Nature Element in Emily Dickinson Poetry

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      Emily Dickinson is one of the finest exponents of nature in the field of American poetry. She is a very close observer of nature in its rich diversity. She shows a rare understanding of the relationship between man and nature in her nature poems. She does not indulge in the false glorification of nature in any way. She also analyses the nature and scope of nature in man's life. Dickinson is deeply involved in resolving the mystery of Nature in her Nature poems. She has written more than five hundred poems on the subject of nature. As a young carefree girl, she took delight in the beauty and magic of the pre industrial landscape. A great deal of her nature poetry is sentimental and unaesthetic. Dickinson's status as a nature poet is unquestionably very original and important. She loved external nature and faithfully recorded her impressions of it in her nature-poems.

Emily Dickinson never claimed to have understood the profound mystery of nature. Even though gifted with deep power of observation yet she failed to penetrate into the innermost depth of nature.
Emily Dickinson on Nature

Dependable Companion:

      The speaker in the poem 'Some keep the Sabbath gong to Church' (324) stays at home with nature while others go to church. He is at home in the lap of nature but feels suffocated in the vicinity of the church:

God preaches, a noted Clergyman-
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to heaven, at last-
I m going, all along.

      In this poem, bird, orchard and nature supplant chorister, church and God. Heaven is the ongoing process of living on earth; it is not an otherworldly place to be hereafter. Similarly, the speaker in poem' I taste a liquor never brewed' (214) indulges in natural intoxication. She finds ecstasy in nature; she is intimate with meadows and sky, the fellow of flowers and butterflies.

Nature's Mystery:

      Emily Dickinson never claimed to have understood the profound mystery of nature. Even though gifted with deep power of observation yet she failed to penetrate into the innermost depth of nature. She had admitted that a man could never understand God or nature because of his limited imagination. Nature is still a mystery because of its mystical operation. The intrinsic quality of Nature can never be fully comprehended by man's limited imagination. Those who claim to know nature are merely groping in darkness. The speaker of poem 1400 ironically remarked:

To pity those that know her not
Is helped by the regret
That those who know her, know her less
The near her they get.

      Nature is like a well which seems to have no limit; it can be viewed only on its surface. There is always a certain fear and awe in her response to the overwhelming remoteness and inaccessibility of nature. For Dickinson, when an individual becomes a part of nature, when he enters a haunted house, he becomes conscious of his impending death. Thus, he is lost in the impenetrable darkness.

      Man is often mislead by the external beauty of nature because the real beauty resides within the objects of observations. This shows that nature will remain an enigma for us because of our limited imagination to probe its mystery-

To pity those that know her not
Is helped by the regret
That those who know her, know her less
The nearer they get.

      Dickinson compares nature to a 'haunted house' and the mystery of its ghost cannot be resolved in satisfactory terms. Nature's apparent simplicity and artlessness is deceptive and hides the illusive complexity which we have neither the desired wisdom nor the competence to describe. Therefore, nature remains mysterious for the more deeply we scrutinize her processes, the more complex and bewildering they become. Essentially, nature exists as an alien, baffling force that defies all analysis.

Note of Melancholy:

      A note of melancholy runs throughout her nature poems. The poet is acutely aware of the crumbling wall, the crumbling elms and evergreens and other crumbling things that spring and fade. Simultaneous with her delight in spring is an awareness of the creatures who have died to make way for the new generation. The generation old is sacrificed to the new. Similarly, those who survive us will soon be gone.

      A note of melancholy is all pervasive in Dickinson's poems. She visualizes a picture of destruction taking place in her poetic universe. There is non-stop decay and destruction threatening the ecological balance of nature. None feels permanently safe and secure in Nature which is causing destruction on a massive scale. The older is fast decaying yielding place to the new. Similarly, those who manage to survive will also perish as the time advances. Therefore, there is no end to man's sufferings in Nature.

Pain of Transience:

      Poem 348 'I dreaded that first Robin, so' depicts the pain of transience. Spring which brings seasonal renewal to the earth is painful to the speaker for it is a reminder of the inevitable change of seasons that brings her closer to death In this poem the speaker does not emerge triumphant; her suffering is not transformed into sacrifice, though she has 'mastered' her fears. She is only somewhat 'accustomed' to the idea of change which still hurts a little:

I dreaded that first Robin, so
But He is mastered, now,
I'm accustomed to Him grown,
He hurts a little, though

      In this poem the speaker is alienated from nature; She experiences nature's sounds as harsh and discordant; the robin's song is a shout. She fears the daffodils; she realizes that she is a year older and more faded.

      Nothing in Dickinson's universe protected her from loss. Even nature, to which she often turned for pleasure or reassurance, deprived her of its fleeting beauties. The many of poems of natural process record the inevitability of change proves more evanescent. Finally, nature served as an inevitable emblem of more crucial human losses.

Nature's Immortality:

      Nature is also an emblem of immortality. In poem 797, 'The pine at my Window is an emblem of immortality. It is one of 'God's introductions- \ 'To be hallowed- accordingly'. Though it is merely a pine tree to the bird and the farmer, to the speaker, it is sacred. Nature itself is the 'Royal Infinity'. Nature surpasses the teachings of science and religion in matters divine.

Nature in A Flux:

      Emily Dickinson loves Nature for its ever changing nature. For Dickinson, nature is not static but a dynamic phenomenon. It is always in a state of flux. She visualizes a sense of continuity in the universe. Renewal by decay is nature's principle. For her, nature's lesson is the endless emergence after death.

      Nature is not a static but a, dynamic phenomenon. Dickinson finds continuity in life as well as nature. In the fate of organic life, she saw the fate of human life. For her nature's lesson was the endless coming of life from death. The old generation is sacrificed to the new. This is how the life is continued. Nothing is permanent in nature or human life and this constitutes it beauty and endless fascination.

Divinity of Nature:

      Emily Dickinson reposes her absolute faith in the divinity of nature. Nature is an emblem of immortality for her. She spiritualizes Nature and discovers God in it. The poem 'The pine at my Window' stands for immortality. She calls it a sacred tree. For Dickinson, nature is the 'Royal Infinity'. Nature is the best substitute for heaven and thus she denies the existence of the so-called Heaven.

Music of Nature:

      Man cannot totally grasp nature music. It is highly elusive and is beyond human understanding. There are rhythms and principles of organization that are beyond the human ability to perceive or differentiate.

Philosophical Nature Poems:

      Dickinson's philosophical nature poems look outward and inward with equal intensity. Emily Dickinson believes that man's contact with nature improves his mind and heart. It purifies the mind and adds to its creative potential.

Transcendental Approach to Nature:

      Emily Dickinson believes that a mystical bond exists between man and nature and that nature reveals to man things about mankind and the universe. She has always shown deep respect for the mystery of nature. She has further admitted that wisdom gained through nature can never be logically explained in words. She has further asserted that all things divine can be discovered in the heart of nature. She prefers the anti-intellectual approach to nature which will keep its magical beauty for her. For her, nature is what we see. She holds that nature is knowledge itself which surpasses our ability to express.

Man vs World of Nature:

      Dickinson asserts that a separation exists between the world of nature and that of man. Man lives in the heart of nature but remains alienated from it. No body an resolve the mystery of nature by merely observing it. Man often misjudges nature by its outward manifestations. Being an outsider, he cannot gain admittance in it:

We spy the Forests and the Hill,
The Tents to Nature's Show
Mistake the Outside for the in
And mention what we saw.

      'A Bird came down the Walk' deals with the theme of the separation between the worlds of man and nature. It is asserted that there cannot be any meaningful permanent interact possible between them. It is due to the presence of the element of mistrust that keeps the rift between them. Sensing fear, the bird finally leaves the human world for its natural habitat where it finds the sense of security and acceptance. It refuses the offer of the crumb offered by the speaker who tries to bee friendly with it:

Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home.

Hostile to Man:

      Nature is also hostile to man and threatens him with additional sufferings because of its mindless indifference to human needs and aspirations. The poet is also terrified by the indifferent attitude of nature:

I dreaded that first Robin, so,
But He is mastered, now,
I'm some accustomed to Him grown,
He hurt a little, though-

      The poet dreads nature and feels insulted by its untimely flourishing. She is eager to hide herself from the spring and resents its arrival. The poem 'A Bird came down the Walk' shows the failure of the poet to participate in the life of the bird. She is finally repulsed and the bird flies away. Thus her attempt at rapprochement with nature fails. Nature mocked rather comforted man. Dickinson never failed to stress nature's decaying and corrupting power. Death lay at the core of nature, continually threatening man with extinction. Nature loves to betray those hearts that loved her best.

Sunrise and Sunset:

      The daily drama of sunrise and sunset is an attractive subject for many poems. Like a painter, Dickinson takes delight in the visual charms of colour and texture. Colour dominates in the presentation of the sunset in her nature poems. Like as artist with a paint-filled brush, she leaves strips and drops of colour wherever she swings her brush:

She sweeps with many-colored Brooms-
And leaves the Shreds behind-
Oh Housewife in the Evening West
Come back, and dust the Pond!

      Dickinson linked death explicitly with sunset in 'Like her the Saints retire'. The midnight refers to the period of her spiritual darkness of worldly existence and the morning represents her awakening from the midnight of temporal life.

Spring Season:

      Spring is a favoured season, and it always draws from Dickinson an excitement and sense of the promise hidden in all things. With the regeneration of nature in spring, it is natural to feel and share the exuberance of the renewal of life. The emphasis is on resurrection in the poem 'A Lady red-amid the Hill' and the buried bud of life which soon will blossom into the lily. Again it is the spring season which brings man closer to God None stir abroad / Without a cordial interview / With God. The poem 'A Light exists in Spring' shows that spring can lead to the temporary spiritual rejuvenation.

Autumn Season:

      There are several poems on the autumn which are pleasant and picturesque rendition of the local scenery. Most of her autumn poems are splashed with bright colours:

The name-of its- is 'Autumn'-
The hue-of it-is Blood-
An artery-upon the Hill-
A vein-along the Road -

      The dominant colour is red and its shades are stressed by the words like blood, artery, scarlet, ruddy, rose and vermillion. The autumn season, however, is also a season of bareness, of persistent mists and unbearable cold winds. In one of her poems, she gives expression to the concentrated gloom and sadness of the skeleton bareness of winter:

There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoon-
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes-

Winter Season:

      The winter did not hold much attraction for Emily Dickinson. Mostly she dreaded the winter and all that it symbolized. It is devoid of the joys of spring and life. The symbols of death lurk everywhere. The poem 'There's a Certain Slant of Light' dramatizes the sense of isolation and affliction that can accompany long winter season:

When it comes, the Landscape listens-
Shadows-hold their breath-
When it goes, 'tis like the Distance
On the look of Death

      This poem shows that winter darkens the soul / mind and threatens its sense of faith.

Rain and Wind:

      The rain is often accompanied by the pleasant breeze of summer. It is a fashionable delight to see it swaying the trees. It is often seen blowing sand, pebbles, with a horse cry Get out of the way, I say'. The wind is not always gentle; it often comes on the wings of tumultuous thunderstorms. Emily Dickinson reproduces the terrifying spectacle of ruthless ferocity of the wind in her winter poems.

Humbler Creature of Nature:

      Emily Dickinson did not ignore the humbler creatures of nature. The bee, the spider, and butterfly, the cricket, the frog, the bat, the rat all receive their due share of her attention. She readily identifies herself with minimal creatures. She does not look upon them with derision or contempt.

      Her attitude is more of amusement than resentment against them. In certain poems she even envies some of the qualities they possess. The bee is one such creature which she admires and envies. She envies the freedom of a bee and as compared to it, she finds herself a captive living in a dark prison:

Could I but ride indefinite
As doeth the Meadow Bee
And visit only where I liked
And No one visit me.

      Like the bee, the butterfly also goes on its 'spangled journey' and with similar freedom waltzes upon a farm or rests on a bean. The butterfly dressed in elegant colours, is presented as a lady emerging from the door of a cacoon on a summer afternoon to 'stray abroad' and 'Her pretty parasol be seen' Contracting in a Field.

      The spider is an artist in the true sense of the word, for it feels the joy of creation and dances to itself while it works. In one of her poems, she describes the spider absorbed in its delicate work of weaving the cobweb:

The Spider holds a silver Ball
In unperceived Hands
And dancing softly to Himself
His Yarn of Pearl-unwinds.

      The wren seems to have been one of Emily Dickinson's favourite bird, one she often likened to herself, or to women she regarded as small. It seems to have been the tiny creature's force and courage that delighted the poet.

Disapproval of Some Creature:

      There are many creatures whom Dickinson disapproves. The frog is one of them, whose long sigh' makes the ear desire inordinately for corporal release'. She also disapproves of the snake and presents it in a dark light:

A snake is summer's treason,
And guile is where it goes.
She feels terrified at the very sight of the snake.

      Bees and birds are among her favourite creatures in nature. Her caricature of the bee's appearance, his incessant activity, and his monotonous buzzing are wittily charming and graceful:

Bees are Black, with Gilt Surcinges-
Buccaneers of buzz,
Ride abroad in ostentation
And subsist on Fuzz.

      Emily Dickinson talks of the most triumphant bird which embarked upon a twig:

And sang for nothing scrutable
But intimate Delight.

      The delight of the bird is independent of the divine or human appreciation. The abundant hapiness of the bird is due to the soul-killing anxieties of human life.


      Emily Dickinson assigns a vital position to nature in her poetry. She considers nature to be the most dependable companion of man. She finds ecstasy in the heart of nature. She observes that man can never understand the mystery of nature because of its complexity. She calls nature a 'haunted house' which makes us conscious of our impending doom. A note of melancholy runs throughout her nature poems. Nature serves as an inevitable emblem of more crucial losses. It is always in a state of flux. She feels almost intoxicated amidst nature. She contends that nature is knowledge itself which surpasses our ability to express. There is permanent conflict between the world of nature and the world of man. Nature is also hostile to man. She never fails to stress nature's decaying and corruptive power. She is fascinated by the spring season but repelled but the autumn season. She also gives due importance to petty creatures in her poems. For Dickinson, nature shows the endless coming of life from death. There is no end to the continuity of the natural process.

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