Symbolic Images: The Poetry of Emily Dickinson

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The poetry of the Imagists is short, simple, and quite literal in its meaning in order to create a vivid picture in the reader’s mind. When they describe an object, it means just what they say. A tree is a tree, a flower is a flower, and a bird is a bird. Imagists have little use for abstract words or ideas, and tend to shy away from them as much as possible. Emily Dickinson doesn’t fall under the same category as the Imagists, as she doesn’t use the same techniques as the Imagists.
Dickinson’s poems center on very vivid images, with very different takes on them. They very often contain abstract concepts, which are often given concrete principles and are incorporated as part of her images. She implants deeper meanings behind her images, and tends to rely on a different technique than the Imagists. The majority of her work relies heavily on a different type of imagery – symbolism.
One of the poems where this symbolism is most evident is “My Life Had Stood – A Loaded Gun.” This poem is obviously based around a strong metaphoric image, as Dickinson is comparing herself to a gun belonging to someone else. In the poem, she uses the gun as a symbol to show her role in the patriarchal society she lived in. The first stanza shows this feeling:
My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun –
In Corners – till a Day
The Owner passed – identified –
And carried me away –
In this stanza, Dickinson never explicitly mentions the owner to be a man, but as women didn’t use guns in those times, it is understood that the owner would be male, which she does clarify later in the poem. Even without an outright declaration of male ownership, these lines imply the role that women were supposed to take in Dickinson’s time, sitting silently in the background until a man wishes to take them away.
In the last stanza of the poem, Dickinson echoes the same theme of needing a man to access her power.
Though I than He – may longer live
He longer must – than I –
For I have but the power to kill,
Without – the power to die –
These lines tell of Dickinson’s feeling of dependence...

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...ase of the speaker’s reality, her sense of reason, was faulty and gave way, showing her much more beyond her reason that she could now be aware of. She now holds a new idea of reason and common sense to replace her old ideas. The use of the word “I” in the second line shows us that inside the coffin is in fact the speaker of the poem. This stanza suggests that the person being buried is perhaps the speaker’s innocence. It tells us that with the death of her naivety, she falls into a whole new set of worlds that she didn’t know about previously. After her fall, she now has a new grasp of reality and knows more than she had before.
Emily Dickinson loved to use images. Her poems are all heavily based around images, and she has an amazing talent for describing them. Each of these poems contains a different theme, and revolved around different images. While each of these poems would stand up on its own, Dickinson tied many of them together with her tendency to come back to symbolism. Like the Imagists after her, she liked to paint pictures in the reader’s mind with her words, but what made her stand out was the deeper meaning she laid beyond those images.
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