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Loneliness. The Force of Inspiration
essay [ ]
Notes on a poem by Emily Dickinson

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by [Adaionescu ]

2011-01-14  |     | 



Throughout her life, the introvert Emily Dickinson published only seven poems (from a total of nearly 1.800), and it was only more than 30 years after her death that the work was to be welcomed with a great deal of enthusiasm: from now on, she would be considered a feminine William Blake or Walt Whitman, because of her writing, spiritual and straight. The XXth century literary critics saw in the poetess the embodying of the New England mystical soul (revealed through simple phrases: assonant rhyme, broken meter and the mysterious capitalization of nouns) that bears inside an accent of both the Infinite and Finality. Living isolated, surrounded only by her parents and siblings, lacking the affection of her mother and father, loving a man that she could never marry (Wadsworth) because he was a priest that had his own family and was also dedicated to the Church, Emily Dickinson spent most part of her life on her family property, in Amherst, almost totally isolated inside her room, where she read and wrote, until her eyesight began to fade. Her poetry reflects the loneliness and the inspiration of the moment, being influenced a lot by the poets whose perspective was dominated by the metaphysics and epiphany.

The poem “My Life Had Stood – A loaded Gun” uses confusing language and puzzling structure of sentences that makes it difficult for the reader to discover the real meaning of the lines. It was composed during the period of maximum height of poetic power (Emily was, then, 33 years old and receiving critical advice from Thomas Wentworth Higginson) and tries to redefine the inner self of the poetess. Some critics said the poem is full of rage and reflects the real embittered person that Emily Dickinson was, adding that the poem is about the mistreatment of women throughout society; others stated that “no poem written by a woman poet more perfectly captures the nature, the difficulties, and the risks involved in this task of self-redefinition and self-empowerment than the brilliant and enigmatic poem that stands at the center of this book" (Paula Bennet, 1986) and some other critics said that the narrator identifies herself with a powerful phallus and remarked that the loaded gun's power of inseminating is particularly dangerous (Claudia Yokman). However, they all finally agreed that no matter the poem interpretation, we are all dealing with an impressive, dazzling metaphor, generated by the author's attempt to find true identity.
The poetic inner self initially is revealed as purposeless (“My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun - In Corners”). Only afterwards the epiphany regarding the sense of the narrator's life is brought by the “Owner”, that founds “the Gun” and “plucks” it away from the world (“the Corners” - suggesting a closed environment, impossible to escape) where she was simply existing as a futile object: “till a Day/ The Owner passed - identified -/ And carried Me away”. Although Emily Dickinson was known for her refusal to take up her family religious beliefs, most probably the poem is expressing the inextricable bond with the inspirational Divinity, embodied in the person of the Owner. Let's not forget that the term “inspiration” etymologically originates in the Latin “in spiritus”, referring to the unnatural creative force represented by Gods. The manifestation of the inspirational Divinity could be, in this case, the language, just like in the Genesis' Book, where it is said that “In the beginning it was the Word. And the Word was God almighty.” We should also add that this isn't the only mentioning of the Owner/Master: during her life, Dickinson wrote three letters that were addressed "Dear Master”, whose identity remains a mystery, but was, probably the muse and source of inspiration, not necessarily being a flesh and bone person but an entity created in a melting pot of masculine figures in Emily Dickinson's life and the image of God.
Hunting in the Sovereign Woods brings back the images of primitive, pure nature of the beginning of time, reestablishing the relation with the adamic lost Paradise, to which the sweet, but cruel, metaphor of hunting the Doe is added, suggesting the need for suppressing the womanly, tender part, in order to elevate above the given female status and becoming a some kind of asexual/ neuter being, perfectly capable of creation, just like Plato ideal Androgynous. Between the poetess and her source of Inspiration there is nothing interposed, and the new powers she possess are just as strong as the forces of nature, represented by the Volcano: “And every time I speak for Him/ The Mountains straight reply/ And do I smile, such cordial light/ Upon the Valley glow/ It is as a Vesuvian face/ Had let its pleasure through.”
When night comes the poetic inspiration doesn't leave the poetess and the lines of the fourth stanza (“And when at Night - Our good Day done/ I guard My Master's Head/ 'Tis better than the Eider-Duck's/ Deep Pillow - to have shared”) prove that the author rejects once again feminine symbols found in the images of the duck of the northern hemisphere, much valued for the fine, soft feathers - the pillow, representing the housewife role. In this stanza, but also in the next one, we glimpse real life experience: the late night-reading and writing and the stubbornness of not giving up the writer's destiny even when dazzled by Higginson (an eminent literary man) harsh critics on Dickinson's work during their correspondence (“To foe of His - I'm deadly foe/ None stir the second time/ On whom I lay a Yellow Eye/ Or an emphatic Thumb.”) Conventional feminine symbols are suppresses and replaced by the “Yellow Eye” or the “Thumb”, making reference to some sort of godly powers exerted on dwarfish-like beings. The final stanza, though it is expected to shed light on the whole poem is, maybe, the most riddling and ambivalent of them all: “Though I than He - may longer live/ He longer must - than I/ For I have but the power to kill/ Without - the power to die.” However, it most surely expresses the concern of the author regarding the immortality of her work, perspective that implies the existence of both the Divine inspiration and the addressee of the message. The inside look Emily takes, but also the exterior reality she indirectly lived (war, the death of relatives and close friends), creates an awareness of the creative forces one possesses and brings upfront the idea of danger when being in relation with Art and Inspiration living on even after the poet's death. The poem generates a new, broader perspective, starting from the particular condition of the woman as an artist, that must deny her womanhood and reach the point where the relation with Art becomes dangerous or even lethal.
The violence of language is, in some aspects, moderated and the poem becomes an invitation towards a space with no boundaries, where anyone can be whatever they really should be, disregarding sex, social status and other criteria. And maybe the fact that Emily Dickinson lived in solitude, made possible such keen focus on inner self. Unfortunately, only in 1995 a three-volume critical edition showed the poems in their original form, uncorrupted by the intrusive editors of anterior decades.

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