illustrated portrait of English poet Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

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How could Emily Dickinson be regarded as a confessional poet?

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Emily Dickinson is widely regarded as a Romantic poet. That said, this idea does not keep critics and readers from examining her and her work from a Confessionalist's point of view. According to Cambridge Collections Online's essay "Emily Dickinson's Existential Dramas," Fred D. White states that "It is always tempting to regard Dickinson as a confessional poet."

The Academy of American Poets defines Confessional Poetry as poetry "of the I." What this refers to is that the poetry is of a very personal nature with major concern for the problems and conflicts felt by the poet. These poets wrote about issues and topics deemed too private for the public sphere: suicide, mental illness, trauma, and, for some, perverse sexuality. That said, the poetry of Emily Dickinson could be examined from a Confessionalist lens.


"Much madness is divinest sense" (Part One: Life, IX)
In this poem, Dickinson describes the nature of madness as being necessary in one's life. Not only does the speaker define madness as being far better than sanity (which makes on "dangerous"). The embracing of mental illness is certainly a characteristic of the Confessionalist poet.

"Because I could not stop for Death" (Part Four: Time and Eternity, XXVII)

In this poem, one could examine it through a Confessionalist lens based upon the idea that the speaker recognizes the idea that one can have a relationship with death. The poem speaks about death's travels with the speaker. The ride with death is slow and patient. Like the poetry of the Confessionalists, this poem depicts death in a different light than previously examined. Death is personified and has control. For poets such as Plath (a renowned Confessionalist), death had all of the power.

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