Is Emily Dickinson a Transcendentalist?

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Is Emily Dickinson a Transcendentalist?

Post  hen on Fri May 15, 2009 12:05 am

It is hard to discern whether Emily Dickinson is a transcendentalist or anti-transcendentalist.

From the first poem we read, "This is My Letter to the World," we can draw out the transcendentalist idea of nature, which is what Dickinson addresses her letter to. It is therefore likely that she may have seen nature as a source of her inspiration. In her poem "“Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church," she expresses her individualistic side. The poem seems to describe her views of how the religious people in society believe that faith can only come from the church's preachers and their sermons, but how instead it is actually about worshiping God constantly, individually. Judging by similar poems and her bio, one can see that she was a withdrawn non-conformist who spent most of her days in the solitude of her house, where she observed the outside world quietly (somewhat similar to Thoreau and his peaceful life. Two people with possibly the most extraordinary lives both appear to have had dull lives on the surface).

However, there is a negative, anti-transcendentalist quality to her works as well. In "'Hope' is the Thing with Feathers," she initially starts off with a description of Hope as a heart-warming bird, but then in the final stanzas it seems she suddenly cuts back to reality and says that hope has forsaken her in the chilliest and strangest lands. Her poem "My Life Closed Twice Before Its Close," there is a message of death laden throughout the poem. In the last two lines, she even equates heaven (positive) to hell (negative).

Between her two sided views, it is only safe to say that she is in between. It seems that the main cause of this sudden shifting is the events that have happened throughout her life as time passes by. Her poems in the earlier years tend to be of higher spirit, yet later on they start to seem a lot more depressing. According to her bio, over time she experienced the death of many close ones and was greatly affected by the loss of each. I suppose that the question of whether she was a transcendentalist or not can only be answered with concerns to Dickinson's chronological mental development.
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hen

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Re: Is Emily Dickinson a Transcendentalist?

Post  Steph C on Fri May 15, 2009 12:26 am

Hey Hen

I came to a similar conclusion. Maybe the same conclusion because I can't decide which side she leans more towards. Anyhow, nice identifiying all these little parts with either the "postiive" or "negative," I found myself grappling with her poems for a while before they started to make sense. Or maybe I'm just braindead. No
Another thing though, you said, "It seems that the main cause of this sudden shifting is the events that have happened throughout her life as time passes by." I think its more like just playing with both sides though, like we sometimes do when we are freewriting. Dickinson didn't appear to have the greatest self-esteem; its possible that she was still grappling with all of the complex stuff flying around in her mind trying to sort out which she was more true to. Her decisive poems might reflect what she has concretely figured out. Just a guess though and of course the course of events in her life could likely have sparked her jumbling thoughts.
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Re: Is Emily Dickinson a Transcendentalist?

Post  joyceychen on Fri May 15, 2009 12:29 am

Ordering it like that reminds me of how we saw it happen with Melville in Moby Dick. At first, it seemed like he was Transcendental, not then after the climax, he shifted into Anti-Transcendental.
What about Emily Dickinson? Did she fluctuate depending on her life conditions or was it also a gradual shift from one to the other? Wait, actually you seem to say most of the time, she is in between, but then she could sway to either side from time to time.

I also ended up with that she was not completely Transcendental, but you had some interesting points I did not see! Yay Smile
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