illustrated portrait of English poet Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

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How does does Dickinson use land/landscape/place in her poem "How the old Mountains drip with Sunset"?

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Dickinson uses landscape and place as a background to show the effects of a sunset as it gradually descends from a mountaintop to church steeples, to the grass (apparently of a hill), to the lower buildings of a village, and finally, to the kennels and nests of the animals.

Dickinson's imagery is vivid. The mountain's hemlocks look like they are burning in flames from the sunset, while the "dun brakes" (places of dull brown undergrowth) look like they are covered in dark cinders, a witchy scene we can picture. The church steeples look red ("scarlet"), as if on fire, while the grass is colored sapphire blue. Finally, the dusk, no longer flaming like fire, "crawls" to the village, spreading a darkness that "blot[s]" out the houses and brings night to the kennel and nest.

Dickinson minutely pictures the effects of sunset on the earth. It starts out lighting most of what is in front of it as it if is on fire, then gradually imposes more and more darkness as the sun sinks away.

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A significant number of Dickinson's poems take as their subject the relationship between the human and the antural world. In this sense, she can be associated with the Romantic poets, who likewise took as the subject for their poetry nature and humans. This poem clearly shows her appreciation of the external beauty of the natural world, with her celebration of sunsets. The natural world acts as a gallery if you like for the beauty of the sunset, with a series of implied metaphors that compare the sunset variously to paint that has been lavished with great abandon over the mountains ("How the mountains drip with sunset"), to fire that burns up the foliage ("How the hemlocks burn"). Place serves as a canvas which the sunset can use to paint her beauty.

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