Far from being old fashioned and irrelevant Emily Dickinson’s unique poetic language continues to have both an enduring appeal and universal relevance. Discuss.
The poetry of Emily Dickinson is nigh irresistible. She revels in the presentation of the unusual and unexpected. It is indeed her innovative poetic language that propels her poetry form the past and into today. Dickinson’s unconventional work has an eternal appeal. Dickinson casts off the restrictions of traditional punctuation. She makes use of concrete imagery and language to convey abstract ideas, ranging from joyous hope to devastating despair. There is no doubt that Dickinson is a poet of extremes. The Belle Of Amherst has an undeniable transcendental power.
A Dickinson work is immediately recognisable on the page because of its unusual and erratic punctuation – her distinctive style of using dashes and capitalised letters immediately attracts attention. This is evident in ‘I could bring you jewels – Had I a mind to’. The dash forces us to pause and think about what is being said, ‘suits me more than those’. The dash slows the poem down, it portrays an image of calm, void of panic. Highlighting her confidence that she has chosen the best gift – a flower, a symbol of nature, which is indeed a reoccurring theme throughout Dickinson’s poetry. A modern reader cannot fail to notice the predominance of the capital letter. Hence it is far from being archaic and unnecessary. The use of capitalisation is effectual in enabling the reader to gain an insight into the poem. ‘Flickering’. Emphasis is added to the meadow flower by the use of capitalisation, the visual of the ‘flickering flower’ is thus, further brought to life for the reader. Enabling us to appreciate the unsurpassable value of nature. This poem is a source of escapism from the chaotic world of the 21st century to a tranquil place of beauty. Hence, I am not surprised that this poem has and enduring appeal as well as being relatable to anyone who reads it.
Dickinson’s poetry varies from manic elation, as seen in ‘I could bring you jewels – Had I a mind to’, to deep despair. ‘The soul has bandaged moments’ most certainly captures her anguish. I was engaged into this poem instantly because of the personification of the ‘soul’ and the apparent pain it was enduring. The plural ‘moments’ highlights that this is a reoccurring feeling. The poem explores the highs and lows of mental anguish, an issue not alien to the majority. This poem is far from irrelevant and old fashioned as Dickinson addresses a modern day issue, an issue that a mere 20 years ago, wasn’t talked about. Thus, she brings it out of the oppressive days of the past, this is brought to life by the powerful verbs and strong nouns used. They enhance the bipolarity of the feelings explored. ‘bursting’, ‘carress’, ‘bomb’. They perfectly capture Dickinson’s sheer joy in an interlude of bliss and the pain experienced when her mind takes over once again. Similar to waiting for a ‘bomb’ to explode, Dickinson is trapped, waiting for her next onset of despair. Dickinson explores the vicious circle of life, a circle too many of us experience. This, combined with her powerful language results in poetry of a universal and everlasting quality.
One of Dickinson’s poems that can entertain a worldwide audience and withstand time is ‘I taste a liquor never brewed.’ The eclectic language used is far from outdated and extraneous. It is successful in capturing a celebration of nature. The use of assonance effectively portrays the calm ‘endless summer days’, as the repeated ‘e’ sound, soothes and comforts the reader. Illustrating images of intoxication, I enter my own pacific paradise. Dickinson discusses nature in an idiosyncratic style, rather than referring to objects of nature, she illustrates her adoration of nature by comparing it to being drunk. ‘inebriate of air am -I’. Dickinson’s use of figuraitve language, using the metaphor of being drunk to illustrate her love of nature, resonates with us all. Everyone has something we are intoxicated by, be it - drink, love or nature, thus it is a poem understood by all. Sibilance adds a lyrical quality to the poem, further enhancing the underlying sense of positivity, ‘seraphs swing their snowy hates’. The multi- dimensional nature of this poem, results in it being an intriguing gem for generations to come. The appreciation of nature is brought to life by the unique language employed, making this an incredibly universal poem.
One of the most enduring appeals of Dickinson’s poetry is her power to create more questions than answers – this is an interminable and universal quality. A quality that is prevalent in ‘ I heard a fly buzz – When I died’. Throughout this enigmatic poem, Dickinson focuses on the final moments of life and the first moments of death. The question of, what happens when we die is most certainly something we have all thought of. Dickinson gives voice to these thoughts through her powerful language. Thus this poem is abundant with modern day, relevant language. Her minimalistic approach to language enables us to draw meaning from her poetry. Every word has a purpose, ‘last onset’. A paradox is employed to articulate the confusion surrounding death. She effectively pairs sibilance and a simile to convey the silence as loved ones say goodbye, ‘like stillness in the air’. The poetic language used in this poem is magnetic, it draws the reader in and causes them to question.
Dickinson’s economy of expression is also seen in ‘I felt a funeral in my brain’. Dickinson, employs a metaphor of a funeral procession to paint a picture of mental illness and its trials and tribulations. Instantaneously, Dickinson gives this poem a timeless appeal. The repetitive ‘I”, makes this an intensely personal poem. It draws the readers in because we can feel and comprehend Dickinson’s torture. The active verbs give a sense of panic, they withhold a cinematic quality. The ‘treading – treading’ of mourners and ‘beeting – beeting of the dull, tolling bell’ evoke the bleak funeral atmosphere, while simultaneously contributing to the drama and intensity of the poem. Thus capturing the readers attention. The final word and use of the dash, ‘then-’, forces the reader to interpret and conclude for themselves. An incredibly powerful aspect to any poem. The language used in this poem is chilling and haunting, it is a far cry from primitive and pointless. The nervous energy that tears through this poem combined with the theme of mental illness, results in an enthralling read. Therefore the poem continues to maintain an enduring appeal and universal relevance.
It is impossible not to admire Dickinson’s ability to convert something abstract into something tangible. This is witnessed most beautifully in ‘ Hope is a thing with feathers’. Dickinson takes the powerful and sometimes destructive feeling of hope and portrays it through something comprehendible – a bird. It is interesting to note that Dickinson never acknowledges that this ‘thing with feathers’ is a bird – once again making the reader decide for themselves. Dickinson exploits capitalisation to covey the power of hope. By singling out the words: ‘Gale’, ‘Sea’ and ‘Extremity’, Dickinson is demonstrating the sheer fortitude of hope in times of hardship. Thus, making it tangible to a worldwide audience. Personally, she gave me faith in hope and reinforced the resilience and unceasing nature of hope. Hence, giving me confidence. The delicate word choice of ‘warm’ and ‘little’ is endearing and puts the reader at ease. The consolable powers of this poem, through the ingenious poetic language employed, make it a timeless piece of work with a universal relevance.
Dickinson’s poetry deals with states of the mind and soul. It is undeniably personal on one hand but is also relevant and relatable to a worldwide audience. The universal themes combined with the exceptional word choice and use of capitalisation make the reader stop and think. The iconoclastic use of language and punctuation gives rise to Dickinson’s poetry being far from old- fashioned and irrelevant. Instead it compels investigation, while simultaneously, having an enduring appeal and worldwide pertinence.
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