The works of Emily Dickinson portray some of the most influential and unique poetic techniques that influence modern poetry. The use of unusual poetic techniques conveyed in her works makes her alien to other poets of that time. Though living a life of seclusion and simplicity, she wrote with great passion.
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By questioning life and the nature of death, her poetry provides rich imagery and detail that enables the reader to understand the depth of how her personal life impacted her writing. The internal conflict of contemplating religion brought a series of emotions that caused her mental state to decline. The impact of religious pressures Emily Dickinson endured brought her emotional instability, influencing the inconsistent tone portrayed in her poetry.
Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, Dickinson grew up in a highly-regarded family. Her father – a successful lawyer, member of Congress and the treasurer at Amherst College – served as a prominent figure in the community. As a child Dickinson lost herself in domestic duties: baking, gardening, learning to play the piano and participating in church activities (Emily Dickinson). Growing up she dealt with high religious and educational standards; her father stressed the importance of knowledge and education, and this focus gave her the opportunity to improve her writing. An eager and attentive student she sought out higher education and attended Amherst Academy (1840-47). The education she achieved at Amherst appeared exceptional for women of that time. Because of this extraordinary level of education, her poetry reflects the high-level skills she obtained during those years. Growing up in a Calvinist household also shaped her character and influenced her poetry. Calvinism focuses on the complete sovereignty of God and teaches the idea of predestination, meaning that God has already chosen who will receive salvation.
Observance includes attendance at church worship services each Sunday. Religious revivals that took place during her teen years addressed her Calvinist society’s concern of life after death. Deaths of many friends and relatives prompted questions about her beliefs and resulted in the witnessing of many burials, which later served as powerful imagery in her works. The subtle religious pressure at home and school caused her to feel excluded. She agonized over her relationship with God and decided not to join the church because she wanted to stay true to herself. In the end she stopped attending religious services altogether. Despite her non-religious persona, many of her poems address the issues of faith and doubt, life and death, and suffering and salvation. Her non-participation in public religious affairs increased her social anxieties and depression (Emily Dickinson).
The religious aspects that encompass Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church depicts the stereotypical Christian normalities. This poem reflects the poet’s perspective of worshipping on her own accord in the comforts of her own home. By revolving the words around the perspective of the Sabbath, this displays her opposition to the idea of organized religion. On a typical Sabbath, one of Christian faith would attend church and listen to a sermon with their family. In contrast, Dickinson would feel that sitting in her own home, having her own place of worship and being one with nature would be sufficient to her religious needs. This literary work displays a comparative tone as she compares her religious practices with others of that time. Dickinson practiced her own religion by staying at Home which contradicted the Calvinist followers who keep the Sabbath going to Church. These words and phrases are not hard to understand, but the important detail is the syntax.
Capitalizing Church is not unexpected, but also capitalizing Home suggests that her home is her church. As Dickinson often does, she uses examples of nature to emphasize nature’s importance: Bobolink as her Chorister and an orchard as a Church display her affection for nature. The use of synecdoche is incorporated when she refers to the church as a Dome. Replacing the physical or traditional structure of the church with something she finds soothing or calming exhibits her perspective on organized religion. In closing with So instead of getting to Heaven, at last, I’m going, all along illustrates her opinion that her attendance at church every sabbath does not prove her faith and that she knows she has already obtained salvation (Some Keep The Sabbath Going To Church Analysis by Emily Dickinson). As a whole this work encompasses her beliefs and how they contrast with the ways of her childhood. Her isolated habits and practices of religion contribute to her lack of emotional stability which brings her battle with mental illness to light.
By observing Dickinson’s life, one can come to the conclusion that her mental state was anything but healthy. Mostly spending her time on the grounds of her father’s home secluded from the world gave her writing a yearning and at times a suffering tone. She avoided confrontation and social interaction which came across as an abnormality to her peers(Sophie F). If company was permitted, they would converse through a partially opened door: She sustained most of her friendships on paper, finding joy in the writing and receiving of letters(Longsworth (four)). Her degrading mental state made simple tasks difficult: social excursions, church services, and seeing physicians(Longsworth). Living a life of seclusion left Dickinson to question her mental state which resulted in the themes of death, suffering and faltering beliefs in her writing.
Written during her time of emotional instability, I Felt a Funeral in My Brain uses striking imagery and perspective to convey the author’s purpose. The first stanza alludes to a funeral to compare to the madness and turmoil state of the speaker. The funeral represents a loss of something mentally and emotionally that results in insanity. Later descriptions imply that she refers to her own funeral, And then I heard them lift a Box/And creak across my Soul. In one instance it represents her division with herself, but it also implies the soul separating from the body after death. As her state of mind deteriorates, the lack of coherence in the last two stanzas of sentence structure becomes visible. At this point it appears as if the only sensory aspect she has is hearing: As of all the Heavens were a Bell. This indicates that all the chaos and turmoil in her mind resonates like a gong of a bell(M.K. Rukhaya). The depiction of her fate in the last stanza states, And then a Plank of Reason, broke conveys how the only logic or reason keeping her afloat disappears. Living in seclusion and solitude, Dickinson becomes lost in her own mind. The use of a funeral reiterates her obsession with death which causes her to contemplate her beliefs. The overarching theme of death extends its influence on the speaker, which results in mental incapacity and doubt.
The works of Emily Dickinson became well known after her death in 1886. Published by her sister, her letters and poetry became widely accepted around the globe (The Emily Dickinson Museum). Although she lived in isolation, her works directly related to specific aspects of her society. Dickinson’s perspective on religion, death and nature create contrasting ideas and themes that enable the reader to view how her personal life impacted her writing. Giving the reader the opportunity to see her internal conflict with death and salvation allows for a deeper grasp and understanding of the author’s purpose. Dickinson’s unique and eloquent style through the use of striking imagery influences the evolution and development of modern poetry.
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