Poetry + Art: Emily Dickinson

December 4, 2017 Arts & Culture2

As we flip our calendar pages from November and behold December in all its holiday glory, most of us are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Christmas.

However, is there anything significant about the thirty other days in this month besides December 25th?

On December 10th, 1830, the world gained one of its greatest poets: Emily Dickinson, born in Amherst, Massachusetts.  Throughout her life, Dickinson rarely left her home, spending her time secretly writing over 1,800 poems.  Most of these poems were discovered after her death by her sister, Lavinia.  She became famous posthumously, with her poems gaining popularity by the 1900s. Did you know that her poems ignited some controversy?  Not unlike unedited clay articles, they often had quite a few oddly placed dashes and unorthodox capitalization.  Some publications removed the dashes and corrected the capitalization, while others left the poems as they were, resulting in multiple versions of every poem.

Hope is the thing with feathers (254)

By Emily Dickinson

 

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all,

 

And sweetest in the gale is heard;

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm.

 

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,

And on the strangest sea;

Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.

The above poem is a very famous one from Dickinson.  Many of her poems allude to nature, including this one, as it compares the abstract concept of hope to the concrete imagery of a tenacious bird.  This tying of an abstract concept, a feeling, or an emotion to concrete imagery, allowing the reader to visualize a similar experience, is a recurring device found in poetry.

I’m Nobody!  Who are you?

By Emily Dickinson

 

I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Are you – Nobody – too?

Then there’s a pair of us!

Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

 

How dreary – to be – Somebody!

How public – like a Frog –

To tell one’s name – the livelong June –

To an admiring Bog!

Similarly, the above poem connects a concept to the imagery of a frog croaking endlessly at a bog.  Dickinson describes the unpleasantness of being a “somebody,” obsessed with saying their name repeatedly.  While she does not explicitly say that being a “nobody” is good, she makes it sound like a more appealing option.  This gives readers a glimpse of her perspective and perhaps of her reasons for choosing to live as a hermit throughout her life.

To make a prairie (1755)

By Emily Dickinson

 

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,

One clover, and a bee.

And revery.

The revery alone will do,

If bees are few.

The above poem might display another reason Dickinson felt no need to venture from her house.  She didn’t need to look at a massive, untouched prairie to feel a sense of awe, or climb a huge mountain to feel a sense of accomplishment.  Just looking at the small things in life sufficed to fill her with amazement.

Wonder

Wonder is the ocean waves

Rushing away, trying to flee

Crashing on the sandy shore

Lapping gently at your feet

 

So suddenly the waves on the beach

Surround your toes and your feet

Jerked out of your midday trance

You laugh and run from the milky froth

 

But disregarding you, the waves turn

Back to the fine sandy shore

And you wonder what all the fuss

Was about, think that maybe

 

You should have stayed

And let the waves around your feet

Come up higher on your legs

Spray salt water up to your waist

 

Creep up all the way to your neck

Turn you into an all-seeing eye

Looking through the clear blue water

Seeing a hidden underwater land

 

And then the waves will turn away

With it your body will suddenly return

Anchoring you to the salty shore

Powerless to chase wonder, fleeing

 

As suddenly as it came

With this thought you turn toward the wave

Run back into the seething spray

Let the waves slither up your legs

 

And complete the metamorphosis

Into a transparent eye

Watching awe-inspiring sights

Mermaids joyously dancing by

Undersea cities lit with bright lights

 

The above poem is one of my own.  It is similar in subject matter to “Hope is the thing with feathers,” also making use of concrete imagery to represent abstract concepts, although it was inspired in particular by a poem titled “Happiness” by Jane Kenyon.  Maybe Kenyon’s poem was in turn inspired by “Hope”!  In the poem, I use the ocean wave to depict the experience of wonder.

Now it’s your turn!  Write a poem that converts an emotion or feeling into concrete imagery and post it in the comments below.

 

  1. “Emily Dickinson.” org, Academy of American Poets, 22 June 2016, www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/emily-dickinson.

 

  1. Kenyon, Jane. “Happiness by Jane Kenyon.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 July 2017.<https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/39190/happiness-56d21cb4b54e9>

 

 

2 thoughts on “Poetry + Art: Emily Dickinson

  1. Christine Niu

    December 6, 2017

    Ehe I wrote my E1 Poet Presentation on Dickinson

    • Trigger

      December 7, 2017

      Wow very fitting! Hope you enjoyed my article.

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