How to Classify Dickinson?

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How to Classify Dickinson?

Post  anita on Fri May 15, 2009 1:51 am

Having been discussing about the Transcendentalists and the anti-Transcendentalists lately, my mind is quick to want to classify Emily Dickinson into either one of the two. However, I have arrived to the conclusion that Dickinson cannot be completely pushed into either one of the box.

At first glance, with titles such as Hope Is the Thing with Feathers, one would be inclined to assume that Dickinson was a Transcendentalist. many Transcendental elements can be appreciated in Hope Is the Thing with Feathers. “And sings the tune without the words | And never stops-at-all” verifies how even without the tangible, one is able to tap into the spiritual with intuition. Hope never stops, which means it is always there to comfort and to inspire us, especially during the time in need. This reflects the hope that the Transcendentalists emphasize. In addition, “Yet, never, in Extremity, It asked a crumb-of Me” shows how hope, the greater Being, is friendly, accepting, and unselfish.

However, looking at other less optimistic titles like Apparently with No Surprise and My Life Closed Twice Before Its Close, one becomes confused with the seemingly contradicting ideas. The first title of the two suppresses the spontaneity that Emerson stresses as part of the primary wisdom. The word “close” is used twice in the latter title, and its negative connotation conveys a feeling of hopelessness, limited, and an end. These are the opposite of unlimited human potential! However, I feel I must also make the distinction that in a certain way the title also reflects Transcendentalism as even though her life has closed before, she was able to continue. But still, Transcendentalists would not agree with the fact that there is a closure to life.

Let’s go beyond the surface level of titles to find the evidence of the Transcendental elements. In I Never Saw a Moor, Dickinson talks about how she has never seen or experienced certain things, yet she just KNOWS. This shows the idea of Transcendentalism – intuition. One does not have to see to believe. The greatest truths are within ourselves. Exultation Is the Going stresses the importance of going out there, taking action, and experiencing, just like what Emerson was talking about in his work Experience. Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church states Dickinson’s view of dismissal of organized religion as the path to salvation (nonconformity). In I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed, she discusses transcendence with intoxication. By doing something that is not conforming to the society, she is showing her courage. Similarly, in Much Madness Is Divinest Sense, Dickinson speaks out about nonconformity. Moreover, in The Soul Selects Her Own Society, she highlights individuality again. “The Soul selects her own Society – Then – shuts the Door – To her divine Majority” reminds me of the life that she has lived. She has selected her world to live in, which is inside her room. She closes the door and shuts pretty much everything else out in order to better get in touch with her inner being. Perhaps it is a long-term attempt to quite the ego mind? By learning about her views on public opinion, one can slowly understand the poet’s decision to remain in her bedroom most of the time. She does not want to follow society’s typical standards, and she follows her own pace and beat. According to her, being yourself is the most divine. In addition, in There’s a Certain Slant of Light, Dickinson talks about the inner self in the second and third stanzas. “Where the Meanings, are” – the meanings, the real truths, are within us!

Besides all of these Transcendental elements, it is important to distinguish why Dickinson cannot be categorized as a Transcendentalist immediately. Perhaps her life is an evidence of this. Yes, Dickinson questioned the truths, but her quest was solitary. If she believed in transcending herself completely, then I think she would have stepped out of the door more often? By living in her room, she is living in a closed space with walls surrounding her. Is not the outer world a reflection of the inner world? Plus, My Life Closed Twice Before Its Close conveys a strong sense of helplessness to me. In Because I Could Not Stop for Death, Dickinson states that death is the end of human energy. Transcendentalists would disagree, saying how we are all interconnected, so there is no end to this energy, as the energy is continuously circling around through everything. By the end of this poem, death, the grave is described instead of a heaven beyond the sun being reached.

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