Approaching Emily Dickinson’s poetry as one large body of work can be an intimidating and overwhelming task. There are obvious themes and images that recur throughout, but with such variation that seeking out any sense of intention or order can feel impossible. When the poems are viewed in the groupings Dickinson gave many of them, however, possible structures are easier to find. In Fascicle 17, for instance, Dickinson embarks upon a journey toward confidence in her own little world. She begins the fascicle writing about her fear of the natural universe, but invokes the unknowable and religious as a means of overcoming that fear throughout her life and ends with a contextualization of herself within both nature and eternity.
The first poem in the fascicle, “I dreaded that first Robin so”, shows us a Dickinson who is intimidated by even the most harmless creatures in the world around her. Despite the title she gives herself, “The Queen of Calvary”, her fears seem to hinge on a feeling of inferiority to these small harbingers of spring (24). The first chirp of the robin holds some awful power, while the daffodils become fashionable critics of Dickinson’s simplicity. These comparisons set Dickinson up as someone very small and “childish”—she cannot even stand up to birds and flowers without fear of being exposed to them and found lacking (26). The next poem, “I would not paint—a picture—” continues this idea, but with a slightly more pleasant spin. While somewhat paradoxically rejecting the idea of making art herself (even devoting a stanza to why she should not write poetry), she gives a sense of the exhilaration she finds in being the audience for any kind of art. Ultimately,...
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...Dickinson has for the most part conquered her fears. As the second poem gave us the unsettling idea that the author of the poem we were reading was afraid to compose poetry, this poem shows us her coming to terms with that. Her list of creatures blessed with wonders they had not dared to hope for extends quite naturally to include her. She has come to her “Heaven” through poetry—“unexpected”, but eventually with confidence brought about by the trials dealt with throughout the fascicle. The poems are very closely linked, each one showing us some new aspect of Dickinson’s personality that leads toward her confidence. Finally, Dickinson has found her voice and in this final poem proclaims that she has found a peace to which she had not dared aspire at the beginning. Now she has both nature and poetry within her grasp—this is “Heaven” and “Old Home” all at once.
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