What is the purpose behind Emily Dickinson's use of symbolism, purple imagery, and such in her poems? What is the symbolism of the color purple?

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Purple is the color most frequently mentioned in Emily Dickinson's poetry. Looking at three representative poems, we can see that it symbolizes proud, majestic beauty, the female and domestic, and the liminal—a border time or transitional state.

In the poem called "In A Day," for example, Dickinson describes the...

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Purple is the color most frequently mentioned in Emily Dickinson's poetry. Looking at three representative poems, we can see that it symbolizes proud, majestic beauty, the female and domestic, and the liminal—a border time or transitional state.

In the poem called "In A Day," for example, Dickinson describes the sunrise and the sunset, both liminal times of transition, using the color purple—the steeples are surrounded by amethyst (purple) as the sun rises, and the setting sun casts a purple shadow on a stile. The beautiful, majestic, liminal color is also interwoven with female domestic images, such as bonnets:

I'll tell you how the sun rose
A ribbon at a time
The steeples swam in amethyst ...

The hills untied their bonnets,
The bobolinks begun.
Then I said softly to myself, "That must have been the sun!"
But how he set, I know not.
There seemed a purple stile
Which little yellow boys and girls Were climbing all the while ...

In poem 162, Dickinson likens a rainbow in part to

Or else a Peacock's purple
Train Feather by feather—on the plain Fritters itself away!

Again the proud (peacocks are symbols of pride and vanity) color purple exists in a liminal state—a rainbow that fades or "fritters away." Implicitly, the proud color is made to symbolize female vanity that also becomes "plain" and on the physical plain dissipates.

In poem 321, perhaps more famous than the others, we again see purple as a symbol of beauty, connected to the female and domestic, as well as a symbol of the liminal space of dusk and night, as the sun sets.

Blazing in Gold and quenching in Purple
Leaping like Leopards to the Sky
Then at the feet of the old Horizon
Laying her spotted Face to die
Stooping as low as the Otter's Window
Touching the Roof and tinting the Barn
Kissing her Bonnet to the Meadow
And the Juggler of Day is gone ...

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The literary technique of symbolism takes the meaning of a word far beyond its literal meaning. Symbols, therefore, are useful poetic devices since they express much in a concise manner.  In her poems that celebrate the beauty and magnificence of Nature, Emily Dickinson often employs symbols and color imagery. In her poem, "Blazing in Gold and Quenching in Purple," Dickinson writes a tribute to the regal glory of the sun that wears colors of kings and queens as it reigns over the sky and all that is in the world, touching the "horizon," symbolic of the earth; the "window," symbolic of houses; the "barn," symbolic of farms; and the "meadow," symbolic of the coutryside.

Meticulous in her selection of words, Emily Dickinson aims at evoking the feelings of things rather than  simply naming them.  To accomplish this goal, she employs colors and symbolism which evoke emotions in the reader. Further, she uses unique poetic forms to both reveal and conceal her thoughts and feelings.  On the other hand, she avoids the florid language of her contemporary Romantic poets, choosing instead to use concise language and much evocative imagery.

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