Emily Dickinson: Transcendentalist or Anti-Transcendentalist?

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Emily Dickinson: Transcendentalist or Anti-Transcendentalist?

Post  Angel on Sun May 17, 2009 7:07 pm

It is unquestionably natural for one to, after a first and swift glance at Emily Dickinson’s literary works, say with unwavering certainty that this seemingly reclusive writer was an Anti-Transcendentalist – or even a woman embittered by haunting memories and dominated by an endless gloom. Although Dickinson “lived an intense inner life,” retreated mostly to her room, and seldom acquainted herself with people of the outside realm of life, she does not appear to me as a woman who was entrapped within dark walls of confinement. As subtle – or perhaps not – as it seems, she has (or has attempted to) lived her life to the fullest.

It was all a matter of choice. As alarming as it sounds, Dickinson may have felt increasingly comfortable with her, shall we say, beautiful space of self-reflection and thought, and thus made the promising choice of living a life of profound solitude and of symphonic emotions. Did she live a life of bliss, I wonder? There were undoubtedly moments of turbulence and discomfort in her life (such as the departure of Charles Wadsworth, the “man Emily loved”) and some may present this remarkable poet as having both Transcendentalist and Anti-Transcendentalist qualities and values, and I certainly do not have an argument against that assertion. After all, her seeming tendency to portray her findings through much observation and quiet thought represents her willingness (but perhaps not wish) to illustrate (often in extremely brief phrases) things as they truly exist and stand, entirely stripped of colorful imagination and elaborate details conjured up by the lengthy explorations of the being.

But in I Never Saw a Moor, our mystery of a poet expresses her imagination through words. Her imagination, certified by the declaration that she “never saw” the sights mentioned in her poem, was spurred perhaps not by the desperate want and wish to witness and feel, but by the inherent wanderings of the mind, along with the desire to picture and to experience blindly, an act which brings forth to the self a sensation of magnificence and triumph.

Emily Dickinson must have felt, just as we all feel now. But what she had once chosen to follow and pursue, we can only continue to wonder about. There is a chance that she lived a physical life of confinement and adherence, perhaps by choice or by the pressures of a preserved Puritan society. Even though a number of her poems seem to express the language of sarcasm and distress, she nevertheless connects with present readers of her masterpieces with a vivid imagination and a thread of abrupt emotions.

I feel that Dickinson is both a Transcendentalist and an Anti-Transcendentalist, but her sharpness of observation, keen tongue for words, and perhaps hopefulness of or contentment with her circumstances allow us to comprehend only a slight portion of her identity – we will have to continue to speculate and presume, nothing more.

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