Emily Dickinson -- T or AT?

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Emily Dickinson -- T or AT?

Post  rosAA on Thu May 21, 2009 10:22 am

When I first thought of Emily Dickinson's biography in relation to whether she was a transcendentalist or an anti-transcendentalist, I thought of her as an anti-transcendentalist. She kept herself hidden within her house and stayed there, not allowing herself to go out into the world and experience what is out there. Although one may say that transcendentalism is something that is a sort of a mental activity, didn't Emerson and Thoreau emphasize the importance of actually practitioning it into our own physical world? So wasn't in some sense Dickinson an anti-transcendentalist? To add on to that, she experienced failed-love during her lifetime which most people believe to be the trigger behind her secluding herself from the rest of the society. If she was a transcendentalist, wouldn't she have taken the chance to push her potential and try to find another person to love just as much or even more? During class, Ms. Kay constantly emphasized the importance of taking control of our own happiness -- the very concept we learned from watching The Secret. So why couldn't Emily Dickinson continue to take control and try to create her own happiness by trying another hand at love through the belief of unlimited potential? Or is this just an assumption made by me that perhaps Emily Dickinson wasn't happy whereas she may have been content with the life she had at home? I'm guessing this can be seen in both ways but from her biography, Dickinson seems to be an anti-transcendentalist.


Through her many poems in our literature textbook, she seems to be carrying many transcendentalist themes in her poetry at the same time. In "I Never Saw a Moor," the concept of the Universal Being is taken account of as Dickinson says through her narration that she knows what some things in nature "look like" even though she may have never seen it. It's like you know a certain portion of the whole and you get to know the rest of the whole. Very much like the literary term synecdoche. Or however you spell it. In "I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed," Dickinson seems to emphasize the importance of newness and simplicity of uncontaminated things. These concepts are the very things that Thoreau discussed through his large journal of the Walden. Dickinson's tone in the poem "'Hope' is the Thing with Feathers" gives a sweet sense to the concept of hope itself and does not imply cynicisim or sarcasm to give the opposite attitude. This optimism through hope and also perhaps the belief of unlimited potential gives a transcendentalist outlook within the poem's theme/message. In "The Soul Selects Her Own Society," I think the very Emersonian transcendentalist theme is discussed as Dickinson discusses how people should break away from their uniform societies to develop the individual. The above examples are only a fraction of Emily Dickinson's transcendentalist themes within her poems.

Yet, in the one poem "This is My Letter to the World," she seems to hold a theme that is not so transcendentalist. Her need to be wary of what the society thinks of her seems to be quite the opposite of transcendentalist theories, particularly the ones that Emerson emphasized in.

Putting it all together, I think that Emily Dickinson had both transcendentalist and anti-transcendentalist within herself. Her anti-transcendentalist side perhaps came from fear of the society, as it is shown through her biography and the poem "This is My Letter to the World." Her transcendentalist side comes from her belief in the Universal Being within nature and also unlimited potential. Perhaps Emily Dickinson was fearful of being an outspoken transcendentalist.

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