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Hollowness in Emily Dickinson’s Poetic Discourse

analytical Essay
3878 words
3878 words
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Hollowness in Emily Dickinson’s Poetic Discourse

Much has been said about Emily Dickinson’s mystifying poetry and private life, especially during the years 1860-63. Allegedly it was during these years that the poetess, at the most prolific phase of her career, withdrew from society, began to wear her “characteristic” white dress and suffered a series of psychotic episodes. Dickinson tended to “theatricalize” herself by speaking through a host of personae in her poems and by “fictionalizing” her inner life as a gothic romance (Gilbert 584). Believing that a poem is “the best words in the best order” (to quote S.T. Coleridge) and that all the poems stemming from a single consciousness bring to surface different aspects / manifestations of the same personal mythology, I will firstly disregard biographical details in my interpretation of Dickinson’s poems 378, 341 and 280 and secondly place them in a sort of “continuum” (starting with 378 and ending with 280) to show how they attempt to describe a “plunge” into the Unconscious and a lapse into madness (I refrain from using the term “journey,” for it implies a “telos,” a goal which, whether unattainable or not, is something non-existent in the poems in question). Faced with the problem of articulating and concretizing inner psychological states, Dickinson created a totally new poetic discourse which lacks a transcendental signified and thus can dramatize the three stages of a (narrated) mental collapse: existential despair, withdrawal from the world of the senses and “death” of consciousness.

In poem 378 the reader is introduced to the mental world of a speaker whose relentless questioning of metaphysical “truths” has led her to a state of complete “faithlessness”: l...

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...son’s Poetry: Stairway of Surprise. New York: Holt, 1960.

Eberwein, Jane Donahue. Dickinson: Strategies of Limitation. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1985.

Feit Diehl, Joanne. “’Ransom in a Voice’: Language as Defense in Dickinson’s Poetry.” Feminist Critics Read Emily Dickinson. Ed. Suzanne Juhasz. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1983. 156-75.

Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the 19th Century Literary Imagination. New Haven: Yale UP, 1979.

Homans, Margaret. “’Oh, Vision of Language’: Dickinson’s Poems of Love and Death.” Feminist Critics Read Emily Dickinson. Ed. Suzanne Juhasz. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1983. 114-33.

Miller, Cristanne. “How ‘Low Feet’ Stagger: Disruptions of Language in Dickinson’s Poetry.” Feminist Critics Read Emily Dickinson. Ed. Suzanne Juhasz. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1983. 134-55.

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes emily dickinson's mystifying poetry and private life during the years 1860-63. she tended to "theatricalize" herself by speaking through personae and by "fictionalizing" her inner life as a gothic romance.
  • Analyzes how the speaker's relentless questioning of metaphysical "truths" has led her to a state of complete "faithlessness" and remains trapped in an opaque and indecipherable universe.
  • Analyzes how the fragmented and incoherent universe mirrors the speaker's confusion and psychological fragmentation.
  • Explains that circumference is a key term in dickinson's private system of symbols and it represents the boundary between personal space and what might be outside.
  • Analyzes how dickinson's poem, "beyond the dip of bell," pushes language to the border of meaninglessness.
  • Analyzes how poem 341 dramatizes the speaker's mental collapse, which is withdrawal from the world of the senses.
  • Analyzes how dickinson uses the pronoun "he" to refer to her speaker's heart, the very part of the body from which (supposedly) lyric poetry originates.
  • Analyzes how dickinson renders the heart of her poetic discourse hollow by substituting "she" with "he." the speaker loses her sense of time, as she had lost space in the previous poem.
  • Analyzes how the speaker's lack of sentience is ingeniously rendered concrete through both visual and auditory imagery in the lines "a wooden way / regardless grown."
  • Analyzes how dickinson uses the word "lead" to violate the reader's sense of time and space.
  • Analyzes how dickinson uses extended conceit to concretize an inner state: the death of the conscious mind is rendered in terms of a funeral service.
  • Analyzes how the poem's fourth line seems to have a double meaning: “sense” is either the speaker’s faculty of reason, which “breaks through,” i.e. collapses, fails, or her madness.
  • Analyzes how the heaviness of lead implies oppression and mental agony as the thoughts, or "mourners," seem to turn against the speaker's consciousness.
  • Analyzes how the speaker's final separation from her conscious self and her final "plunge" into her unconscious begins with extravagant auditory images.
  • Analyzes how dickinson's "hollow" language can now signify only in terms of what if silences.
  • Analyzes how eberwein identifies dickinson's supreme achievement as the communication of inner states of consciousness — the revelation of mental process.
  • Analyzes how the poet concentrates her expressive gifts on the sensations of mental extremity themselves, distilling the anguish, the numbness, and the horror.
  • Argues that dickinson's anguish, numbness, and horror are rendered concrete through a radical poetic discourse, which defies discourse itself and is doomed to lapse into speechlessness.
  • Describes feit diehl, joanne, and suzanne juhasz's feminist critics read emily dickinson.
  • Explains gilbert, sandra m., and susan gubar, the madwoman in the attic: the woman writer and the 19th century literary imagination.
  • Analyzes homans, margaret, and suzanne juhasz's feminist critics read emily dickinson.
  • Describes miller, cristanne, and juhasz's feminist critics read emily dickinson.
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