Emily Dickinson

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Emily Dickinson

Post  Vincent_Lee on Fri May 15, 2009 1:54 am

Upon initial reading of her biography, Emily Dickinson seems more Anti-Transcendentalist. Though her life may not have been dark or turbulent as Hawthorne’s and Melville’s (at least not on the surface), her intensely reclusive lifestyle seems to fit under Anti-Transcendentalism. Hawthorne also spent more than a decade living in isolation, devoting himself to the perfection of his craft like Dickinson.

“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me , I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it.”

These standards which she uses to judge poetry can very much be seen in the quality of her work. Her poems are intense and emotionally charged pieces of art. This whole quote, and particularly the last line, brings to mind how if a poem succeeds in connecting it’s essence to the Universal being through the author’s ability to channel the creativity and pure potential his connection with the Universal being, then the reader can connect with the work. That is a very Transcendentalist trait, the emphasis on connection of the essences of the writer, the work, and the Universal being, the connection of the essences of the trustee and truster. Still, the works of Melville and Hawthorne would probably pass these standards, despite being novels and stories instead of poems. Therefore we can’t really determine too much on whether Emily Dickinson is Transcendentalist or Anti-Transcendentalist from that.

Moving in to her poems we can see in “This Is My Letter to the World”, and “Exultation is the Going” the themes of nature and indications of the Universal being. These two poems seem to maintain a relatively positive outlook. “Exultation Is the Going” has a sense of joy and wonder in the exploration of soul through entering nature, again a Transcendentalist idea. “I Never Saw A Moor” indicates a resolute faith in Dickinson. “I never spoke with God/ Nor visited in Heaven/ Yet certain am I of the spot”. It also indicates some knowledge of the nonlocalized domain, the Universal Being that could be called God, and how its pure potential exists everywhere, and not just in some obscure place in the clouds.

“I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed” seems to appear hedonistic and overindulgent by judging the title and numerous references to alcohol or intoxication, though it really just presents the sheer pleasure that can be derived from going out and experiencing the wonders of life and of nature. “Inebriate of Air – am I -/ And Debauchee of Dew –“
“Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church” is a very individualistic statement about private worship and “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” echoes optimistic, well, hope. So far, everything has pointed to her being a Transcendentalist. “Faith is a Fine Invention” and “Success Is Counted Sweetest” take a slight turn and have some subtle but important criticisms of society. “Much Madness Is Divinest Sense” critiques the oftentimes absurd dictatorial power of the majority. “The Soul Selects Her Own Society” and “I Took My Power in My Hand” focus on individualism again, though “I Took My Power in My Hand” betrays a slight sense of despair. Dickinson’s boldness and the strength of her being apparently fails when pit against all the world’s adversity. She questions whether if the world was too strong or if her own ability wasn’t enough. The Anti-Transcendentalism has begun to seep in.

“There Came a Wind like a Bugle” and “There’s a Certain Slant of Light” are grimmer than the previous poems, and both contain references to death and destruction. “my Life Closed Twice Before Its Close”, “The Bustle in a House”, and “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” all also cover the topic of death. However, it doesn’t treat death with more negativity than should be. “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” doesn’t have the usual feelings of intense fear and distress that are normally found in poems about death. It treats it very naturally and casually with its description as the journey to immortality as a leisurely carriage ride. “The Bustle in a House” captures the solemn, graven atmosphere of funerals but it does not dramatize anything. It simply presents death’s effect on the living in a very bare, simple manner.

After looking over all these poems I conclude that Emily Dickinson is caught between the two groups. On one hand, Emily Dickinson’s poems almost all cover uniquely Transcendentalist themes. She doesn’t shy away from darker topics like death or defeat, but she does not dwell upon them morbidly nor does she try to twist them into other forms. I think she is a unique poet for her neutrality, among other qualities. She is neither completely Transcendentalist nor completely Anti-Transcendentalist. Her works’ moods change in regards to their topic, instead of it working the other way around.
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Vincent_Lee

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Re: Emily Dickinson

Post  Kenny on Sun May 17, 2009 3:22 pm

I wouldn't say she's neutral, that kind of implies objectivity, which is pretty much impossible as long as you're human, I would think that she swings back and forth form each side over various events in her life, before her tragedies she could've been more transcendentalist and then after she (don't actually remember what happened, just heard from some people who read her bio and remembered) lost her lover and went through some deaths in the family she became more anti-transcendentalist. So the adding up of all her ideas and beliefs could have resulted in a sum that resided somewhere in the middle, but the individual thoughts and ideas themselves lay on either end.

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Re: Emily Dickinson

Post  Vincent_Lee on Sun May 17, 2009 8:53 pm

Kenny wrote:I wouldn't say she's neutral, that kind of implies objectivity, which is pretty much impossible as long as you're human, I would think that she swings back and forth form each side over various events in her life, before her tragedies she could've been more transcendentalist and then after she (don't actually remember what happened, just heard from some people who read her bio and remembered) lost her lover and went through some deaths in the family she became more anti-transcendentalist. So the adding up of all her ideas and beliefs could have resulted in a sum that resided somewhere in the middle, but the individual thoughts and ideas themselves lay on either end.

Except for that poor word choice, my post pretty much details what you said. Seems like you got too concentrated on my little blunder there to notice what you stated was essentially what I stated.
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Re: Emily Dickinson

Post  Kenny on Sun May 17, 2009 10:21 pm

Then it's too subtle for me to catch, otherwise, sorry for the misunderstanding.

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Re: Emily Dickinson

Post  Vincent_Lee on Sun May 17, 2009 10:54 pm

Kenny wrote:Then it's too subtle for me to catch, otherwise, sorry for the misunderstanding.

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