What impact did Emily Dickinson's poetry have on you as a reader?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This question, of course, calls for a personal reaction on the part of the student as poetry so often touches a reader because of a commonality of experience, an emotive connection, or a certain inspiration that comes as a result of its reading. Therefore, in order to answer this personally, the student can read several of Dickinson's poems and jot down her reactions to them--there are no wrong answers, of course.

Many of us who have read Dickinson's poems on the theme of death have looked at this natural end with a different perspective after such readings. Her poem "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" changes Death from a fearful event to a gentleman who calls for us.

Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me.
The carriage held but just ourselves
And immortality.

Certainly, Miss Dickinson's poems about Nature are delightful, and they, too, help to change our perspectives, or open us to fresh ones or relate to experiences we have had. For instance, the poem "I Started Early, Took My Dog" begins with a delightful scene--

I started early, took my dog
And visited the sea.
The mermaids in the basement
Came out to look at me--

however, the tone of this verse is changed when the tide comes in and nearly covers her--

And made as he [the sea] would eat me up
As wholly as a dew
Upon a dandelion's sleeve;

The poet is frightened and hurries back to the land, where she notices,

And bowing with a mighty look
At me, the sea withdrew.

This is a poem that impresses the reader with the power of Nature and the fragility of the person. One must always respect Nature, even while delighting in its beauty. Dickinson often makes readers forget that Nature can be formidable because of her lovely imagery and metaphors.

Among her poems, too, there are those that touch upon personal experiences shared by readers. For example, "There is No Frigate Like a Book" is one anyone who loves to read can enjoy since books do, indeed, transport one to worlds and times beyond one's reach otherwise. Dickinson's poems also offer consolation at times. For instance, "I'm Nobody, Who Are You?" encourages someone not to desire popularity:

How dreary to be somebody,
How public--like a frog--
To tell your name the livelong June
To an admiring bog.

Another poem that offers the maverick thinker artistic comfort is "Much Madness is Divinest Sense," as it illustrates the inaneness of conformity:

Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye--
Much sense the starkest madness
'Tis the majority
In this, as all, prevail.
Assent and you are sane:
Demur, you're straightway dangerous
And handled with a chain.

Sites such as Poemhunter.com provide many a poem by Dickinson, and a perusal of others will afford more insights. Enjoy!

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