Emily Dickinson, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Establishing the Perspective

Dickinson was a truly remarkable poet. Her poetry was brilliant in its originality, and her creative vision inspired her to explore topics such as nature, God, the human condition, and death. The complexity with which she did so was truly marvelous, peerless. In her engagements with nature, Dickinson rejected many of the poetic conventions of her own time, seeking to develop a deep exploration of the different faces she saw in nature. At times Dickinson’s nature poetry is exuberant, bright, cheerful, “brimfull” with the joy of life. At other times, Dickinson uses nature to meditate on how we appreciate things by their absence, and shows nature as indifferent to us. At still other times, Dickinson sees the hand of God in nature.

God is another great theme in Dickinson’s work. A devout Congregationalist herself, Dickinson was inclined, both by education and by her own disposition, to see the hand of God in nature. However, what she found there did not always accord with the benevolent view of God the creator and sustainer she had learned in her upbringing. Determined to resolve herself to brutal honesty, Dickinson did not flinch away from the evidence of cruelty and violence she found in nature. And since nature was the creation of God, Dickinson in time determined that this had to mean that God was himself quite cruel, ruthless, and petty. Her vision of God as a capricious tyrant who created humans as a kind of experiment certainly clashed with what she had been taught growing up, but it also showed a tremendous amount of spiritual striving on her part. It was not easy for Dickinson to hold such views of God, but she did so because that was where all evidence and experience seemed to lead her.

Dickinson’s engagement with nature and with God, and with essentially everything else, was touched by her engagement with Death. Death assumes a persona in some of Dickinson’s poetry, and this is not surprising, given that she lost a childhood friend, and later a beloved mentor. Still later, she lost not only her parents, but many other friends and family members. This led her to explore Death, whom she found to be mysterious but not frightening: rather, Death, in his guise as the mysterious and powerful entity that must come for us all, was a source of profound fascination for Dickinson. Morbid though this fascination may seem, it was arguably quite healthy in some ways: after all, it enabled Dickinson to confront the specter of death with a great deal more equanimity.

Dickinson’s poetry is stunningly original and beautiful. Although she lived much of her life in solitude, in another sense she was never really alone. Her poetry is alive with her own mystical spirituality, a devotion to the transcendent that shapes her work. Dickinson may have lived in solitude, but she had her brilliant mind, and with it she had her meditations on mystical love, on nature, on death, and on her God, for all that he sometimes vexed her. The results include some of the most marvelous poems in all literature.


Dickinson’s engagements with nature were manifold. For her, nature was sometimes the scene of tremendous exuberance and creative power. Thus: “The Pedigree of Honey / Does not concern the Bee— / A Clover, any time, to him, / Is Aristocracy—”[1] In poems like these, Dickinson finds a kind of euphoric transcendence in nature: nature transports her from the confines of the mundane social world to a higher life. Thus, one important aspect of Nature in Dickinson is as a kind of higher reality, something so much bolder and grander than the humdrum social world that its resplendent magnificence cries out to Dickinson in exultation. It was this that underpinned so much of the solitude that Dickinson chose for herself: she chose a certain amount of withdrawal from society in order to explore the bounty of nature. To use her own word, the experience was “brimfull.”[2]

An excellent example of the transcendence Dickinson found in nature can be seen in her poem “There is another sky”, addressed to her brother Austin. The poem itself is a playful, tongue-in-cheek but also partly serious effort to get her brother to leave his studies in Boston and return to Amherst. Dickinson describes a landscape that seems, at first, to be positively celestial: “There is another sky, / Ever serene and fair, / And there is another sunshine, / Though it be darkness there;” With this language, Dickinson intentionally and playfully primes the reader to expect pious verse extolling the comforts of Heaven. However, this expectation is subverted brilliantly: “In its unfading flowers / I hear the bright bee hum; / Prithee, my brother, / Into my garden come!”[3]

Dickinson’s cleverness in the poem above is subversion, but it is subversion that underscores her delight in nature. By invoking Heaven, Dickinson invites her brother to see her garden as she sees it: as a transcendent landscape, simultaneously sacred and familiar. Thus, there is a kind of intimacy with the sacred and transcendent in Dickinson. Although poems like this one can be placed in a tradition going back to Watts and Broadstreet, Dickinson’s brilliant reconfigurations of transcendent, sacred landscapes are an innovation of her own. The transcendent, Dickinson tells us, is here, and it can be experienced all around us, in something as familiar as one’s own garden.[4]

This exploration of the transcendent in the familiar also led Dickinson to explore nature’s darker side. So keen an observer as Dickinson could not have failed to notice the ambiguity and strife that characterizes so much of nature, and far from shying from it, Dickinson sought to confront it as a way of finding God. Indeed, conflict colored much of Dickinson’s understanding of the relationship between God, man, and nature: strife for dominion is a major theme in her work. Dickinson’s own faith motivated her to look to nature as a testament of the works and will of God, but what she found there was a setting with plenty of violence and conflict. As Wolff explains, Dickinson’s views of nature were complex, for she envisioned a number of different ways in which God, nature, and humanity could interact. Nature, for Dickinson, was sometimes a benevolent force—but in this aspect, nature was thrust into opposition with God, a contest with a foreordained conclusion from Dickinson’s perspective.[5]

The influence of Wordsworth is certainly discernible in Dickinson’s poetry; indeed, she could scarcely have escaped the influential poet, the ‘high priest’ of nature poetry who dared to envision Nature as an entity separate from God, and endowed with a life and a persona of its own.[6] Thus, Dickinson does sometimes depict Nature as an entity of itself, a persona with a will: “Nature—the Gentlest Mother is,/ Impatient of no Child—/ The feeblest—or the waywardest—/ Her Admonition mild—”[7] However, her exploration of this entity is very different from Wordsworth’s: as Wolff explains, Dickinson goes so far as to personify nature and attribute to it a search for meaning, for the design of its Creator, like that urged by the ‘natural theologians’ of her own day. It was all very well for Paley, who after all, had his watch and his watchmaker, but to what should Nature look to see the hand of God? Thus, this particularly memorable stanza: “And so there was a Deluge—/ And swept the World away—/ But Ararat’s a Legend—now—/ And no one credits Noah—” In this passage, Dickinson manages to both express her own vision of God’s implacable and sometimes terrific power unleashed upon nature and upon humanity, and also to touch on the growing influence of scientific materialism, the very thing that had inspired figures like Paley and Hitchcock to argue for a Creator from apparent design in nature.[8] In still other cases, Dickinson saw the hand of God in nature, with God using nature to accomplish his purposes.[9]

But while nature could be thoughtful, nature could also be neutral and impassive: “As Nature did not care— / And piled her Blossoms on— / And further to parade a Joy / Her Victim stared upon—”[10] Thus, Dickinson also saw nature as presenting a neutral aspect, one indifferent to God and to humanity. In a particularly memorable turn of phrase, Tandon and Trevedi wrote that to Dickinson, “Nature is a haunted-house.”[11] Nature, for Dickinson, is both place and presence: it is transcendent and majestic, and part of this is the terrible majesty of a force that is simply indifferent to the pain and suffering of living creatures. In a particularly haunting passage, Dickinson writes: “But nature is a stranger yet; / The ones that cite her most / Have never passed her haunted house, / Nor simplified her ghost.”[12]

A key point, however, is that for Dickinson, the indifference, violence, suffering and death she found in nature did not detract from its beauty. Nature, Dickinson realized, was beautiful and haunted by the specter of death. Rather than use nature in order to direct all her focus toward a paradise without death, Dickinson was able to engage with nature as she found it. Thus, her vision of nature was at once Romantic for its invocations of paradise on earth, and at the same time decidedly not Romantic: her own faith pointed her to a God who reigned sovereign over nature and impressed himself upon it, and to a nature that was far more ambiguous and indifferent than many English Romantics seemed to want to believe.[13]

Dickinson’s highly original, insightful, and multi-faceted engagement with nature offers both similarities and contrasts with Rousseau’s treatment. Rousseau, the quintessential and/or prototypical Romantic, envisioned nature as the embodiment of good. He held that humans had erred in developing civilization, and so alienating themselves from nature. Thus, for Rousseau, nature was a moral ideal as well as a state of existence, and human beings needed to rectify themselves by ending their alienation from nature. Like Dickinson, Rousseau had a profound feeling for nature: thus, both were great lovers of nature, appreciating its beauties and its exuberance.[14] And, too, both saw morally significant things in nature. However, where Dickinson saw the hand of God, even in the ambiguities and cruelties of nature, Rousseau saw a pure and uncorrupted state of nature. Thus, both Dickinson and Rousseau saw transcendence in nature, but the conclusions that it led them to were markedly different indeed.

Human Nature

“I thought that nature was enough / Till Human nature came / But that the other did absorb / As Parallax a Flame.”[15] These are some of the most memorably arresting lines Dickinson penned on the subject of human nature. In the next stanza, she engages with the divine as well: “Of Human nature just aware / There added the Divine / Brief struggle for capacity / The power to contain.”[16] But what is Dickinson’s point? The use of ‘Parallax’ provides a clue, as does the probable year in which Dickinson composed the poem: 1873. In that year, many astronomers were eagerly anticipating the Transit of Venus that would occur the next year. This was significant because it would allow them to determine the solar parallax. Dickinson drew on the media buzz on this topic to craft a poem exploring the relationship between nature, humanity, and God. Nature is complex, Dickinson tells us; yes, nature is complex, but human beings are even more so. And God, creator of all of nature and humanity, is more complex and awe-inspiring still. It was from this perspective that Dickinson explored human nature in her poetry, with truly profound results.[17]

As one of the major conditions to which human beings are heir, love was a theme to which Dickinson turned readily, and to which she brought to bear her own unique take. “LOVE is anterior to life, / Posterior to death, / Initial of creation, and / The exponent of breath”, Dickinson memorably declared.[18] Here Dickinson highlights the centrality of love, alluding to both the human and divine components: love, Dickinson seems to be saying, can be seen in God’s creative act, and in the ways that humans, made in the image of God according to the Bible, love each other. Of course, Dickinson’s engagement with love has provoked a great deal of scholarly ink, since although she wrote a considerable number of poems on the subject of love, over a hundred in fact, in later life she desisted from writing on the subject at all. Dickinson’s own life has occasioned much comment in this regard, since she was rumored to have had two different love affairs: one in her youth with Benjamin Newton, a suitor who was discouraged by Emily’s father, and later with Reverend Charles Wadsworth. However, neither of these relationships were likely to have developed to the point of affairs: it appears that Newton’s premature death kept Emily from developing anything more than a friendship with him, and Wadsworth was hopelessly unattainable, given that he was married and had four children. She loved him, but apparently only from afar.[19]

Thus, Dickinson’s own experiences with love were indelibly marked by loss, and by yearning without her desires coming to fruition. This frustration in love seems to have encouraged Dickinson to channel those impulses into her own quite mystical spirituality. She did have a love affair with Wadsworth after all: one in her mind. Her frustrations occasioned a chance to further hone her already quite refined and complex character. It is this perspective that enables one to contextualize Dickinson’s writings on love: they are frequently mystical, because this was how Dickinson could experience love. She still craves intimacy, but this craving is satiated in the embrace of a divine, not mortal, lover. Thus: “Unable are the loved to die / For love is immortality / Nay it is deity.”[20]

This also proves the key to her imagery of marriage: “Given in marriage unto thee, / oh, thou celestial host! / Bride of the Father and the son / Bride of the Holy Ghost!”[21] One significant consequence of this is that for Dickinson, love is transcendent, eternal—an important tie-in with her nature poems. This transcendent, mystical experience of love is also shorn of all the frustrations and quarrels that oft bedevil lovers in the mortal plane. And what of her lover? In the aforementioned poem her lover appears as God, but elsewhere he appears as a “dim companion”: “Doubt me, my dim companion! / Why, God would be content / Had I , a humble maiden / Whose farthest of degree / Was that she might / Dwell timidly with thee!”[22] Again, Dickinson’s playful subversive instincts are at work: her divine lover is a ‘dim companion’; she herself is a ‘humble maiden’ who wishes only to ‘dwell timidly’. And yet, we are to believe this to be a form of mystical, spiritual love. What is Dickinson doing here?

The answer is not so difficult to parse: love, Dickinson seems to be saying, seems to be inviting the reader to realize, does this to us. Love permeates us, penetrates our being, until we are so taken with the figure of our desire that they are all we desire. With her usual incredible perceptiveness, Dickinson pulls back the artifices and pretensions that surround so much of human carryings-on where love is concerned—all within the context of a mystical poem about a supernatural lover. This is what is truly noble in love, transcendent about it: our ability to so desire another being. Dickinson demonstrates this transcendent quality of love by using terms that emphasize familiarity, simplicity, humility, and even self-effacement.

But perhaps the most consistently overlooked gem in Dickinson’s love poetry is “’Twas Love—not me.” The poem is difficult to discuss without reproducing in full:

‘Twas Love—not me—

Oh punish—pray—

The Real One died for Thee—

Just Him—not me—

Such Guilt—to love Thee—most!

Doom it beyond the Rest—

Forgive it—last—

‘Twas base as Jesus’—most!

Let Justice not mistake—

We Two—looked so alike—

Which was the Guilty Sake—

‘Twas love’s—Now strike![23]

Here Dickinson is clearly describing the crucifixion of Christ, with the poem being addressed to God the Father. But who is speaking? There is a case that the speaker is Dickinson herself, and she is railing at God while using Christ, clearly portrayed as the rival of the speaker, as a proxy for Austin, her brother. However, there is arguably a much better and more direct reading: the speaker is none other than the infamous Judas Iscariot, archetypal prototype of the traitor. As re-envisioned by Dickinson, Iscariot is no traitor at all, however, but rather a devoted lover of God in his own right.[24]

In fact, so much does Iscariot love God, his betrayal of Christ was motivated by resentment born of belief that he, Judas, actually loved God more than Jesus did! Too late, Judas has seen the error of his ways: with horror he confronts the results of his actions, realizes that his love for God was, after all, rather base compared to that of Christ, and, his story told, begs God to punish him. It is yet another brilliant example of just how subversively original Dickinson can be. Yes, Judas still did evil, but in her re-telling he appears as someone who is not altogether unsympathetic. There is even a parallel with Cain and Abel, inasmuch as Cain killed Abel out of jealousy, since Abel’s sacrifice pleased God and Cain’s did not.[25] However, Dickinson subverts this trope, too: Cain tried to deny his crime, and complained that his punishment was too severe. While Judas does aver that it was love, not him, and even seems to portray ‘love’ as a kind of doppelganger (“We Two—looked so alike—”), it is still a confession, and he appears entirely willing, now that he has stated his side of things, to face the executioner.

Death was another important aspect of human nature Dickinson dealt with extensively. As with life, as with nature, as with God, death fascinated Dickinson: for her, as for so many, it was the great unknown, but unlike so many down the ages, Dickinson found it fascinating, not frightful.[26] As with nature, Dickinson was willing to personify death in order to explore it as if it were an entity, even a person, in its own right:

Dust is the only secret

Death, the only one

You cannot find out all about

In his ‘native’ town

Nobody knew his father—

Never was a Boy—

Hadn’t any playmates—

or Early History[27]

Death, Dickinson is telling us, is indeed a mystery. As is so often her way, Dickinson experiments with mystery and transcendence on the one hand, and familiarity on the other, in a single poem. She speaks of death as if ‘he’ had a father, or a home town, while at the same time acknowledging that of course he didn’t—and this is much the point. Death is a mysterious visitor that will come for us all. If he had a hometown, you would be unable to find out anything about him there. He has no childhood—being Death, he cannot. Emily’s acquaintance with death started early: at the age of thirteen, she lost a friend, fifteen-year-old Sophia Holland, to a sickness. It was a devastating experience for Dickinson, one that seems to have left a very deep impression on her.[28]

In addition to her parents, Dickinson lost many friends and relatives. Still, one of the most significant deaths she experienced was that of the aforementioned Ben Newton. Newton was apprenticed to her father, and he made a deep impression on young Emily: a spirited free-thinker, he taught her a great deal, and she looked up to him. It is entirely likely that had he survived, they would have become romantically involved. As it was, his death, in the prime of life, served to make her all the more aware of death. Death is mysterious, and death is powerful: for Dickinson, death serves to lay low even time, since the dead are just as dead whether they have died yesterday or a century ago. Both have died, and ‘when’ is no longer a question to concern them. Nor does death draw any distinction of rank or achievement: everyone, from prince to pauper, must die.[29]

In her investigations of the human condition, Dickinson sometimes contravened the very doctrines of her faith. With grotesque imagery she conjured the triumph of death itself, even at the expense of Christ, creating a tableau to explore intense existential dilemmas. “It was not death, for I stood up, / And all the dead lie down; / It was not night, for all the bells / Put out their tongues, for noon.”[30] The poem, Wolff explains, draws on biblical imagery of Christ putting death beneath his feet—but here, it is death that seems to put Christ beneath its feet. This is the meaning of Dickinson’s first line in the third stanza: “And yet it tasted like them all.” In Matthew’s gospel, Christ spoke of some of his followers not tasting death until his return, and of course the sign of this was the taking of the Eucharist. Dickinson draws upon this imagery and—as she so often does with imagery—subverts it in bold new ways. In this context, Dickinson is painting a picture of abject despair and depression, and her pain is palpable.[31]

In light of her views on nature as often indifferent to suffering, perhaps it is small wonder that in time, Dickinson came to and explored in depth a view of God as a rather callous experimenter, a tinkerer who created and destroyed as suited his fancy. Dickinson was, by the standards of her time, quite well-educated, and she came of age in a world where learned opinion was fast rejecting the traditional conception, hallowed since Medieval times, and even before by Aristotle, of the Great Chain of Being. In Dickinson’s vision, God was an empiricist, an experimenter whose vast laboratory includes the whole of creation. Humans are but his most recent experiment, and whether or not he will tire of us in the end is very much an open question. Turning to the Bible, Dickinson boldly reinterpreted it, her search for brutal honesty leading her to some very stark conclusions indeed: Jacob’s famous wrestling match with God “revealed a cowardly God Who retreated from us forever rather than risk combat again”, while God’s test of Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice Isaac, even though God canceled the command at the last moment, “showed the Divinity baring Its fangs like a Mastiff, bloodthirsty and unpredictable.”[32]

Two stanzas from “But titled Him—to see—” make the point:

It always felt to me—a wrong

To that Old Moses—done—

To let him see—the Canaan—

Without the entering—

And tho’ in soberer moments—

No Moses there can be

I’m satisfied—the Romance

In point of injury—[33]

These stanzas reveal both criticism of the ways of the Deity in handling his people, and skepticism about the putative events in question. Her religious upbringing had taught her to view the actions of God as holy and just. Following long-established Christian tradition, Dickinson had learned that prior to the coming of Christ, God had dispensed justice in a very direct style. However, as the poem makes clear, Dickinson could see no justice in forbidding Moses from entering the Promised Land (for an old transgression). This, to Dickinson, says a great deal about God: it says that God is possessed of a singularly disreputable character, petty and even sadistic. God is a bully, a tyrant who needs to feel affirmed. It was this very insecurity that drove him to create humanity, so that he might have beings over whom he could exercise his sovereignty by brazenly and crudely displaying his immense powers.[34]

This, then, is the human condition as Dickinson sees it: the creations of a capricious, spiteful and petty God, humans inhabit a world that is often uncaring and indifferent to their suffering. And yet, we are capable of love, love that is truly sublime. Dickinson’s views are, to be sure, quite different from the Romantic convictions of Rousseau. Rousseau held that there was a ‘state of nature’ wherein human beings were free, innocent, and—crucially—possessed of free will. The key idea, for Rousseau, was amour-propre, a kind of ‘self-love’ that encompassed yearning, ambition, and the desire to strive for attainment. In essence, amour-propre could be appropriately channeled, but improperly governed amour-propre had begotten all manner of strife and envy, ending the state of nature and setting the stage for inequality. By contrast, amour de soi was more properly self-love, without the trimmings of vanity: this encompassed the willingness to defend oneself, but not to impose dominion on others.[35] Thus, Rousseau’s views of love were quite different from Dickinson’s views: their starting points were very different, and so were their goals. Still, they both had conceptions of something at least approaching transcendence in the human condition, and both were well able to diagnose many of the ills of vanity and self-importance to which many human beings are prone.


Given that Dickinson spent so much of her life in solitude, it is well worth the while to ask about her disposition with regards to society. One perspective on Dickinson is that she withdrew from society in no small measure because the society of her day and age was so patriarchal and rigidly conventional. In fact, there is probably a great deal to this perspective. As Wolff explains, New England society, both before and during the 19th century, took a significant psychic toll even on men, and this may account for the eccentricities of so many of its geniuses. Dickinson, a woman who was by any measure a genius, was confronted with even starker choices: “The terms she had been handed by society—Calvinist Protestantism, Romanticism, the nineteenth-century corseting of women’s bodies, choices, and sexuality—could spell insanity to a woman genius.”[36]

Dickinson was not without her own commitment to society, specifically to the society of the home and of her own family. Her letters from the 1850s, during a period when the Cult of Domesticity was very much in full flower, show two important things with respect to her engagement with home and the family: firstly, the importance of her brother Austin to her, as a source of emotional support, and secondly, the importance of home as a refuge for her. Specifically, she found home a safe place because it shielded her from social changes, which she found to be disruptive and therefore distressing. This is actually quite easy to contextualize in light of Dickinson’s personality overall: given her reclusiveness and her desire to limit her engagement with society overall, it makes sense aplenty that she would find home a source of refuge. And although she was reclusive, this did not mean she was committed to total isolation—far from it, for those attachments she did have were emotionally deep and fulfilling. Dickinson, in other words, valued the quality of her relationships over their quantity, and this explains and contextualizes her relationship to her home and her family.[37]

Another interesting aspect of this is the degree to which Dickinson’s choices were, in their own way, socially sanctioned. True, it was not typical for a woman in her day and age to not marry and start a family; however, her interests in poetry and in flowers were acceptable to society because they were deemed to be respectable. Indeed, Dickinson benefited from her participation in a culture of leisure among middle- to upper-class American women in the period. For the first time in American history, a significant number of women had a significant amount of free time, and were able to cast about in search of something to do. Thus, as Mitchell explains, “Dickinson’s choice bespeaks a partial acceptance of those [common, social] values—and not, as many critics have suggested, a rejection.”[38]

As was the case with so much of what Dickinson did, however, she put her own characteristic stamp on her role. For one thing, she was a great deal more reclusive than most people in any age: as seen, her limited engagement with society, her solitude, provided her with the environment she needed in order to develop her creative impulses. For another thing, Dickinson’s flower poetry also served as commentary on the human condition: flowers are beautiful, Dickinson recognizes, but she also reminds us that flowers are transient, ephemeral. They wither and die within a very short period of time—like human beings, a fact of which Dickinson was only too well aware.[39]

In “Death and Life”, a hapless flower serves as a metaphor for the human condition:

Apparently with no surprise

To any happy flower,

The frost beheads it at its play

In accidental power.

The blond assassin passes on,

The sun proceeds unmoved

To measure off another day

For an approving God.[40]


But flowers also spoke to other human qualities for Dickinson. Sometimes they stood as symbols of courage, bravery, and fortitude, parables for strengthening of character through adversity. On other occasions, flowers stood for other human experiences: “intense sexual longing, anger, and the vulnerability of the individual to external forces and pressures.”[41]

It has become relatively a commonplace to observe that Dickinson uses both presence and absence to signify identity. Even—or especially—through her obsession with death, Dickinson was able to express new depths of identity. For Dickinson, apparently, the quest for identity involved a fair amount of ‘negative identity’: figuring out what she was not as well as what she was. Withdrawing from a rigid, highly regimented society that relegated her to second-class status doubtless seemed much the most sensible thing to do. Given her aspirations for self-reliance, and the creative depths she plumbed in her poetry, her isolation from so much of society begins to make much more sense indeed. Crucially, by withdrawing from society, Dickinson could embark on her own voyage of self-discovery, one that enriched her and brought her a great deal of meaning.[42]

Her poem “I’m nobody! Who are you?” perhaps expresses this best:

I’m nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?

Then there’s a pair of us—don’t tell!

They’ll banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!

How public, like a frog

To tell your name the livelong day

To an admiring bog![43]

Here Dickinson compares being somebody to being a frog, always croaking for the admiration of the denizens of a bog. It would be difficult indeed to imagine a more wryly cynical perspective on society. It may very well be that from Dickinson’s own perspective, she had given society a fair try, and had found it wanting. Hers was a self-imposed isolation, and she seems to have had ample reason: the isolation allowed her to explore her creative depths, fathoming her world as only she could. From this perspective, Dickinson didn’t really need society: she had what she needed within her, inside her own mind.[44]

Another poem gives further insight into Dickinson’s thought processes with regards to society:

The Soul selects her own Society—

Then—shuts the Door—

To her divine Majority—

Present no more—[45]

Here Dickinson explains a great deal of her vision: pick a few select people to whom you wish to be known, and then have done with. The thrust of this poem is ostensibly that of rejecting the greats of the world: the potentates, the well-to-do, the high society types. In Dickinson’s vision, the Soul rejects even an emperor who kneels before her, electing to receive the society of Christ alone. This is, again, a recapitulation of Dickinson’s views on love and human nature: through the mystical process of transcendence, one can know joys and pleasures far beyond what one might experience in this world. And yet, it is also possible to read more than a small element of metaphor in this: perhaps Dickinson, with her nuanced view of the Divine, was willing to use Christ as a symbol to no small degree, a symbol for the sublime. Whatever the case, it is clear that Dickinson’s vision of society as presented in this poem, and in so many others, is quite reserved, one might say even jaded: she has little use for the cares and demands of so many people in the world around her, preferring to withdraw into splendid solitude.[46]

In withdrawing from society, with all its cares and demands, Dickinson found a tremendous amount of strength and power. Her soul found the communion it needed in nature and with God, allowing her creative vision to soar. Perhaps the final word on this should come from Dickinson herself:

The Soul should always stand ajar

That if the Heaven inquire

He will not be obliged to wait

Or shy of troubling Her

Depart, before the Host have slid

The Bolt unto the Door—

To search for the accomplished Guest,

Her Visitor, no more—[47]


There is a certain irony in that to some degree, Dickinson’s views on society converge with those of Rousseau’s. Rousseau saw ‘civilized’ society as a calamitous state of affairs, oppressively hierarchical and tyrannical. The problem with civilization was that it was born of the deleterious kind of amour-propre, thus ‘civilized love’ was selfish love of one’s own gain. What humanity needed to do, in Rousseau’s view, was to reclaim the state of nature and natural love, which is beneficial and good. Though Dickinson and Rousseau held to very different visions in so many ways even here, the convergence is nonetheless an interesting and salient pattern.[48]

The Social Contract

It would be difficult indeed to give an accounting of Dickinson’s thought on the social contract distinct from her perspective on society. As demonstrated above, for Dickinson the society of the soul was to be preferred to the society of others: her explorations of nature, and her sometimes ambiguous relationship with the Deity, brought her tremendous inner enrichment and allowed her the means of self-expression and fulfillment. In fact, as Juhasz explains, throughout history, becoming a writer has meant a certain amount of renunciation if one is a woman. Becoming a writer is not a traditional role for women—indeed, it can scarcely be said to be a traditional role for men—and so becoming a writer, in societies before the Sexual Revolution, generally entailed renouncing some aspects of traditional roles in society. What this generally meant was that a successful writer who was a woman would live a rather unconventional social life, if indeed she had one at all.[49]

In Dickinson’s case, she well understood this—and crucially, she understood that the renunciation would have to be quite comprehensive indeed. She would have to “renounce her ‘womanly’ or ‘social self’”, and this is precisely what her poetry and her life document.[50] Of course, as documented already, for Dickinson this was no great loss, but rather a gain: she was able to gain a great deal by withdrawing from society. She determined her own engagement with society as minimal because, in her view, the social contract had very little to offer her. She could play by the rules of the social contract and (presumably) marry and have children; devoting her time to the domestic arts, she would have had relatively little time, energy, and solitude in which to develop her creative vision. Or she could do what she did, namely withdraw from society and pursue her art and her mystical quest for transcendence that inspired so much of it. For Dickinson the choice was, in so many ways, a very obvious one.[51]

Of course, Dickinson was not really ‘alone’: she had her engagement with God, and her explorations of nature. As seen in her poetry regarding the society of the soul, the soul had society of its own: Dickinson had her divine lover, Christ, or her ‘dim companion’. What need had she for aught else?[52] With her mystical love affair, Dickinson had what she needed by way of society: this was her mystical social contract, and it served her very well indeed. By this means, Dickinson arguably did find a kind of immortality: Nature, God, and even Death all stood as transcendent; what were the vain pretensions and presumptions of humanity next to these? Thus, Dickinson’s engagement with the social contract entailed breaking with it, and forging her own.

The vision enjoined by Rousseau was quite different, and yet oddly similar in a broad sense: Rousseau believed human beings needed to undo their alienation from nature, and create a utopian state of affairs without oppressive hierarchy. Rousseau’s project was one of political science and philosophy, and he intended it to be carried out by living human societies. Dickinson’s vision was personal, and social with respect to the transcendent entities she engaged with, but the overarching broader pattern is undeniable. For Rousseau, the social contract was something that could be rewritten in a Utopian manner; for Dickinson, the rewriting was a deeply personal and transcendent state of affairs.


Dickinson’s education was a kind of dual heritage. On the one hand, she imbibed the Congregationalist faith, with its Calvinist Protestantism, with repercussions that can be seen throughout her poetry. On the other hand, she was remarkably well educated by the standards of her time: as seen, she was acquainted with many of the more humanistic ideas in contemporary scholarship of the times. Of course, part of her education also entailed exposure to the ideas of ‘Natural Theology’ as espoused by the likes of Paley and Hitchcock. This education, coupled with her own considerable native intelligence and powers of perception, had quite an impact on how she perceived the world and interacted with it. Indeed, much of her own struggles to make sense of nature exhibit resonances with these same themes of faith and reason and the historically often painful task of reconciling the two. The fact that she determined to seek the brutally honest truth, far from representing an abnegation or denial of her faith, can be seen as arguably the ultimate expression of it: Dickinson was determined to use her education and her own gifts to perceive the world as she found it, not as she might wish that it were.[53]

As seen already, Dickinson had occasion to break with much of what she had once been taught. Where the Natural Theologians said “Look to the Bible, look to the immense laboratory of the world; the force and nature of God will be found equally in both places” Dickinson was only too happy to oblige.[54] However, she came to very different conclusions than did those to whose work she had been pointed: instead of evidence for the benevolence and providence of a caring Deity, Dickinson found evidence aplenty for a Deity who tended to be very cruel, petty, and insecure indeed. Nature was indeed a laboratory for God himself; Dickinson harbored no doubts on that score.

However, far from a benevolent laboratory, it was a cruel and callous zone of experimentation, where the Deity worked his will according to his fancy. Dickinson’s sentiments in this regard were in accord with new currents of thought in her own time: the long-standing conception of the Great Chain of Being was being overturned, and in its place scientific materialism was erecting an edifice that reflected a view of nature as much more ambivalent and purposeless. From this it seemed to follow, to Dickinson at any rate, that the only God who could preside over such a state of affairs would be a God who was himself a capricious, cruel, and patently tyrannical God. Dickinson rejected the benevolent design view of the world proposed by the Natural Theologians: she found it incompatible with everything she perceived, everything she knew to be true.[55]

Nature, then, was Dickinson’s great teacher. Her love of nature and her willingness to plumb even the tragedies of the human condition attest to a contemplative yet experiential approach to education. Well-educated and intelligent, Dickinson turned education into a lifelong pursuit, one that was also indistinguishable from her spirituality. This led her into opposition with Wordsworth, who, like the Natural Theologians, she found to be too optimistic in his view of nature. As Wolff explains: “She averred that an accurate map of the relationship between the immanent world and the transcendent realm would look more like Poe’s Gothic scenery than the epic models proposed by Dante and Milton.”[56] In fact, Dickinson went even further: Heaven, she held, would be rather more like Hell as described by Dante and Milton.[57]

If nature was one of the great books to which Dickinson turned in order to educate herself, the Bible was the other. As seen, the conclusions it led her to were often not very flattering towards its author: a God unwilling to risk further combat with Jacob could only be a coward, just as a God willing to ask Abraham to sacrifice his son could only be a tyrant, and a beast-like one at that. Returning to her poem about Moses, “But titled Him—to see—”, a couple of stanzas suffice to make the point:

The fault—was doubtless Israel’s—

Myself—had banned the Tribes—

And ushered Grand Old Moses

In Pentateuchal Robes

Upon the Broad Possession

But titled Him—to see—

Old Man on Nebo! Late as tins—

My justice bleeds—for Thee![58]

For Dickinson, this was proof of childish malice. Moses had served God long and faithfully, and yet for a minor transgression, long since passed, he was kept out of the Promised Land. Still, God permitted Moses a look into the Promised Land, just before Moses died, and it is this poignant, haunting image that Dickinson directs her focus towards: the old man on Mount Nebo, his aged eyes gazing out into the land his God had promised the people he had led for so many years, the land that he himself was only permitted to see briefly, and from afar. Dickinson drew a larger lesson from this: God often likes to teach us by taunting us with what we cannot have. The point is made in poem number 135:

Water, is taught by thirst

Land—by the Oceans passed

Transport—by throe—

Peace—by its battles told—

Love, by Memorial Mold—

Birds, by the Snow.[59]

Experience, then, is a major teacher for Dickinson, and out of all experiences, it is absence or deprivation that teaches her many crucial lessons, however hard the learning. Life—existence, all of it, consists of many cycles of pain, loss, and absence for Dickinson. It is this experience that teaches us to value the presence of things, teaches us that in fact, we should cherish the things and the people that we love, for we will not always have them and will often have to do without.[60] Doubtless Rousseau would have approved of Dickinson’s original approach to education: a comprehensive grounding in both secular and spiritual knowledge, but most importantly a commitment to the mystical and transcendent.

As Guthrie explains, Dickinson’s complex views and her own struggles with God can be seen through the lens of a kind of “compound vision”: an attempt by Dickinson to deal with the aftermath of a quite profound personal crisis. This compound vision entailed a very complex view of God: yes, she did indeed view him as cruel and capricious at times, but she also regarded him with a kind of wary respect. At times Dickinson was paranoid that God was watching her every movement.[61] Thus:

If God could make a visit—

Or ever took a Nap—

So not to see us—but they say

Himself—a Telescope

Perennial beholds us—

Myself would run away

From Him—and Holy Ghost—and All—

But there’s the ‘Judgment Day’!

Dickinson’s relationship with her God, bolstered by experience, was a strange one indeed. She found him at times to be not benevolent and loving, but rather tyrannical, and thus a kind of overlord to whom she was beholden. But Dickinson’s conceptions of God, her faith, served as a kind of teacher as well, and her struggles to reconcile her faith with her experiences and her knowledge were certainly invaluable, if for no other reason than the intellectual honesty and integrity she brought to bear on these struggles, and the creative output she produced as a result of all this.

Again, Dickinson’s fixation with Death comes to mind. The loss of her childhood friend Sophia Holland made a tremendous impression on her, as did the loss of her mentor, Benjamin Newton. Both were dear to her, and she enjoyed their respective company for a season of life. However, both died, and this left her to experience the long years ahead without their company. Given her obvious sensitivity and her artistic temperament, it is quite understandable how Dickinson would have found this a painful burden to bear indeed.

Of course, perhaps the single most remarkable aspect of Dickinson’s approach to education is that she did not shy away from harsh and unpleasant truths, yet still managed to find transcendence. The harshness of nature, of life, even of God did not turn her bitter, depriving her of her finely attuned ability to perceive things as they were, but then to go on and transcend them, finding deeper meaning. Perhaps this is the single greatest lesson that Dickinson’s approach to education has to teach a general audience: no matter the travails and struggles of life, we are best served by not trying to deny them or hide from them, while not allowing them to rob us of our sense of wonder.

American Character Identity

A reclusive soul, Dickinson was not much given to politics. Indeed, discussing Dickinson’s views on, or relation to, American character identity might at first glance seem absurd, given her disposition. However, it was this very disposition that inclined her to take a rather idiosyncratic and highly original position on what was easily the greatest political ferment of her own day: the Civil War.

With regard to politics in general and the Civil War in particular, Dickinson was reluctant to express political commitments. Indeed, the prevailing scholarly consensus is that Dickinson positioned herself “at a skeptical and oblique angle in relation to the war and its ideologies.”[62] True, and yet—as is so often the case with Dickinson—that is not the whole of the story. For one thing, Dickinson approached the subject of war with her characteristic sensitivity: her writings express profound concern for friends who served in the war, and grief for those who died. In some cases, Dickinson evokes the common soldier-lionizing motifs of the time, notably the concept of soldiers being Christian heroes, or those killed in battle meeting previously-departed mothers.[63]

In her famous letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Dickinson uses a voice that would have been quite common in the period: she plays the part of the prayerfully supportive woman on the home front. In essence, Dickinson displayed a reaction as conventional as it is understandable, in light of the period: the men went off to war, while the women kept things running on the home front, sent their men letters, and hopefully waited for the day when the war would be over. Her concern for her loved ones is scarcely surprising, but, being who she was, Dickinson was also inclined to a measure of skepticism about the ideologies that propelled the war and shaped the perceptions of so many.[64]

Dickinson’s “Along the Potomac” is a particularly haunting elegy, one that captures so much of her response to the Civil War:

When I was small, a woman died.

To-day her only boy

Went up from the Potomac,

His face all victory,

To look at her; how slowly

The seasons must have turned

Till bullets clipt an angle,

And he passed quickly round!

If pride shall be in Paradise

I never can decide;

Of their imperial conduct,

No person testified.

But proud in apparition,

That woman and her boy

Pass back and forth before my brain,

As ever in the sky.[65]

In this deeply powerful and moving poem, Dickinson takes the common motif of a soldier killed on the battlefield rising to paradise to meet with his proud, departed mother, and gives it her own particular treatment. The first stanza is a marvel: in four lines, Dickinson goes from the woman’s death, to her fresh-faced, eager son going off to war. Dickinson opens the stanza with a death, and then transitions to an eager young soldier. The second stanza captures the mother’s long wait in the afterlife for her son to join her. This has the remarkable effect of turning the young man’s early death on the battlefield, an undeniably tragic event, into a joyful event: the mother is going to be reunited with her son after (apparently) a significant span of years!

Stanzas three and four are intriguing. Dickinson somewhat coyly presents a seemingly open question, namely whether or not one can feel pride in Paradise. While she modestly disclaims inspired knowledge of conditions in the afterlife, the implication, confirmed in the fourth stanza, is that there is pride in this reunion: the woman is proud of her son. The last two lines are another reminder that this is a poem by Emily Dickinson: she cannot get the image out of her mind. In characteristic fashion, Dickinson is responding to death in her own way, by finding something mystically transcendent in it. This poem is not simply another elegy for the deceased: it is a profoundly spiritual meditation, even celebration, of the joy of being reunited with loved ones in Paradise. The fact that Dickinson reveals, in the last two lines, how she cannot get this image out of her mind personalizes the whole thing. Dickinson is not only painting this tableau: she is inviting us into a very deeply personal vision of the very touching reunion of the son and his mother.

On that note, perhaps the most American thing about Dickinson is the way in which her poetry invites all readers into her rich emotional life. Dickinson’s sentiments were in so many ways rarefied, yet she distilled them in an admirable manner, a manner that made them at least potentially accessible to anyone. As McWilliams explains: “The poetic world of Emily Dickinson may have been rigidly restricted to the world of her soul’s perceptions, but any reader was invited to share her emotions as if they were universal.”[66]

Other than this, what could be more American than Dickinson’s self-directed, highly individualistic quest for spiritual riches and self-fulfillment? Her search for answers and her refusal to simply accept time-honored conventions, whether social or ideological/religious, were quintessentially American. Indeed, one must wonder whether too many other societies of the age could have produced a figure such as Emily Dickinson: she was a woman in an age when, in most societies, that meant greatly reduced opportunities and prospects, yet she was able to devote herself to the very solitary and personal enterprise of her soul-searching and the marvelous poetry she produced.

Other than this, though, how terribly American can one say that Dickinson is? After all, her poetry is tremendously original, and it is difficult to simply relegate it to a broader cultural trend. In fact, Dickinson’s iconoclasm may be one of the most ‘American’ things about her: the very fact that she was so idiosyncratic does have a certain resonance with long-established values in America, and she lived, after all, at a time of rapid social mobility and expansion. Viewed from this perspective, perhaps Dickinson was far more ‘American’ in a cultural sense than one might at first glance think.

Dickinson unquestionably loved freedom, specifically the freedom to be herself on her own terms. This is certainly a crucial tie-in with American character. Whether exulting in nature or searching for answers in an often cruel and uncaring world, Dickinson clearly felt a great deal of intellectual freedom, though her relationship with her God was sometimes much more difficult. All in all, though, there is a great spirit of freedom in her work, and arguably in many ways this spirit is much greater and deeper than many popular American conceptions of freedom: Dickinson dares to ask.

Other than the above, however, there are many ways in which it is difficult if not impossible to fit Dickinson in to any sort of conception of the ‘American character’. She was not a social reformer, a politician, or a cultural icon in her own day. Her quest was deeply personal and spiritual, and in this sense she arguably belongs much more with Christian mystics and visionaries such as Saint Francis, Saint Teresa of Avila, and the like, not to mention Muslim Sufis, the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, and other seers, prophets, and visionaries of all kind. It is this that constitutes Dickinson’s tradition, and it is here that she belongs.

Outgoing Perspective

How best to sum up the life and work of Emily Dickinson? On the one hand, she was a peerless poet. That, it might seem, is all that really needs to be said. Her exploration of so many themes in nature, ranging from joy at the exuberance she saw in living things to sorrow, loss, and absence, is a treasure of the soul. Similarly, her wrestling with God, not unlike the Biblical Jacob, stands as a testament to both the power of faith and the power of the mind.

Dickinson lived in solitude, but as seen, she was not really alone. Her creative mind pushed her ever onwards and outwards, and left a remarkable legacy that endures. It is not easy to do so great a legacy justice: say then that Emily Dickinson perceived, and knew. She perceived the world around her in novel ways, constantly testing and probing the boundaries of the conventional, the verges of established thought, in order to discover the world, God, love, and death for herself. With her commitment to honesty, Dickinson was equipped to see the world as it was, to be able to know it, and to find a great deal of mysticism and transcendence in it. It is this unique vision that stands as her legacy.


Anderson, Douglas. “Presence and Place in Emily Dickinson’s Poetry.” In Emily Dickinson, edited by Harold Bloom, 21-38. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2008.

Barrett, Faith. “’Drums off the Phantom Battlements’: Dickinson’s War Poems in Discursive Context.” In A Companion to Emily Dickinson, edited by Martha N. Smith, Mary Loeffelholz, 107-132. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2008.

Cooper, Laurence. Rousseau, Nature, and the Problem of the Good Life. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University, 1999.

Dickinson, Emily. Series 1, n.d., http://www.online-literature.com/dickinson/poems-series-1/

Series 2, n.d., http://www.online-literature.com/dickinson/poems-series-2/

Series 3, n.d., http://www.online-literature.com/dickinson/poems-series-3/

Farr, Judith. The Passion of Emily Dickinson, 1992. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.

Frank, Bernhard. “Dickinson’s ‘Twas Love—not me—’” Explicator 65, no. 1 (2004): 25-26. DOI: 10.1080/00144940409597249

Grabher, Gudrun. “Dickinson’s Lyrical Self.” In The Emily Dickinson Handbook, edited by Gudrun Grabher, Roland Hagenbuchle, and Cristanne Miller, 224-239. Cambridge, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.

Guthrie, James Robert. Emily Dickinson’s Vision: Illness and Identity in Her Poetry. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1998.

Juhasz, Suzanne. “Renunciation transformed, the Dickinson heritage: Emily Dickinson and Margaret Atwood,” Women’s Studies 12, no. 3.1986): 251-270. http://search.ebscohost.com/

Keane, Patrick J. Emily Dickinson’s Approving God: Divine Design and the Problem of Suffering. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2008.

LaFreniere, Gilbert F. The Decline of Nature: Environmental History and the Western Worldview. Palo Alto, CA: Academica Press, LLC, 2008.

McWilliams, John P. Hawthorne, Melville, and the American Character: A Looking-glass Business. New York: University of Cambridge, 1984.

Mitchell, Domhnall. Emily Dickinson: Monarch of Perception. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2000.

Orwin, Clifford, and Nathan Tarcov, eds. The Legacy of Rousseau. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Philips, Elizabeth. Emily Dickinson: Personae and Performance, 1988.University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University, 1996.

Pollak, Vivian R. “American Women Poets Reading Dickinson: The Example of Helen Hunt Jackson.” In The Emily Dickinson Handbook, edited by Gudrun Grabher, Roland Hagenbuchle, and Cristanne Miller, 323-341. Cambridge, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.

Tandon, Neeru, and Anjana Trevedi. Thematic Patterns of Emily Dickinson’s Poetry. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers & Distributors, 2008.

Wolff, Cynthia G. Emily Dickinson. New York: Perseus Books, 1988

[1] Douglas Anderson, “Presence and Place in Emily Dickinson’s Poetry,” in Emily Dickinson, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Infobase Publishing, 2008), 22.

[2] Anderson, “Presence and Place in Emily Dickinson’s Poetry,” 22.

[3] Anderson, “Presence and Place in Emily Dickinson’s Poetry,” 22-23.

[4] Anderson, “Presence and Place in Emily Dickinson’s Poetry,” 23-24.

[5] Cynthia G. Wolff, Emily Dickinson (New York: Perseus Books, 1988), 282-286.

[6] Neeru Tandon and Anjana Trevedi, Thematic Patterns of Emily Dickinson’s Poetry (New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers & Distributors, 2008), 20-21.

[7] Qtd. in Wolff, Emily Dickinson, 283.

[8] Wolff, Emily Dickinson, 80-82.

[9]Wolff, Emily Dickinson, 286.

[10] Qtd. in Wolff, Emily Dickinson, 285.

[11] Tandon and Trevedi, Thematic Patterns of Emily Dickinson’s Poetry, 148.

[12] Qtd. in Tandon and Trevedi, Thematic Patterns of Emily Dickinson’s Poetry, 148.

[13] Patrick J. Keane, Emily Dickinson’s Approving God: Divine Design and the Problem of Suffering (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2008), 144-145. Wolff, Emily Dickinson, 283;

[14] Gilbert F. LaFreniere, The Decline of Nature: Environmental History and the Western Worldview (Palo Alto, CA: Academica Press, LLC, 2008), 185-187.

[15] #1286, qtd. in Elizabeth Philips, Emily Dickinson: Personae and Performance, 1988 (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University, 1996), 188.

[16] #1286, qtd. in Philips, Emily Dickinson, 188.

[17] James Robert Guthrie, Emily Dickinson’s Vision: Illness and Identity in Her Poetry (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1998), 43-44.

[18] Emily Dickinson, “Love,” Series 3, n.d., http://www.online-literature.com/dickinson/poems-series-3/

[19] Tandon and Trevedi, Thematic Patterns of Emily Dickinson’s Poetry, 54-55.

[20] Qtd. in Tandon and Trevedi, Thematic Patterns of Emily Dickinson’s Poetry, 149.

[21] Qtd. in Tandon and Trevedi, Thematic Patterns of Emily Dickinson’s Poetry, 149.

[22] Qtd. in Tandon and Trevedi, Thematic Patterns of Emily Dickinson’s Poetry, 149.

[23] Qtd. in Bernhard Frank, “Dickinson’s ‘Twas Love—not me—’” Explicator 65, no. 1 (2004): 25. DOI: 10.1080/00144940409597249

[24]Frank, “Dickinson’s ‘Twas Love—not me—’” 26.

[25] Frank, “Dickinson’s ‘Twas Love—not me—’” 26.

[26] Tandon and Trevedi, Thematic Patterns of Emily Dickinson’s Poetry, 77.

[27] Qtd. in Tandon and Trevedi, Thematic Patterns of Emily Dickinson’s Poetry, 77.

[28] Tandon and Trevedi, Thematic Patterns of Emily Dickinson’s Poetry, 77-78.

[29] Tandon and Trevedi, Thematic Patterns of Emily Dickinson’s Poetry, 78-80.

[30] Wolff, Emily Dickinson, 339-340.

[31] Wolff, Emily Dickinson, 340-341.

[32] Wolff, Emily Dickinson, 347-348.

[33] Wolff, Emily Dickinson, 348.

[34] Wolff, Emily Dickinson, 349.

[35] Laurence Cooper, Rousseau, Nature, and the Problem of the Good Life (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University, 1999), 120-123; 130-133; 151-155.

[36] Wolff, Emily Dickinson, 168.

[37] Domhnall Mitchell, Emily Dickinson: Monarch of Perception (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2000), 65.

[38] Mitchell, Emily Dickinson, 145-146.

[39] Mitchell, Emily Dickinson, 146-147.

[40] Dickinson, “Death and Life,” Series 1, n.d., http://www.online-literature.com/dickinson/poems-series-1/

[41] Mitchell, Emily Dickinson, 147.

[42] Gudrun Grabher, “Dickinson’s Lyrical Self,” in The Emily Dickinson Handbook, ed. Gudrun Grabher, Roland Hagenbuchle, and Cristanne Miller (Cambridge, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998), 230.

[43] Emily Dickinson, “I’m nobody! Who are you?”, Series 2, n.d., http://www.online-literature.com/dickinson/poems-series-2/

[44] Vivian R. Pollak, “American Women Poets Reading Dickinson: The Example of Helen Hunt Jackson,” in The Emily Dickinson Handbook, ed. Gudrun Grabher, Roland Hagenbuchle, and Cristanne Miller (Cambridge, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998), 335.

[45] Qtd. in Judith Farr, The Passion of Emily Dickinson, 1992 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 84.

[46] Farr, The Passion of Emily Dickinson, 84-85.

[47] #1055, qtd. in Farr, The Passion of Emily Dickinson, 86.

[48] Clifford Orwin and Nathan Tarcov, eds., The Legacy of Rousseau (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1997) 100.

[49] Suzanne Juhasz, “Renunciation transformed, the Dickinson heritage: Emily Dickinson and Margaret Atwood,” Women’s Studies 12, no. 3 (1986): 252. http://search.ebscohost.com/

[50] Juhasz, “Renunciation transformed, the Dickinson heritage,” 252.

[51] Juhasz, “Renunciation transformed, the Dickinson heritage,” 252.

[52] Juhasz, “Renunciation transformed, the Dickinson heritage,” 252.

[53] Wolff, Emily Dickinson, 82.

[54] Wolff, Emily Dickinson, 343.

[55] Wolff, Emily Dickinson, 345-346.

[56] Wolff, Emily Dickinson, 348.

[57] Ibid.

[58] “But titled Him—to see—” qtd. in Wolff, Emily Dickinson 348-349.

[59] Qtd. in Wolff, Emily Dickinson, 349.

[60] Wolff, Emily Dickinson, 350.

[61] James R. Guthrie, Emily Dickinson’s Vision: Illness and Identity in Her Poetry (Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 1998), 53.

[62] Faith Barrett, “’Drums off the Phantom Battlements’: Dickinson’s War Poems in Discursive Context,” in A Companion to Emily Dickinson, ed. Martha N. Smith, Mary Loeffelholz (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2008), 107.

[63] Barrett, “’Drums off the Phantom Battlements’,” 107.

[64] Barrett, “’Drums off the Phantom Battlements’,” 108.

[65] Dickinson, “Along the Potomac,” Series 1, n.d., http://www.online-literature.com/dickinson/poems-series-1/6/

[66] John P. McWilliams, Hawthorne, Melville, and the American Character: A Looking-glass Business (New York: University of Cambridge, 1984), 12.

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