Art and Technique of Emily Dickinson Poetry

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Emily Dickinson Art and Techniques


      The art of poetry is the major concern in the poetry of Emily Dickinson. She does not claim to profess any consistent theory of poetry in her poems or letters. But there are many scattered comments on the poetic process, role of a poet in the creative act, perception and experience, inspiration, imagination, truth and beauty. Several of Dickinson's poems also deal with her stylistics. The leading features of her art / style are brevity, capitalization, dashes, words, images, symbols, metaphors, analogies, abstractions, imagination, power of dramatization, doubleness and paradoxes.

Several of Dieckinson's poems also deal with her stylistics. The leading features of her art / style are brevity, capitalization, dashes, words, images, symbols, metaphors, analogies, abstractions, imagination, power of dramatization, doubleness and paradoxes.
Emily Dickinson Art and Technique


      The brevity of Dickinson's poems enhances the effect that they are speaking of everything at once. She makes use of analogies that become inclusive grasping of how all things appear from a certain vantage. Dickinson draws a carpet in one, then many carpets. Often for Dickinson, a single word must carry all of the meanings without the benefit of contextual help from additional and qualifying words.


      Dickinson's idiosyncratic capitalization, for example, which provide the dignity of abstraction to otherwise concrete words, award importance away from the conventionally capitalized words of generality.


      Dickinson's dashes suggest a poet en route to an idea within the poem. One of the many functions of the dashes is to serve as a hinge, with moving forward and backward in a poem like a swinging door. Moreover, the dashes connect the written language to a voice, dashes being the most colloquial of marks, and more particularly the voice in pause. One final meaning of the dash seems to be its implication that any thought is liable to be continued.

      The dash is an empty space, but Dickinson's syntactical deletions often asked to be filled in; they exist to be recovered. Recovering the deletions makes reading a very active, reciprocal experience. Sometimes it is difficult to recover deletions. Dashes create a suggestion of a mind at work. They generate a sense of a work being built as we read.

Power of Words:

      Emily Dickinson was struck by the enormous that words could have, even if they were not always able to convey what the poet sought to express. The culture into which Dickinson had been born was one that, as a consequence of its Puritan heritage, treasured the word. If poetry was Dickinson's religion, then the dictionary was her Bible. Words are precious and powerful, but not necessarily sufficient. She wrote: "I hesitate which word to take, as I can take but few and each must be chiefest."

Nonetheless, in her poetry, words are all that Dickinson has to express what is significant. She realizes that despite its shortcomings the word can be overpowering in its immediacy. The word has the terrifying power of a sword, and it can be harmful. But once its work is done it will be mute again. She reinforces the idea that despite its imperfections language is a mighty - even a violent-tool. Words are living organism; they assume a life of their own once they are uttered. As living organism, words have the power to perform and to have effect.

      The word can animate or simulate, but it can also be contagious and bring doom. Once uttered or written, the word assumes a dynamics of its own; it can not be recalled since at the moment of its use the word acquires its independence. Dickinson believes that words grant meaning to experience. The words for the life of the mind become extraordinary, in keeping with nature of mental experience.

      Words can destroy. A word dropped carelessly on a page could wreak its havoc long after its maker had died. Words can offer hope to the hopeless in desperate circumstances.

Poetic Language:

      Dickinson seems fascinated by the concept of uncontrollable language. The allusiveness and power exerted by an individual word will be increased through its poetic context. For Dickinson, the poetic language is not fixed but rather in a flux and that its goal is to uncover and thereby discover. She believes that words in their ordinary usage cannot grasp the meaning of experience. The poem's inspiration and message come out of language. For Dickinson, the act of putting an experience into words is thus an act of grasping an experience more fully. Language helps to explore the mysteries of existence, even if it has to fail in conveying the properly.

Use of Alternative Words:

      Dickinson's poetry is an evocative art of options and alternatives, rather than of fixed words or meanings. The manuscript versions of her poems can therefore be taken as implicitly metapoetic. Their openness finds its equivalent, for example, in Dickinson's use of ellipses and dashes. Moreover, the manuscripts illustrate her search for the right word.

Symbolism and Metaphors:

      Metaphor embodies the imagination, calling what is not true in the real world true in a different real world. Her brilliant figurative language - especially, analogies complicated by metaphor - constantly controls and possesses. Dickinson's images are : house-door prison, bees and butterflies, hunger and thirst, or barefootedness, etc. Butterfly is good example for delight, with its bright beauty and ephemeral nature. Its beauty and excitement become 'magic'.

      Her architectural metaphors are more than descriptive: they show how much the enclosures matter. Dickinson likes keeping that particular house in order. Her living in the mind is a peculiarly social one. She populates her inner world with a society of selves. Her metaphors of continents and worlds are figurative, describing experience bur not actual lands and skies. Metaphor is a completed analogy, in which the progressive logic of the associations is buried.

      The 'slant of light' suggests an intimation of immortality. 'Morning' is the symbol of hope and the time of youth. 'Noon' stands for the time of energy and the time of action. The images of 'closed doors' and 'valves' in the poem 'The Soul Selects he own Society' show the soul's isolation from others. Finally, the image of 'stone shows the soul's petrification. The word 'amputed' is the shocking image in is brutality in the poem 'Those dying then'. 'Wings' are frequent poetic emblems both of liberty and of a soaring imagination.

Circular Symbolism:

      Dickinson makes a very suggestive use of circle symbolism in her poetry. 'Circle' stands for inner space, separated by some boundaries from external space or substance. Sometimes it is simply an orb of absence. It is related to the private space of personal consciousness. 'Circumference' represents the boundary itself between the circuit of personal space and whatever might be outside. It is margin, never center. The circuit world, for Dickinson, comprehended consciousness, identity, the senses, and matter. It encompassed mortality, finitude, and limitation. Circumference, for Dickinson, is death.

Images of Various Aspects:

      Dickinson used human contrivances like gates and doors so represent fascinating barrier. The images of 'closed doors' and 'valves' suggest the soul's isolation from others. Seeds and bulbs are the remnants of dead plants, improbable but faithful sources of new flowers. Bulbs are often compared to children.

Use of Analogies:

      The formal neatness of analogy and parallelism is useful because contrast clarifies. Analogy is the pattern of Dickinson's thought. It is a stepping beyond symbolism and all the tropes, since analogy's associating of one concept with another is common to them all. Analogy is metaphor-in-the-making in which the associative process calls to itself. Dickinson's focuses on analogical connection which explains the 'scenelessness' of her poems. Most often, the boundary of a Dickinson's poem is not a particular scene or situation but the figure of the analogy as it moves from scene to scene. She has used three types of analogies: (i). analogical collection, in which a series of analogies illustrates the major themes, (ii) simple extended analogy, and (ii) symbolic analogy.

      Analogy compares and conjoins abstract and concrete, idea and thing, the world of the mind and the world of nature. It solicits the participation of nature for these representations of the mind's doings. The life of the mind bears a genuine relation to the life of the outer world. The contrast of concrete and abstract diction makes the poet's images more immediate because aspect generally involves a sensual or commonly active response. Analogies allow one to use concrete forms to incarnate the abstract while understanding at the same time their figurative nature. The form of analogy is based upon parallelism. Dickinson is sometimes called an analogical poet.

      It was not death, for I stood up' uses analogies to express the speaker's disturbed state of mind. It was as if her whole life were shaped like a piece of wood trapped and restricted into a shape which was not of its own nature, and from which t could not escape. It was a sensation like a sudden, sharp frost on burning ground. It was void, empty and null.


      Imagination plays an important role in the poetry of Emily Dickinson. The power of imagination is its ability to speculate, suppose, create. It helps the poet in resolving the hidden mysteries of life. It is capable of yielding new insights. The real beauty can be revealed by the exercise of the creative imagination only. The hidden mystery of life and death can best be explored indirectly and imaginatively. For Dickinson, imagination is an extremely vital element in creativity.

Power of Dramatisation:

      Dickinson's lyrics are dramatic monologues. The speakers are supposed persons through whose voices Dickinson plays with any number of dynamic themes and possibilities. These supposed persons give Dickinson the latitude to try out ideas to which she is not necessarily committed or to explore experiences she herself may never have undergone.

Eternity of Art:

      Dickinson often deals with the theme of the eternity of art. She turns to images of Christ-like sacrifice and transcendence to express her sense of the sublime power of poetry to overcome death.


      Doubleness is characteristic of Dickinson's writing. Her poems almost always set one mode of perceiving against another, not cancelling either. Reality is something that is available to us to know and to sense, and on the other hand it is emblematically meaningful-how it appears and communicates.

Method of Indirection:

      Direct statement, description and narrative are out of Dickinson's purview of technique and the poetic expression becomes slanted and circuitous. For Dickinson Truth's superb surprise' which must 'dazzle gradually'. This underlines the significance of the Method of Indirection.

Intellect versus Emotion:

      Dickinson gives primacy to the emotional over the intellectual factors in mechanism of unification of sensibility. She assigns a secondary role to the intellect. The intellect only verbalizes and interprets the emotional experienced reality. The mind is like a parasite. The intellect itself has no content of its own to express or to reveal. It only works on the emotional experiences. The mind becomes articulate only when it thrives on emotional experiences. Thus, the unification of sensibility becomes not incidental, but a major mode of perception of reality itself.

Use of Repetition:

      Dickinson makes use of repetitions for the purpose of clarification in her poems. She makes use of repetition like 'beating-beating', 'trading-treading' and 'down and down' for the purpose of laying extra stress for elaborating a vital point in the poem 'I felt a Funeral, in my Brain'. The repetition creates the illusion of a pulse beating irregularly through the poem.

Use of Ambiguities:

      Emily Dickinson makes frequent use of ambiguities to heighten the intellectual appeal of her poems. The poem 'Further In Summer Than The Birds' contains a set of ambiguities. The word 'Mass' is both a memorial service and a sacrament of resurrection, the unobtrusive mass of the insects indicates the sacrificial death of summer, its repose in winter, and its cyclic regeneration in spring. It conveys the feelings of pathetic, pensive and loneliness.

My Life Had Stood - A Loaded Gun' ends on an ambiguous note. The poem that presents violence as firearms but concludes with an ambiguous measuring of the power to kill against the power to die:

Though I than He may longer live
He longer must - than I-
For I have but the power to kill,
Without- the power to die-

Relevance of Paradoxes:

      Emily Dickinson loves to introduce paradoxes to add to the intellectual content of the poems. She considers of man's increasing knowledge of the cosmos and decreasing knowledge about himself:

We introduce ourselves
To Planets and to Flowers
But with ourselves
Have etiquette
And awes.

      Deep though her concern was with the idea of death, she did not ignore life as such, or an idea of it : 'Sweet is it as Life, with it's enhancing Shadow of Death'. In the poem 'My Life Had Stood - A loaded Gun', the poet presents an absolute paradox. The speaker - gun's inability to die will make the owner-lover outlive her : 'For I have the power to kill,/Without the power to die'. She cannot die because she is not alive.


      Emily Dickinson's art of poetry is very revolutionary and modern in many ways. She has made very bold experiments in her art of versification. Dickinson's style is anti-traditional and is a revolt against conventional poetics. It is highly individualistic and bears the stamp of Dickinson's personality. Brevity is one of the distinguishing features of Dickinson's style. Dickinson's capitalization provides the dignity of abstraction to otherwise concrete words. Her dashes suggest a poet en route to an idea within the poem. The dashes create a suggestion of a mind at work. Dickinson believes in the enormous power of the word which can be overpowering in its immediacy. She believes that words grant meaning to experience. Language helps to explore the mysteries of existence. Dickinson metaphors of continents and worlds are figurative, describing experience but not actual lands and skies. She makes a suggestive use of circular symbolism in her poems to explore the inner space of the minds of her speakers. Analogy is the chief pattern of Dickinson's thought which compares and conjoins abstract and concrete, idea and thing, the world of the mind and the world of nature. Abstractions are Dickinson's powerful means of generalizing experience. Dickinson's lyrics are dramatic monologues.

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