Reviewing The Great Poet Emily Dickinson English Literature Essay

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Emily Dickinson was the greatest poets produced by America. Since Dickinson's works were published after her death, her life became a mystery. In order to study her life, scholars attempted to interpret her life through reading her poems. There were nearly 2,000 of Dickinson's poems had been published. The first editor divided the poems into four themes: Life, Love, Nature, Time and Eternity. As a matter of fact, approximately one third of her poems were dealing with the theme: nature. Transcendentalism and woman's culture were the two influential motives that contributed Dickinson's interest in nature. Nature actually was the subject of Transcendentalism. Ralph Emerson could be regarded as the representative figure of American Transcendental movement. Dickinson, as a woman poet, reached in an atmosphere dominated by Emerson. She was affected by Ralph Emerson's Nature which shared the idea of man and nature. Exploring nature as portrayed in Emerson's Nature and in Dickinson's nature poems could be discovered to which Dickinson agreed or differed from Emerson's viewpoints. Transcendentalism encouraged man to isolate himself and got closer to nature. Emily Dickinson also tried to keep aloof from the society and hided behind the open door when visitors come in.

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Dickinson's life in Amherst, her relationship with her parents and her education and reading influenced her writing and thinking. Dickinson grew up in Amherst which was a small and quiet rural town in New England; she enjoyed her entire life in the simplicity of this area. New England meant more to Dickinson than merely a place to live. Her entire life and work seemed to exhibit the close association with the New England environment. "Wild flowers-kindle in the Woods-/The Brooks slam-all the Day-/No Black Bird bates his Banjo-"(Bianchi 103). The experience of coming close to nature was gained in her early years and was limited to the region around Amherst. Dickinson's intense interest in nature resulted from her intimate contact with it. Her botanical knowledge of flowers and plants, her love for insects and animals, and her personal conversance with the grandeur of the landscape were all recorded in her poems.

Dickinson's preoccupation with nature may be traced back to her parents' influence. Emily was born into a prominent family; her father, Edward Dickinson was a well-known lawyer and treasurer of Amherst College. He was conservative about the issue of women's education because according to the traditional belief, women were not supposed to pursue academic study. Although, Edward Dickinson held fear toward women's education, he set up a family library for his children, so they can read books for self education. Edward Dickinson also built a garden for Emily Dickinson. This garden offered her a private study place and also kept her in touch with nature. Moreover, Emily took the responsibility for housekeeping because of her mother's illness. Emily Dickinson's inspirations were not only from her observation of creatures when she saw them in motion outside the windows, but also from doing the household chores. Emily Dickinson preferred to stay at home. Her reclusive manner of living had the effect of isolating herself from society and bring her closer to nature. The environment that surrounded her enhanced her interest in searching for the meaning of nature.

Emily Dickinson's initial view of nature was inherited from the New England Puritan tradition. In Dickinson's childhood, she was educated to embrace the Puritan doctrines of seeing correspondence between the natural and spiritual world. "Edward Hitchcock, president of Amherst College, devoted his life to maintaining the unbroken connection between the natural world and its divine Creator." Nature was seen as a sacramental sign and symbol. Edward Hitchcock's lecture inspired Emily Dickinson. Her indebtedness to Hitchcock lies in his instruction and inspiration to explore the beauties and mysteries of nature. Beside Hitchcock's view of nature, Benjamin Newton guided Dickinson to explore the intellectual and spiritual world of Transcendentalism. "Mr. Newton became to me a gentle, yet grave Preceptor, teaching me what to read, what authors to admire, what was most grand or beautiful in nature, and that sublimer lesson, a faith in things unseen" (153). Newton took an important role in the shaping of her poetic thought. Newton not only exposed Dickinson's intellectual thoughts but also inspired her to be a devotee of nature. Another important person which influence upon Emily Dickinson was Ralph Emerson. Transcendentalism holds for Dickinson lies in the mystical harmonies of man and nature. Both Dickinson and Emerson reflect their obsession toward natural world. There are some contrasting viewpoints to be found in their works.

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In the book Nature, Emerson explains how every idea has its source in natural phenomenon and stresses that only through utilizing intuition can people see the idea in nature. Emily Dickinson and Emerson both reveal their appreciation of the beauty and harmony of nature's appearance, and both put their emphases on the power of imagination as a way to explore the mysterious bond between man, nature and God.

" 'Nature' is what we see-

The Hill-the Afternoon-

Squirrel-Eclipse-the Bumble bee-

Nay-Nature is Heaven-

Nature is what we hear-

The Bobolink-the Sea-

Thunder-the Cricket-

Nay-Nature is Harmony-

Nature is what we know-

Yet have no art to say-

So impotent Our Wisdom is

To her Simplicity. "

As an observer of the natural landscape, the various and intricate features of natural world attract the poet's attention by means of sight and sound. Dickinson likes to portray the natural beauty around her by a keen perception of the creatures or natural phenomenon. Dickinson's natural world is similar to which Emerson states in Nature, "A leaf, a drop, a crystal, a moment of time is related to the whole, and partakes of the perfection of the whole. Each particle is a microcosm, and faithfully renders the likeness of the world." Dickinson seems to echo Emerson's assertion that each part of nature contains all within it. She also considers the unity of natural objects is more significant than that of individual parts, for nature is "heaven" and "harmony".

"The Bee is not afraid of me.

I know the Butterfly.

The pretty people in the Woods

Receive me cordially-

The Brooks laugh louder when I come-

The Breezes madder play;

Wherefore mine eye thy silver mists,

Wherefore, Oh Summer's Day?"

In this poem, Dickinson shows her passionate love in playing with these tiny natural creatures through the imaginative power in her delineation. Dickinson is able to envision herself in an analogical relationship with nature. She expresses a close relationship between herself and nature through personification. These natural creatures will give her delight without asking anything of her in return. Dickinson likens the bee to a friend; she marvels at the butterfly's grace, moreover, she feels at ease with the pretty people in the woods. When she approaches the brook, it will give her a warm welcome. Similarly, in "I taste a liquor never brewed," the poet also shows her fascination by the natural phenomena and she thinks the nature as a source of pleasure.

Apart from approaching to the natural world in person, Dickinson likes to see everything from the window of her room. The window offers her a vantage viewpoint from which she can perceive the external world without being disturbed.

"The Angle of a Landscape-

That every time I wake-

Between my Curtain and the Wall

Upon an ample Crack-

Like a Venetian-waiting-

Accosts my open eye-

Is just a Bough of Apples-

Held slanting, in the Sky-

The Pattern of a Chimney-

The Forehead of a Hill-

Sometimes-a Vane's Forefinger-

But that's-Occasional-

The Seasons-shift-my Picture-

Upon my Emerald Bough,

I wake-to find no-Emeralds-

Then-Diamonds-which the Snow

From Polar Caskets-fetched me-

The Chimney-and the Hill-

And just the Steeple's finger-

These-never stir at all- "

In the first two stanzas, Dickinson portrays the specific landscape as it appears when she awakes. The seasonal movement fascinates her and appeals to her by its never-ending outward show. She takes account of the autumn giving way to winter, in which the colors of autumn disappear and are replaced by the evidence of winter. Emily Dickinson also reflects nature's grandeur landscape in her poetry.

Dickinson's viewpoint derived from the ideas of Emerson. Dickinson is indulging the romantic tradition of nature poetry on account of the Emerson's Transcendentalism-the inference about man's relationship with nature, and the acknowledgment of certain phenomena in the natural world. Not all Dickinson's view of nature is from Emerson's view. Dickinson gradually becomes aware of indifferent power of nature toward man, and her feeling of alienation from the natural world.

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What mystery pervades a well!

That water lives so far --

A neighbor from another world

Residing in a jar

Whose limit none have ever seen,

But just his lid of glass --

Like looking every time you please

In an abyss's face!

The grass does not appear afraid,

I often wonder he

Can stand so close and look so bold

At what is awe to me.

Related somehow they may be,

The sedge stands next the sea --

Where he is floorless

And does no timidity betray

But nature is a stranger yet;

The ones that cite her most

Have never passed her haunted house,

Nor simplified her ghost.

To pity those that know her not

Is helped by the regret

That those who know her, know her less

The nearer her they get.

The well, as an object of nature, appeals to her as an enigmatic force with its frightening trait. The word "abyss" not only means the immeasurable depth of the well but also indicates a certain distance of nature to men. We can see Dickinson feels a sense of anxiety and terror toward the well. At the end of the poem, Dickinson indicates the alienation between man and nature by asserting "nature is a stranger," and nature is no longer benevolent to man. Dickinson uses the image of the "haunted house" and "ghost" as a metaphor for the gloomy characteristics of nature. Although Dickinson has an acute power of observation and intensely sensitive mind, Dickinson sill cannot penetrate the innermost secrets of nature because of its mystery and apathy. Moreover, the more Dickinson intends to peer into nature the more frustrated she feels by its alienation and strangeness. Dickinson seems to express her belief that an essential division exists between the natural world and mankind.

Several of Dickinson poems concerning her attempt to establish an interaction with natural world but ultimately fail. Dickinson restates that a separation exists between the natural world and man.

A bird came down the walk: 

He did not know I saw; 

He bit an angle-worm in halves 

And ate the fellow, raw.

And then he drank a dew 

From a convenient grass, 

And then hopped sidewise to the wall 

To let a beetle pass.

He glanced with rapid eyes 

That hurried all abroad,-- 

They looked like frightened beads, I thought; 

He stirred his velvet head

Like one in danger; cautious, 

I offered him a crumb, 

And he unrolled his feathers 

And rowed him softer home

Than oars divide the ocean, 

Too silver for a seam, 

Or butterflies, off banks of noon, 

Leap, plashless, as they swim.

The speaker maintains a certain distance from the bird in these first two stanzas. As an outsider, the speaker can observe the whole scene with regard to the bird's action. The speaker precisely renders her witness at first, the bird eats a raw worm and then, he demonstrates genteel behavior toward the beetle. This dramatic transitional scene arouses the speaker's desire to come close to the bird by offering him a crumb. When the speaker is attempting to establish a rapport between herself and the natural object. However, the bird soon senses he is being seen and then he flies away. As a consequence, the speaker fails to make connection with the bird. The poet depicts nature's cold response to man's generous treatment can be seen as its indifference to ordinary mankind.

The poem "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass" related to the idea of nature's alienation to self and man's limitation in full comprehension of nature's inner secret.

A narrow fellow in the grass

Occasionally rides;

You may have met him,--did you not,

His notice sudden is.

The grass divides as with a comb,

A spotted shaft is seen;

And then it closes at your feet

And opens further on.

He likes a boggy acre,

A floor too cool for corn.

Yet when a child, and barefoot,

I more than once, at morn,

Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash

Unbraiding in the sun,--

When, stooping to secure it,

It wrinkled, and was gone.

Several of nature's people

I know, and they know me;

I feel for them a transport

Of cordiality;

But never met this fellow,

Attended or alone,

Without a tighter breathing,

And zero at the bone.

Dickinson uses the metaphor to stress the evanescent quality of the snake. She likens the snake moving across the meadow as a boat would move across water. Also, Dickinson focuses on the snake's instantaneous appearance and flight. Dickinson separates herself from the creatures as "Nature's People." She may feel a delight of cordiality toward these creatures of nature, but the snake is an exception. In the last stanza, we see Dickinson deals with the snake as a metaphor of the great adversary of mankind. Her reaction to the snake comes from the feeling of awesome and icy chill it gives her. In conclusion, the snake can be seen as an antagonistic and malicious force of nature. Nature is no longer a friend but an enemy.

From all above poems, Dickinson not only reflects her dubious attitudes toward the benevolent relationship between men and nature but also presents nature's way as being ultimately strange to mankind and portrays a sense of alienation. Instead of Emerson's optimism, Dickinson's attitude toward nature is negative. Further, she negates nature's benign aspects and perceives it as a force hostile toward humans. On the whole, we see Dickinson seems to experience a radical estrangement between the self and the natural world. She attempts to follow Emerson's thought but she discovers the distinctions from him. Dickinson believes the man maintains a certain distance from the natural world.

By analyzing Dickinson's poems, we can investigate the influential force of Dickinson's unique conception of nature. In the beginning, we need to pay attention to her sequestered life in Amherst. The geography of Amherst tended to isolate it from more developed society. Under this circumference, Dickinson was able to get close to nature and became inclined to withdraw herself from the world. Dickinson's reclusive manner of living might have led her to search for an understanding of Nature's meaning. Her entire life in Amherst could be seen as an important cause to cultivate her interest in nature.