The Mermaids in the Basement Came out to look at me. (Dickinson 1-4)
The waxing and waning action of the text might symbolize the constant cycles of life. The fact that the text recedes then elongates in rhythm make the reader think the speaker of the poem is not sure what steps to take in their life. The speaker might not have convinced him or herself about the suicide attempt. Many suicidal thoughts are stopped short of action and then thought about later. Dickinson writes in this style to show the opposing forces of every situation.