Essay on Emily Dickinson's Capitalization and Punctuation

Essay on Emily Dickinson's Capitalization and Punctuation

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The poetry of Emily Dickinson is one of the most recognizable of the 19th century. Dickinson’s poetry stands out because of its unconventional use of capitalization and punctuation. Her poems contain capitalized words which are not normally capitalized. Her poems are noted for the frequent use of the dash. Literary scholars have attempted to interpret Dickinson’s unconventional capitalization and punctuation. Some believe that it was merely part of Dickinson’s penmanship (Weisbuch 73). They therefore edit Dickinson’s poetry and publish them in standardized form. Others believe that the capitalization and punctuation were a conscious effort on Dickinson’s part. These scholars notice the little nuances of Dickinson’s dashes, such as whether it slants up or down (Miller 50). They notice the different sizes of her capital letters (Miller 58). These scholars believe that Dickinson’s poetry is best understood when read in their handwritten form.
The average reader cannot help but be affected by Dickinson’s style. The capitalized words draw the reader’s attention. They highlight important key words of the poem. The dashes set apart specific words and phrases, forcing the reader to slow down while reading. The dashes compel the reader to contemplate and ponder over the lines. Thus, whether or not Dickinson had a conscious purpose in her unconventional capitalization and punctuation, they have an undeniable effect on the rhythm of the poem and the perception of the reader.
Dickinson’s capitalization is highly unconventional. She capitalizes words in the middle of the line. Here are the first four lines from “There’s a certain Slant of light” which illustrate Dickinson’s capitalization style:
There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter ...


... middle of paper ...


...kinson likens herself to a loaded gun. She contains much energy and power, but can only be useful when taken into the hands of a master gunman. The punctuation and capitalization define “a Loaded Gun” as the theme of the poem. They also increase the strength of the metaphor. Dickinson’s capitalization and punctuation not only define her style, but they also provide added symbolic meaning and musical interpretation to her poetry.



Works Cited

Denman, Kamilla. "Emily Dickinson's Volcanic Punctuation." The Emily Dickinson Journal 2.1 (1993): 22-46. Print.
Miller, Cristanne. Emily Dickinson: A Poet’s Grammar. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987. Print.
Porter, David T. The Art of Emily Dickinson’s Early Poetry. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966. Print.
Weisbuch, Robert. Emily Dickinson’s Poetry. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1975. Print.

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