illustrated portrait of English poet Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

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How does Emily Dickinson describe the individual with respect to their customs and/or traditions?

What is the attitude of Emily Dickinson’s poetry towards tradition?

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Among the influences on Emily Dickinson were the philosophical insights of her family’s associates, especially Transcendentalism and the textual traditions of church hymns. Her position is generally idiosyncratic; she favored individual decision making based on one’s own conscience, which can be contextualized within an abstracted Christian faith not associated with any one denomination. Through her relationship with Isaac Watts, the traditions of address established in hymns also figure prominently in both the content and style of her poems.

Dickinson’s poem "303," about the soul and society, succinctly expresses these views. No matter the status of those around her, each individual must be “unmoved” by them and make their own ethical decisions:

The Soul selects her own Society —

Then — shuts the Door —

To her divine Majority —

Present no more —

Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —

At her low Gate —

Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling

Upon her Mat —

I’ve known her — from an ample nation —

Choose One —

Then — close the Valves of her attention —

Like Stone —

One of her briefest poems is elegantly anti-elitist, as she associates even the smallest insect with indifference to social hierarchy (1627 version 2):

The pedigree of Honey

Does not concern the Bee —

A Clover any time to him,

Is Aristocracy —

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