Emily Dickinson is quoted as writing to Samuel Bowles that "the old words are numb—and there a'nt any new ones" (4). This absence of variety in Dickinson's life urged her to redefine the words that already existed by creating more or less of an emphasis on certain words. She achieved this effect by omitting key words and dislocating punctuation in a sentence and therefore giving new meaning to them. In her poem My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun--, her use of compression gives more force to each fragmented sentence, breaking it up into almost metaphoric terms of the components of the gun itself.
Common in all of Dickinson's poems is the infamous "dash" or "hyphen"; it is technically designed "to connect the parts of a compound word or the parts of a word divided for any purpose" (Webster's Dictionary pg 401). Dickinson certainly took advantage of the "for any purpose" aspect of the definition when she began using the dash not only to separate a compound word, but to omit whole words, emphasize a pause or to connect two ideas without the use of conventional grammar or punctuation. In disrupting punctuation, Dickinson reveals the open nature of language that conventional punctuation seeks to regulate and makes new groupings and relationships between words apart from linguistic conventions. This is illustrated throughout the poem, beginning at the first line.
My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun—
In Corners—till a Day
The Owner passed—identified—
And carried Me away--
If the word "like" is added in the first line to read: "My life had stood [like] a loaded gun" there becomes too much emphasis on the...
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... it describes would be lost. My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun— is the title of an experience that cannot be told literally. To compensate for this inability, Dickinson tells it in the fragmented sentences of a metaphor. Unlike Whitman and Emerson she describes the feelings of the experience by painting a picture with her words, while others describe the actual experience in words. The latter is less difficult being that the description is of a concrete and palpable experience. In Dickinson's case however, the experience is ineffable and her ability to illustrate an emotion by taking apart words, putting them back together and unconventionally punctuating a sentence is at the least commendable.
Denma, Kamilla. Emily Dickinson's Volcanic Punctuation. 17 Feb. 2001 *http://www.colorado.edu/EDIS/journal/articles/11.1.Denman.html*
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