The Extensive Use of Symbolism in Emily Dickinson's Poem #315

The Extensive Use of Symbolism in Emily Dickinson's Poem #315

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The Extensive Use of Symbolism in Emily Dickinson's Poem #315


As I had no prior experience with Emily Dickinson's work, I was unsure of what to expect from this assignment. I read the poem about fifteen or twenty times before I was even able to ask myself legitimate questions about Dickinson's thoughts as she composed this work over two hundred years ago. I couldn't even look to the title for guidance..."ugh, this is going to be tough" ran through my head over and over. I began by researching #315 on the Internet and in our library. I found more opinions than I could possibly wade through in one summer semester and resigned myself to limiting my research to the basics and forming my own opinions.

I have learned in literature classes since past-many, many years ago I might add-that understanding symbolisms that exist in poetry is the key to understanding the poem itself. Emily Dickinson's #315 is absolutely FULL of symbolism, so much so that I had to break it down--almost word-by-word-- to begin to understand what Dickinson is trying to tell her readers.

The first question that I had-and probably the one of most significance-- was "who is "HE"???" Dickinson begins with "He fumbles at your soul..."-- I couldn't even understand who "HE" was. After researching this, I realized that I was not alone and that various readers of #315 have debated my question over decades.

Robert Weisbuch in Emily Dickinson's Poetry (1972) explained that he felt that the primary figure (He) is intentionally ambiguous because "his" identity doesn't really matter. Weisbuch further postulated that Dickinson wants the reader "not to understand the cause, but to focus on experiencing the terrible moment" (pp. 98). Mr. Weisbuch seems to feel that "He" is many things (e.g. pianist, smithy, Thor and wind) and yet "his" definition is of little importance.
I was somewhat relieved when I read Weisbuch's theory on "He" because each time I read "He fumbles..." I come to believe that "He" is a different entity. I first felt that Dickinson was referring to a prominent male figure in her life-maybe her father or her lover-but during subsequent readings my thoughts turned to less obvious possibilities such as God or non-human objects such as a storm. Even after a week's worth of research, I still am not certain that I fully understand which direction she is hoping to lead her reader.

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The next word of the first line-FUMBLES-seems to imply several thoughts as well. To literally define fumble, it's as if "He" is having difficulty with the soul. Although after reading the next line it's not ludicrous to deduce that "He" is actually preparing "you" for the event that is about to occur within the remaining text of the poem. If Dickinson's reader assumes that this is her inference, then is the "fumbling" just an awkward transition to the event-one that must be endured, but is not intentional? Or is "his fumbling" a deliberate action-one that is that is meant to prolong the suspense and heighten "your" anxiety?? The reader might also assume that Emily Dickinson is implying that "He" is performing quite poorly (as a pianist or as a lover??).
Another term that I found somewhat multi-dimensional was that of "the Keys". If the image is that of a pianist seated at a piano, then "the Keys" are quite literally defined as the ivories under "his" fingers. But, if Dickinson's reader assumes that "the Keys" are in fact objects utilized to gain entry.... what is "he" attempting to enter?? ("Your" soul? "Your" body? "Your" mind? "Your" life?) Another meaning of keys is that of explanation or solutions-like the key to a test or a map. Is Dickinson implying there exists a further explanation of this event, which she is writing about? All of these questions run through my mind as I attempt to understand only the first two lines of Emily Dickinson's #315.

The symbolisms in #315 continue throughout the body of the text and often leave the amateur reader searching for some sort of explanation or at least a literal meaning somewhere in the poem. I wonder if this is in part due to the fact that Dickinson's works were only published after her death. If Miss Emily Dickinson was writing solely for her own reasons-like a diary or personal journal-was she even writing to an audience at all? While it is known that she often sent poems to close friends as an enclosure in her correspondence, did Emily ever remotely entertain the possibility of anyone else ever reading #315?? Could this be the reason that her poem is so full of symbols that only she knew the true meanings of?
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