How would you write a conclusion about the poem "My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun" by Emily Dickinson?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If I were writing a piece in response to Emily Dickinson's "My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun," I would most certainly have introduced the main idea of the poem in my introduction, especially in my thesis statement. It would be based on what you think the poem means.

A poem, like any other piece of art, goes through a metamorphosis when it leaves the hands (or mind) of its creator; in other words, my interpretation may not be the meaning the author intended, and it might not agree with the assessment of others who also have read the poem. That is the magic of art in any form.

For me, the most important thing to note about the poem is its use of personification, giving human characteristics to a non-human thing. In this poem, the gun, used to serve at the whim of its owner, takes on a life of its own. The gun is meaningless and unimportant until the owner one day takes notice and "puts the gun to work."

My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun - 

In Corners - till a Day 

The Owner passed - identified -

And carried Me away - (lines 1-4)

The gun has no will of its own. It cannot act freely, but has waited for some time to be recognized by its owner. The reader cannot tell if the gun is impatient or lonely, as it has no will or desire of its own at the onset of the poem — it can only serve.

In lines 5-8, we find that the gun's owner enjoys hunting deer ("doe"). The gun serves as it is directed, at it only "speaks" (the sound or report of the firing gun) when the owner choses to use it. Even then, the only reply is an echo from the nearby mountains.

What I find in terms of the gun's living is that it references a "smile" (line 9). It also describes guarding "My Master's Head" (line 14). In line 17, the gun is an accurate, "deadly foe" to the Master's enemies.

None stir the second time (18)

The gun (through personification) notes that it can "lay a Yellow Eye / Or an emphatic Thumb—" (19-20). All of these actions are not the gun's, however, but rather those which the man carrying the gun makes the weapon do. 

The final stanza (lines 21-24) reminds the reader (and the gun) that the weapon may not live as long as the owner because it recognizes that all it does is carried out at the pleasure of the man holding the gun. The paradox at the poem's end is that, while the gun has power within it, it really has no power at all. The gun cannot exercise any power on its own. It is not alive and cannot die. It exists only to serve its master.

With all of this said, my attention is caught by the gun's capacity to alter the world around it, albeit only at the direction of a strong, powerful, and human hand. One might argue that some of us are like these guns; we contain the power to be more than we are (not necessarily violent, but powerful), but are hindered by our willingness to rest in a corner until we allow someone else to come along and control who we are and what we do. In this way, we aren't truly alive.

If your essay is a piece discussing the meaning of the poem, this is simply my perception. If I were writing, I would discuss more than just what the poem says, but I would also delve deeper into what I believe the poem means. Truly great poets (and Dickinson is one) never write simply to tell a story, but to share a life-truth.

Some interpret the Master as God, and the gun as each of us called to fight His battles. (See the link at the bottom for more information.)

By viewing the poem from two perspectives, I hope you find some direction in choosing what you believe the poem means to you. Your conclusion can only be based upon what you believe the poem to mean.

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