How is the element of desire and yearning presented in Dickinson's poem "What mystery pervades a well!"?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The element of desire and yearning is presented in this poem through the description of the well and what lies beneath it. In this poem, the well becomes a powerful symbol of nature and the undiscovered depths and profundity that it has. Note how the speaker describes the well as "A neighbour from another world" only showing a "lid of glass" that the speaker has no idea of the depth of. The mystery surrounding such an everyday sight is one that communicates a desire to know more and to understand more about nature. The speaker goes on to present "Nature" as a "stranger yet," arguing that those who most talk about her, have never managed to truly get to know her or to classify her. The final section of the poem highlights once again the mystery of nature and how it never can be fully fathomed or understood:

To pity those that know her not
Is helped by the regret
That those who know her, know her less
The nearer her they get.

This is the paradox with nature: to try to "know her" is only to be confronted by further wonders and mystery which results ironically in "knowing her less" the closer they get to nature. The desire and yearning in this poem is therefore communicated through the presentation of nature as being something that can never be fully sounded out or understood completely. The natural human desire to comprehend is therefore thwarted, creating a powerful desire and yearning to understand more. Nature is described as an ever-changing chimera that cannot be conclusively analysed and categorised definitively; just as a well can transfix the speaker and fill them with awe, so too can any other examples of nature produce that same feeling of desire and yearning to know more.

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aszerdi | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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In Emily Dickinson's poem "What Mystery Pervades a Well" the well serves as a symbol of nature. A well serves as a water source from which life can spring, just as natural processes and nature sustain all forms of life. However, the narrator also expresses fears towards what seems so deep, far away, and a perspective that may be difficult to comprehend. This too serves as a symbol of the narrator's awe and wonder towards the natural world.

The narrator comments how the grass and sedge seem unafraid to stand next to the edge of these deep physical and intellectual abysses in relation to the natural world. She implicitly expresses a degree of admiration towards them, a yearning to emulate their fearlessness. It is interesting that the most common and seemingly mundane object in nature, grass, is personified as extraordinary and courageous. Furthermore, it is this absence of trepidation to grow and thrive on the threshold of these abysses that the narrator yearns to achieve.

The beginning of the fourth stanza is similar to the first line of the poem in which Dickinson marvels at the wonders and mysteries of nature, which appear to be both an oft crossed neighbor and a stranger at once. Nature is an enigmatic creature and "the ones that cite her most/ Have never passed her haunted house/ Nor simplified her ghost." Those who regret that they do not adequately understand nature also desire to understand nature to the greatest degree. Paradoxically, the more one desires to comprehend the natural world the less one does.

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