An Analysis of Emily Dickinson's Poem 670

An Analysis of Emily Dickinson's Poem 670

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An Analysis of Emily Dickinson's Poem 670


Have you ever been scared by your own shadow? Or have you ever been walking home at night, and nothing unusual is happening, but you can't shake this feeling that some mass murderer is following close behind, waiting to strike? Maybe you are crazy. More likely, though, you become scared by thinking of old tales or stories, like all the people who have gone into the woods and mysteriously vanished without a trace. I knew one girl who saw The Blair Witch Project and had to sleep with all the lights and the TV on that night, and still to this day won't go traipsing into the woods.

Emily Dickinson dealt a lot with the notion of us being more scared of ourselves than of our surroundings. This was from one of her more serious stages, unlike "Do" and "Autumn Rhapsody" (see the parodies here). "The Brain has Corridors-surpassing / Material Place-" Not too many people would rather meet a ghost than be within their own minds, but Dickinson challenges that notion, throwing out the idea that the thought or anticipation of a terrible event is much worse than the actual thing, like people who are afraid of needles. Most people, if you talk to them, will say they dread going to get a shot. Of course, if you approach them right as they come out of the doctor's office, they'll say it wasn't bad at all. Of course, they may be lying to save face. (A good way to tell is to look at their arm: if it looks okay, then they're telling the truth; if it has turned seven shades of blue and has swollen to the size of their neck, then they just got a tetanus shot and are bluffing about it not hurting.)

But who is "I"? Who is "ourself"? The question in itself seems quite simple, but is it? It's an interesting point that she raises, specifically within the phrase, "Ourself behind ourself, concealed-" Do we really know ourselves? How can we be behind ourselves? How many vague, rhetorical questions can I ask? Too many, obviously. Anyway, after some thought, I decided that Dickinson here is probably referring to the part of ourselves that we'd rather not know, or maybe a part of ourselves that we don't know just because we can't see it.

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We might rather not know an inner part of ourselves because we're afraid of what we may see. We may find out underneath all that brute male exterior is someone who enjoys ballet and Dan Fogelburg, or underneath that coy, feminine exterior is someone who enjoys tractor pulls and even bowling. Or again, we may not be able to see inside ourselves at all. I'm sure everyone reading this has met someone who tells the whole world how humble they are, while at the same time they boast about what they've won, or how much money they make, or something like that. Of course, they're completely contradicting what they just said, but they can't seem to see that. Why? That's a good question. Maybe the body "bolts the Door", not allowing even one's self to see in. And that's one explanation for the meaning behind "ourself behind ourself, concealed-"

She goes on to say that if we see the concealed self behind us, it would more than likely startle us. That it would be so frightening, in fact, an assassin hid in our apartment would pale in comparison to the fright it would give us. To most the mere thought of someone hiding your house waiting to kill you would send shudders up the spine. How could anything inside of you be that much worse? Well, here's a thought for starters. Scott Falater has recently been accused of murdering his wife while sleepwalking, by details gory enough to not mention in a close reading. If you really want to know, you can look it up. Of course, there's no way of knowing if he actually did it while asleep or not, but the point is still made. I don't think too many people would argue that sleep is another level of consciousness, different from our waking state in many ways. He allegedly committed an act in his sleep, within himself, that he (hopefully) would have never committed had he been awake. This puts the line "The Body-borrows a Revolver-" to a more literal meaning than the figurative one that I believe Dickinson originally intended, but the line between the two is very blurred. "Ourself" can become Haunted, if we choose to let it, or "O'erlooking a superior spectre-
Or More-"
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