Do readers relate to Emily Dickinson's works?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Though of course people all have different tastes in literature and poetry, Emily Dickinson is a poet who does write in ways and about themes that are accessible to most readers. Though her works seem quite simplistic at first, her use of simple, straightforward language and imagery makes her themes even more powerful.

Dickinson writes about things many of us have experienced. The following poem, known by its first line, "Narrow Fellow in the Grass,” is about the speaker meeting a snake…in the grass. These are the first four stanzas:

A narrow Fellow in the grass Occasionally rides— You may have met Him—did you not? His notice sudden is—
The Grass divides as with a Comb—     5 A spotted shaft is seen— And then it closes at your feet And opens further on—
He likes a Boggy Acre A Floor too cool for Corn—     10 Yet when a Boy, and Barefoot— I more than once at Noon
Have passed, I thought, a Whip lash Unbraiding in the Sun When stooping to secure it     15 It wrinkled, and was gone—

Notice the short, readable lines, the conversational tone between the speaker and the reader, and the relatable images, such as the snake “wrinkling” and the grass dividing like a comb as the snake passes through.

In this poem, Dickinson has the speaker of the poem speak directly to the reader in the form of a question:

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us—don't tell!
They'd banish—you know!

How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog
To tell one's name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

Such a simple thought and universal theme (better to be a “nobody” with a few than a “somebody” like everyone else) make Dickinson accessible to most readers.

In a weightier work, Dickinson talks about Death, but she gives him a persona which is quite different than the typical grim reaper or demonic figure; instead he is a complete gentleman:

Because I could not stop for Death— 
He kindly stopped for me— 
The Carriage held but just Ourselves— 
And Immortality.

We slowly drove—He knew no haste 
And I had put away 
My labor and my leisure too, 
For His Civility—

In these first two stanzas, Death is kind, patient, and civil; however, he does take the speaker away (she dies). This is a simple image and thought but quite a complex theological issue to contemplate.

While everyone will not like, appreciate, or relate to Emily Dickinson’s poetry, her themes, language, images, and style make her poetry relatable and accessible to most readers.

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