Emily Dickinson

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B) The riddle we can guess
We speedily despise -
Not anything is stale so long as yesterday’s surprise -

How important is the idea of riddling in Emily Dickinson’s poetry? Cover a range of poems in your answer, and discuss at least four of them in close detail.

During the late nineteenth century, Emily Dickinson (1830 - 1886) featured as one of the few female poets in the largely male-dominated sphere of American literature. Although she authored 1800 poems, only seven were published during her lifetime - why? Emily Dickinson has always provoked debate; over her life, her motivations for the words she wrote and the interpretations of those words. It can be argued that Emily Dickinson herself, was as ambiguous, as misunderstood and as elusive as her poetry. As a outlet for relentless examination of every aspect of her mind and faith her poems are both expository and puzzling. Her conclusions are often cryptically implicit and largely dependant on the readers ability to put together the pieces - to see the connections and implications. Amy Lowell said "She was the mistress of suggestion....and to a lesser degree, irony" The ruses and riddles in her poems came from her; and as such she too was a riddle.

The riddle was important to Emily Dickinson for several reasons. She wished to reason with her own feelings despite her contradictory beliefs - she wished to be one who "distils amazing sense / from ordinary meanings (#448)".
For her, life, nature and faith were all riddles in themselves. None of these three come with all the answers, although clues are given - her poems both deal with and mirror this phenomenon.
And through a riddle, at the last - sagacity must go - (#501)
(In these lines Dickinson doubts the sense of religious claims about life, death and life after death). Her cryptic language thus became part of her search for truth and personal clarification. She couched her poetry in ambiguous, complex and multi-layered language - in this form it became both a defence, and a game. The riddles concealed her anarchy, her dissension and her audaciousness in questioning the status quo. She achieved her most audacious commentaries and attacks on American perceptions and values through riddle and ruse; by ellipsis, dodge, a vague daring, an evident superiority of language and idea, staying virtually unknown . The ambiguities in the riddles were her defence against authority, religious tyranny and "norm" thinking.

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