illustrated portrait of English poet Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

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Read the poem "Nature is what we see," and write a response to it that includes your understanding of the poem and your comments on it.  

Emily Dickinson's poem "Nature is what we see" is about the inadequacy of human language to convey the beauty of nature. It is a powerful poem because of its stark simplicity. Since it is lyrical, meant primarily to evoke emotion, you might explore in your response how the poem makes you feel.

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In this Emily Dickinson poem, the speaker briefly records, first, what she sees, as if she is jotting down quick notes. She lists such things as a hill, a squirrel, and a bumblebee. These very simple elements of nature lead her to conclude that nature is heaven. She then goes on to list what she hears: the bobolink, the cricket, the sea, and thunder. From these sounds she draws the conclusion that nature is harmony. She goes on to think more about the inadequacy of words to describe even the most basic aspects of nature. From there, she decides that the simplicity of nature is more powerful than all of humankind’s knowledge.

The speaker has a deep emotional response to nature that ends in humility as she realizes the depth of human inadequacy to describe the natural world. The power of the poem lies in its stark simplicity. The speaker’s refusal to apply artful words to nature, opting instead simply to jot down what she sees, attests to the power of nature to move us without the use of embroidered language.

As for your comments and response, the poem is primarily lyrical: it is meant to evoke an emotional response. How does it make you feel? For example, I identify with the speaker’s feeling of helplessness in depicting the face of nature. However, you may have a response that is quite different.

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