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Emily Dickinson lived in Amherst, Massachusetts until her death. Her parents lived in the society of the Victorians, during the nineteenth century. They were very strict on the male and females roles. As some might say "she exaggerated the female role" by choosing not to marry, and live in her father's house in solitude. Critics believe this was her way of going against woman's rights. As a woman of her time, she knew her functions as a woman would never be fulfilled. Therefore, her solitary gave her the space to write her poetry, freeing her from woman's duties. Emily Dickinson wrote letters and poems until her dying day. Although, only five to ten poems of hers were published during her time, she has become history still trying to be studied.
Dickinson played with construction. She wrote multiple poems, so indecisive on words that she staked up words on top of another. "She enjoyed words, and was amused by reading the Webster's dictionary (1844)." Editors in that sense had to pick one word in publishing her works. So we ask ourselves is this really what she wanted it to be? Can a critic really try to interpret one of her poems when not knowing if Emily's word choice would have been that of her sisters or editor? As stylistic as she is in her writing one must see the original print of her work. One must know the original meaning of her words. She wrote in a secretive language with each letter, word, metaphor, and noun having its own hidden meaning. Her reason for writing in fascicles was because, her work wasn't meant to be printed. It takes away the hidden meaning, the puzzle, the maze of what she is trying to say.
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Emily was concerned with originality and form, she experiment with her poetry especially her rhyme. Mostly she wrote in hymn or in common meter. Eye rhyme, identical rhyme, vowel rhyme, and suspended rhyme where many in which, she experimented with. The style of using off-rhyme in poetry wasn't used until later in the nineteenth century. Using this style she has shown that it does work in poetry, innovating modern poets to experiment with rhyme. "The modernist period also produced the first defenses of unusual features of Dickinson's verse" One of her poems that shows off rhyme is, "The Woodpecker"
His bill an auger is,
His head, a cap and frill.
He laboreth at every tree,--
A worm his utmost goal.
Emily Dickinson referred too many of her poems as hymns. They had a common meter. Poems of hers have been set to hymn tunes, influencing musicians and dancers. One of her most famous poems, and hymn ever written was "I heard a Fly buzz when I died ," it was set to the tune of "Ein' Feste Burg" ("A Mighty Fortess") by Martin Luther. It can be easily recognized as church music.
I heard a Fly buzz -- when I died --
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air --
Between the Heaves of Storm --
The Eyes around -- had wrung them dry --
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset -- when the King
Be witnessed -- in the Room --
I willed my Keepsakes -- Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable -- and then it was
There interposed a Fly --
With Blue -- uncertain stumbling Buzz,
Between the light -- and me --
And then the Windows failed -- and then
I could not see to see
The similarities of this poem and effects of the musical is that they both are varied, uplifting, and sober.
As she experimented with meter and rhyme one of her greater focuses was on language. She eliminated inessential language and punctuation from her language. She leaves out helping verbs, and connecting words; she drops endings from verbs and nouns. She uses the dash instead as a recoverable and non recoverable deletion. It is done porously in interrupting the poem in numerous ways. She's eliminating things to make them grammatically incorrect, but the mind itself fills in the blanks to make it sound grammatically correct. For this reason is why modernist poets admire and appreciate her. She wrote freely, disregarded the rules of grammar, and sentence structure. She used multiple nouns and capitalizations stretching the boarders of what can happen within a single word. Her "prefect freedom" was in poetry. The poetry she kept from the world, the poetry she didn't write in letters.
"Many critics have used her life to try to explain her poetry, and others have tried to explain her life by referring to her poems, which they assume are autobiographical." With this in mind one would think of Emily Dickinson as crazy as she adopts a variety of personas in her poetry, including a little girl, a queen, a bridegroom, a bride, a wife, a dying woman, a nun, a boy, and a bee. Such poems as these cannot be automatically set a being autobiographic but fictional. She is writing so that others can relate. "She presented herself as a selfless individual who wrote for others in order to inspire, instruct, or console them." During her life as a Victorian and a woman this would place her out of her time, appealing to readers ahead of her time. "Like modern poets who use the excuse that no one is listening to write poems that do not speak to anyone." Even though she lived in solitude she still had an audience of readers. Probably fewer than a dozen, but she still had people to address that can relate to her poetry. "Her words, like every true poet, have a voice- a particular voice."
Some more than others have been influenced by Emily Dickinson, her life, and her poetry. She has become an innovator to modernist poets, who take advantage borrowing from her work, making it useful to apply it in theirs. A Great Example is "Taking off Emily's Dickinson's Clothes" by Billy Collins
First, her tippet made of tulle,
easily lifted off her shoulders and laid
on the back of a wooden chair.
And her bonnet,
the bow undone with a light forward pull.
Then the long white dress, a more
complicated matter with mother-of-pearl
buttons down the back,
so tiny and numerous that it takes forever
before my hands can part the fabric,
like a swimmer's dividing water,
and slip inside.
You will want to know
that she was standing
by an open window in an upstairs bedroom,
motionless, a little wide-eyed,
looking out at the orchard below,
the white dress puddled at her feet
on the wide-board, hardwood floor.
The complexity of women's undergarments
in nineteenth-century America
is not to be waved off,
and I proceeded like a polar explorer
through clips, clasps, and moorings,
catches, straps, and whalebone stays,
sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.
Later, I wrote in a notebook
it was like riding a swan into the night,
but, of course, I cannot tell you everything -
the way she closed her eyes to the orchard,
how her hair tumbled free of its pins,
how there were sudden dashes
whenever we spoke.
What I can tell you is
it was terribly quiet in Amherst
that Sabbath afternoon,
nothing but a carriage passing the house,
a fly buzzing in a windowpane.
So I could plainly hear her inhale
when I undid the very top
hook-and-eye fastener of her corset
and I could hear her sigh when finally it was unloosed,
the way some readers sigh when they realize
that Hope has feathers,
that reason is a plank,
that life is a loaded gun
that looks right at you with a yellow eye.
In this poem every line is from one of Emily Dickinson's Poems. How much more can a poet such as Emily Dickinson influence a poet to write with such greatness, if it doesn't included her greatness?