The Soul Selects Her Own Society || Summary and Analysis

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THE SOUL SELECTS HER OWN SOCIETY

The Soul selects her own Society-
Then shuts the Door-
To her divine Majority-
Present no more-
Unmoved-she notes the Chariot-pausing
At her low Gate-
Unmoved-and Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat-
I've known her-from an ample nation-
Choose One-
Then-close the Valves of her attention-
Like Stone

The Soul selects her own Society- Then shuts the Door- To her divine Majority- Present no more- Unmoved-she notes the Chariot-pausing At her low Gate- Unmoved-and Emperor be kneeling Upon her Mat- I've known her-from an ample nation- Choose One- Then-close the Valves of her attention- Like Stone
The Soul Selects her own Society 

Summary and Analysis

Introduction:

      'The Soul', she said in one of her most famous poems, 'selects her own Society Then-shuts the Door-'. Emily Dickinson's sister, Lavinia tried to defend her sister from the charges of snobbishness by arguing that she was not withdrawn or exclusive really. She was always watching for the rewarding person to come', she was a very person herself. She had to think she was the only one of us who had that to do'. 'The Soul selects her own Society' is a difficult poem that has been variously interpreted.

Summary:

      Stanza I shows the autonomy of soul in life. Soul is self-sufficient and is at home in her own world. She lives in a world beyond the outside world. Dickinson limits the society to one or two like-minded persons only. She stands for divine majority and avoids interacting with others. She needs isolation for the realization of her artistic goals. She has come of spiritual and emotional age and no longer needs to present' herself to the world. The soul is seen as a divine queen absorbed in her own society.

      Stanza II informs that the speaker is totally absorbed in her isolation. She is absolutely committed to her mental world which is cut-of from the outside world. lt is a world beyond the material world. She happens to see a chariot stop being near the gate of her mind but consciously ignores its arrival. She would not be fascinated even if an emperor wished to draw her attention upon the mat. She attaches no importance to a man of high status because it would not rally with her life style of humility and simplicity.

      Stanza III confirms her absolute faith in the life of alienation. She has blind faith in the power of her mind because it can function independently without any external interference in her life of seclusion. The 'Valves of her attention' gives the soul the desired power of concentration. The use of the valves denies the possibility of any intrusion and distraction.

Interpretation and Critical Analysis:

Autonomy of Soul:

      Soul enjoys an autonomous status in Dickinson's poems. She is free to select her own society not governed by the code of the external society / world. Her regal dignity is highlighted in her aloofness. She would choose 'One' from 'an ample nation'. Paradoxically her 'One is her divine Majority', For Dickinson, soul is more important than the whole world. The soul never allows herself to be distracted from her single pursuit.

Nature of Isolation:

      Emily Dickinson's isolation was a tactical withdrawal. She was always waiting for the right type of person to come who could suit her academically. Evidently, Dickinson found most persons unrewarding and easily expelled them from her self selected society. She would look for no help in her thinking from most of her neighbours. Her aristocratic sense of class consciousness and hereditary entitlement is evident in this poem in which Dickinson's imperial speaker 'shuts the Door on all but the select few: "I've known her - from an ample nation-\ Choose One then - close the Valves of her attention-\ Like Stone'. The poem also implies that isolation is confinement, too. Valves seen as doors reinforce the poem's house imagery, while their association with stones makes the walls separating soul from world so solid as to be, perhaps, prison-like. Withdrawal from society is for Dickinson a necessary prerequisite for the self-encounter of the human being. It shows that negative identity is a logical consequence in a poem like 'The Soul selects her own Society'.

      Here, Dickinson appears to assert that in some special and mysterious way she is always in the company of one person whom her soul has chosen as its ony desired companion.

Soul's Isolation:

      Here the soul is seen as a divine being absorbed in her own selected society. It shows the autonomy of the poetic persona in the creative act. She prefers to choose one from others to exert her distinct individuality. This reinforces the idea that an individual is more important than the crowd. The poetess loves to be absorbed in her own society for enhancing her creative potential. It further suggests that alternative one is totally unwanted there. She is indifferent to other visitors and even the humble soliciting of the Emperor fails to divert her attention. The air-tight closing of the valves leave no room for any subsequent intrusion and diversion. It finally shows that the soul never allows herself to be distracted from her single pursuit.

Use of Narrator:

      The poem 'The Soul selects her own Society' is written not in the usual first person of her love poems, but in the detached and meditative third person figure of the first two stanzas, but the close examination shows that it is Dickinson herself, or the speaker of the poem, seen from a distance.

Themes:

      Some critics think that the theme of the poem is the union of the soul with muse or with God, rather than with a lover. The idea of a spiritual union with a beloved person is more explicitly shown in several poems, but none is as brilliant as 'The Soul Selects' her own society.

Exploration of the Mind:

      The poem glorified the power of the self alone. The soul resides within a space symbolized by door, gate, and mat. Being an exclusive study of the soul, the external world, with its nations and their rulers, is kept outside.

Technique or Structure:

      The alternating short-long lengths of the poem's lines, culminating in the two syllable lines of the last stanza, parallels this glorious triumph in the concluding lines. Unusually rich in sound effects, including alliteration, rhyme, and modulation of vowels, this is one of Dickinson's greatest successes in poetic technique.

Diction and Language:

      Dickinson makes use of domestic vocabulary which consists of door, low gate, and mat and suggests her dwelling as not a grand palace but rather a simple house.

Use of Images:

      The image of the closed door shows the utter finality of her choice. The image of valves closing like stone adds to her loneliness and exclusiveness. They show the soul's impervious control. The image of the impenetrable, unfeeling stone reflects the soul's attitude toward other claimants for her affection. Her 'Mat' suggests her living a life of alienation of a nun.

Explanation with Reference to Context:

The Soul selects her own Society-
Then shuts the Door
To her divine Majesty-
Present no more

      Emily Dickinson is very selective in her choice of a companion. She prefers the company of a single person rather than a group of persons with whom she can interact in isolation. She feels more comfortable with a person of her choice than an unwanted set crowd. The poet stresses the exclusiveness of friendship, the highly selective quality of affection.

      Dickinson is highly selective in the choice of her society. She does not wish to have more than one or two companions in her isolation. She shows no desire to widen her circle of friends because it would make her isolation unbearable. Moreover, the unlimited company can damage her creative potential by disturbing her concentration of mind. Dickinson limits the society to one or two persons only. The opening lines depict the soul's critical examination of the 'ample nation' for suitable society. She has come of spiritual and emotional age and no longer needs to 'present' herself to the world. The soul is visualized as a divine queen absorbed in her own society. It is a society away from the traditional society.

Unmoved-she notes the Chariot-pausing
At her low Gate-
Unmoved-and Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat-

      Dickinson is always in favour of forming a bond of friendship with one or two persons only. She feels more comfortable in a limited than an unlimited company. She is limited to own her world which is isolated from the outside world.

      The soul is indifferent to other visitors. She observes royal persons arriving in chariots but she would not be fascinated even if an emperor expected her attention. It is not the status, kingly or divine, but the quality of the mind that can suit her creative urge. Dickinson's select company may represent people in general or for prospective suitors.

I 've known her-from an ample nation-
Choose One-
Then-close the Valves of her atention-
Like Stone

      Emily Dickinson has so far stated the quality of her select company. She shows no desire to interact with emperors or divine beings because they do not serve any artistic purpose.

      In the last stanza, the shift to first person shows Dickinson quietly reveling in the strength of her renunciation. The ample nation is everyone available to her. The chosen one is the beloved whose spirit she lives with or has perhaps taken into herself by the power of imagination. 'Valves of her attention' gives the soul the power of concentration. 'Stone' represents its complete rejection of the rest of the world. The last two lines intensity the idea of seclusion and concentration. The use of valves denies the possibility of any intrusion and distraction.

Annotations:

      'Soul' - refers to the soul of the poet or any other person. 'Society' - refers to one person and not a group of persons. 'Door' - refers to the inner mind of the speaker or poet. 'Divine Majority' - it means that one person is better than two or more persons. 'Present no more' - absence of any other person. 'Unmoved' - ignored. 'Chariots' - colourful royal carriages. 'Pausing' - slowly stopping. 'Kneeling' respectfully bending before her companionship. 'Ample nations' - various nations. 'Choosing One' - selecting the right person of her choice out of prospective persons, divine or earthly. It may refer to her dream lover. 'Stone' - refers to the complete rejection of the rest of world.

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