Concept of Love in Emily Dickinson Poetry

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      Love is the most recurring emotional theme in Emily Dickinson poetry. Perhaps her unfulfilled emotional life made her understand the magnitude of love and meaning more intensely than any other poet. Dickinson examines the idea of love from several angles, going at once personal and universal dimensions to her expressions. She does not describe an event of love; she portrays the situation, as it were, in the metaphors which speak for themselves. The majority of the love poems deal with the effects of passion upon human soul. Three principal motifs can be observed in her love poems: the anticipation of the lover's future visit an possible marriage; the climatic meeting of the lovers and their resulting separation; and finally the sublimation of the human passion in a celestial marriage as she becomes the Bride of Christ.

Dickinson examines the idea of love from several angles, going at once personal and universal dimensions to her expressions. She does not describe an event of love; she portrays the situation, as it were, in the metaphors which speak for themselves. The majority of the love poems deal with the effects of passion upon human soul.
Concept of Love

Mystery of Love:

      Love, like nature, becomes a mystery to Dickinson. The true nature of love is very deceptive and can hardly be grasped in a satisfactory manner. Love's wisdom is beyond human comprehension:

Love-thou art Veiled-
A few-behold thee-
Smile-and alter and prattle and die-

Benefits of Love:

      For Emily Dickinson, the emotion of love is the supreme feeling in life. The realization of love gives us heavenly satisfaction. Moreover, "to be loved is Heaven". Love is evergreen and does not expire with the passage of time. For Dickinson, love is life which unites us with all and sundry. It keeps us in touch with those who are dead as well as those who are living. Love is the affirmation of life and not an escape from it. It is also identified with immortality, Deity and divinity. Love is not a saleable object and is very vital for life. It awakens us to the real realities of life. Love is a powerful liberating force which helps the soul to enjoy the bliss of life. It is the essence of life.

Personal Experience of Love:

      Dickinson's personal experience of love is not very fruitful. Her love for Rev. Charles Wadsworth, a Presbyterian minister in Philadelphia, was one-sided and hopeless. One doubts if Wadsworth was aware of it. It was a case of unrequited love for the Wadsworth during her young womanhood. But her love for Wadsworth deepened her sympathy and stimulated her creative activity. Dickinson's love for Otis P. Lord was of a serious nature. It had a certain measure of fulfillment which was denied to her in her love for Rev. Charles Wadsworth. They finally realized that their friendship had developed into a mature and mutual love. Marriage was very likely contemplated, but Emily persisted in her poetry and her isolation. Her letters to Lord revealed a peaceful and happy heart rejoicing at last in the warmth and security of a sincere love.

Unilateral Love:

      Dickinson deals with unilateral love in some of her poems. The beloved remains committed to her lover who is unaware of this relationship. The declarations of love were not meant to be communicated to the object of love. She derives personal relief and satisfaction by addressing poems to her lover. She nourishes the desire of her complete identification with her lover in all modesty:

Forever of His fate to taste-
If grief- the largest part
If joy to put my piece away
For that beloved Heart.
She would offer her life and all that is precious her' to see his face.

Love versus Nature:

      Dickinson often felt that nature would change if she failed in her love. She also expected that nature would sympathize with her in crisis but was proved wrong in the end. She finally realized that everything was as usual except herself who alone felt the loss: It makes no difference abroad -/The Seasons -fit- the same-, She thought that the robin, the daffodils, the grass and the bees would not appear with summer but

They're here, though; not a creature failed-
No blossomed stayed away
In gentle deference to me - The Queen of Calvary.
She loses the capacity to enjoy roses in her period of frustration and despair,

Grief of Separation:

      Dickinson finds the grief of separation in love very painful and disturbing. She envies those fortunate lovers who are united in love. She is jealous of the lover who rises up by the 'Bells - that boldly ring / To tell him it is Noon, abroad'. She realizes that she cannot be lucky in love in her life. She observes that separation in love is preordained for her. The poem 'I cannot live with You', is the assertion of the fact the their love cannot be allowed to flourish and they will remain separated It must be stifled in such an atmosphere of regulation and inhibition:

I cannot love with You-
lt would be Life
And Life is over there-
Behind he Shelf.

      For example, deep anguish at the loss of the lover has been expressed in the following lines:

I never lost as much but twice,
And that was in the sod
Twice have I stood a beggar
Before the door of God!
Angels-twice descending
Reimbursed my store-
Burglar! Banker - Father!
I am poor once more.

      The loss for the third time has turned the speaker again into a beggar, who feels angry with God, and calls Him a 'Banker, Father'. The last line describes her utter poverty at the loss intensifies the feeling of sorrow,

Physical Love:

      Dickinson emphasized the power of physical attraction, and expressed a mixture of fear and fascination for the mysterious magnetism between the sexes. In 'A Bee his burnished Carriage', the poet describes the bee as boldly taking his pleasure of the rose and of then leaving her humbled by the rapture he has caused her to feel:

Their Moment consummated -
Remained for him-to flee-
Remained for her-if rapture
But the humility.

      The bee's interest in the rose is purely sexual, as is hers in him. The situation presented here shows the male's power, his dominating role as initiator of their sexual union and pleasure, while the stationary female is the mere recipient of his will.

Realisation of Love After Death:

      Dickinson is quite confident of the realization of love after-death which she had failed to achieve in life. This is indeed the height of optimism. She realizes that death can ensure victory for her in the next life. She will continue to struggle till her dream of love is accomplished:

They strive-and yet delay-
They perish - Do we die-
Or is this Death's Experiment-
Reversed-in victory ?

Final Unity:

      The separated beloved believes that she cannot be separated from her lover for a long time. She would meet him before the Judgement Seat of God where she would be eternally identified with him. She muses if any marriage could be like that, with God as the host in paradise and cherubims and seraphims as the 'unobstrusive Guest'. She also thinks of grave as the little cottage where, like a bride she keeps 'the parlor ready', lays 'marble tea' for him and waits to be united in everlasting life.

      In the poem 'What would I give to see his face', the poet is willing to pay in exchange for the sight of her lover. The speaker is willing to give anything right now to have her wish realised. In the poem 'The Hours slid fast-as Hours will', the lovers are struggling to seek eternal bliss in Christian resurrection. It shows the possibility of life together after death despite the years of separation and sufferings that must precede:

Sufficient troth, that we shall rise-
Deposed-at length, the Grave-m
To that new Marriage,
Justified-through Calvaries of Love-

Renunciation of Love:

      Dickinson realizes that the renunciation of the worldly happiness and contentment is desirable for the fulfillment of love. It is possible only in the world of Imagination. She knows that the object of her love resides farther than the moon or Star where she can never reach. She expresses the fear that death is bound to block her unity with her lover:

Tis an instant's play
Tis a fond Ambush-
Just to make Bliss
Earn her own surprise!

      She has finally accepted her fate and the life of renunciation. She comes to the conclusion that she cannot live with him because that would be life and-

So we must meet apart-
You there-I- here
With just the Door ajar.

      Emily Dickinson's particular success in capturing the exultation and passionate satisfaction that renunciation brings is nowhere better shown than in the following poem:

Mine-by the Right of the White Election!
Mine-by the Royal Seal!
Mine-by the Sign in Scarlet prison.

Sorrow in Love:

      Her deep sorrows in love helped her in gaining the desired insight into the life of pains. The pangs of grief created a blank in life in which the sense of time is forgotten:

Pain-has an Element of blank-
It cannot recollect
When it began-or if there were
A time when it was not

      Life becomes not only mechanical but also very boring due the sense of loss. It further leads to alienation in life. This state of mind finds its clearest expression in the following lines:

After great, a formal feeling comes-
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs-
The stiff Heat questions it He, that bore,
And yesterday, or Centuries before, go round-

Sufferings of Marriage Life:

      There is no end to the life of sufferings and humiliations of a married woman. A married woman loses all her identity and self-respect after marriage. The poem 'She rose to His Requirement-dropt' shows that a married woman is merely an instrument of exploitation at the hands of her selfish husband only. She has to consider her husband as a standard bearer of excellence for her. She feels the end o her dreams after marriage. Moreover, she is recognized only in terms of the man she marries. She suffers silently and gives up all hope in her life:

She rose to His Requirement-dropt
The Plaything of Her Life
To take the honorable work
Of Woman, and of Wife.

Divine Love:

      Emily Dickinson believes in the omnipresence of divine love in life: 'That Love is all there is, / ls all we know of Love, She held that the entire universe overflowed with love and, in its unlimited manifestations, it could not be other than divine love. She believes in immortality of love which transcends beyond the special and temporal concepts of life and death. She goes to the extent of equating love with the Deity:

Unable are the Loved to die
For Love is Immortality,
Nay, it is Deity-

      This points to the divinity of self which is beyond destruction. Moreover, the very act of love-making is a divine act which is not subject to any decay or death. For Dickinson, divine love is the only source of wisdom which gives meaning to the human life. She sometimes feels depressed in case she fails to find Jesus. She cannot bear any separation from Him. She desperately searches for Jesus everywhere in a bid to be unified with Him:

At least-to pray-is left-is left-
Oh Jesus-in the Air- ts et
I know not which thy chamber is-
I'm knocking-everywhere.

      Dickinson too speaks of the culmination of human love into divine love: 'Eden ebbs away to divine Edens'. She sometimes speaks of love as synonymous with God.

      No earthly lover can be united with the divine lover in his spiritual quest. Emily Dickinson has admitted that no sinful person should hope of becoming the bride of Christ. It is very difficult to realize divine love which remains an illusion for a divine searcher. She admits that she cannot be the bride of Christ because she lacks the desired purity and perfection for this spiritual marriage.

Spritual Love:

      Emily Dickinson often thought of Lord Christ as her divine lover and some of her bridal poems celebrate her marriage to the Saviour. In one of her poems she referred to herself as a Nun: 'Madonna dim, to whom all Feet may Come, / Regard a nun'. Dickinson always thought of divine marriage as love's baptism or a second baptism.

      There is always a difference between the earthly and the spiritual marriage. The earthly marriage is short-lived but the spiritual marriage is evergreen. A lover who has realized spiritual marriage is no longer the subject of spiritual.

Other Brothel, shall dissolve
Wedlock of Will decay
Only the keeper of this Ring
Conquer Mortality.

      'Of all the Souls that stand create' is perhaps the best among the many poems dealing with this heavenly marriage. She is convinced that eternity will vindicate her selection. She claims that she has chosen the best, the one whose value can be recognized only in eternity. 'Title divine-is mine' presents the blending of the spiritual love and human passion. The blend of passion and sacred love is beautifully expressed in the poem 'Given in Marriage unto Thee', which banishes actual marriage for a complete heavenly union. There is no hint of human love, only the beatific serenity of a nun voicing her vows to the bridegroom Christ.

Ecstasy of Love:

      The ecstasy of love is also expressed in some of the poems of Emily Dickinson. For example, ecstasy of love is identified with Eden in Poem 211:

Come slowly-Eden!
lips unused to Thee-
Bashful-sip the Jossamines-
As the fainting Bee-

      Eden suggests the divine joy Adam and Eve felt in the garden. The intensity of joy in the images of Jessamines, nectars and balms. The verb 'hums' refers to the inner joy. Bee's fainting and getting lost in the balms reters to the consummation of love.

Love Leads to Resurrection:

Love for Dickinson, therefore, leads to resurrection:
Love is like Life merely longer
Love is like Death, during the Grave
Love is the Fellow of the Resurrection
Scooping up the Dust and chanting 'Live'


      Emily Dickinson approaches love from a multiple perspective. Her personal experience of love has been very bitter and disappointing. All her romantic dreams proved to be very frustrating and painful. For Dickinson, unilateral love is never realized because it lacks emotional reciprocation. Failure in love alienates man from nature and adds to his frustration. Moreover, separation in love is very painful and disturbing. Dickinson recognizes the importance of physical love in love. She realizes that the renunciation of the worldly happiness is desirable for the fulfillment of love in life. She also observes that a married woman loses all her identity after marriage and becomes an object of humiliation and exploitation by her husband. For Dickinson, divine love is the only source of wisdom which gives meaning and direction to life.

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