The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In this twenty-line poem comprising five four-line stanzas, Emily Dickinson deals with the topics that she most frequently addresses in her poetry: death, loneliness, the hope (but never the promise) of immortality. She begins with the observation that the man who runs away, who disappears, is enhanced by his having left, because his memory lingers and perhaps is softened by his absence. He is, in Dickinson’s words, “tinctured for an instant/ With Immortality,” which is Dickinson’s initial hint that the poem will be concerned ultimately with death.

Yesterday’s vagrant today resides in memory, where he takes on a “superstitious value” as those who knew him tamper with their memories of him, adjusting those memories to suit their own consciences. In the first two stanzas, Dickinson toys with the notion that distance alters memories. Her capitalization of “Immortality” lends an enhanced importance to the word, often the most significant word in her poems.

The phrase “We tamper with Again’” at the end of the second stanza implies that the man who runs away, the vagrant, is better gone. This leads into the word “Never” in the next line, where the anonymous “we” in the poem cannot cherish the man but can adorn him with memories softened by his departure.

By the beginning of the fourth stanza, it is clear that the poet is talking about more than just a man who runs off, a vagrant who disappears, because in...

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Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The short stanzas and overall brevity of this poem typify much of Emily Dickinson’s verse. Her longest poem (“I cannot live with You—”) consists of a mere fifty lines. Few of her poems exceed twenty-five lines. The economy of words in all of Dickinson’s verse is notable. Like most accomplished poets, Dickinson regularly calls upon a single word to do double or triple duty.

This poem is more abstract than some of Dickinson’s other poems and as a result has less of the visual imagery that one finds in a poem such as “I taste a liquor never brewed—” or “I like to see it lap the Miles—.” “To disappear enhances—” deals essentially with nonvisual things: disappearance, honor, memory, immortality, excellence, delight—things of the mind. Even words that usually evoke visual images, notably “fruit,” “man,” and “vagrant,” as used here are so metaphoric that their visual qualities are diminished, an effect that Dickinson intended.

The rhyming patterns exemplify the various kinds of rhyme with which Dickinson experimented constantly. In the first stanza, she uses imperfect rhyme when she ends line 2 with “away” and line 4 with “Immortality.” Dickinson does not stray from perfect rhyme because she is incapable of achieving it. Indeed, her manuscripts, detailed in Thomas H. Johnson’s edition, The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Including Variant Readings Critically Compared with All Known Manuscripts...

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(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Boruch, Marianne. “Dickinson Descending.” The Georgia Review 40 (1986): 863-877.

Brantley, Richard E. Experience and Faith: The Late-Romantic Imagination of Emily Dickinson. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Carruth, Hayden. “Emily Dickinson’s Unexpectedness.” Ironwood 14 (1986): 51-57.

Eberwein, Jane Donahue. An Emily Dickinson Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Ferlazzo, Paul, ed. Critical Essays on Emily Dickinson. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1984.

Grabher, Gudrun, Roland Hagenbüchle, and Cristanne Miller, ed. The Emily Dickinson Handbook. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.

Juhasz, Suzanne, ed. Feminist Critics Read Emily Dickinson. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983.

Kirk, Connie Ann. Emily Dickinson: A Biography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004.

Lundin, Roger. Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2004.

MacNeil, Helen. Emily Dickinson. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.

Pollack, Vivian R. A Historical Guide to Emily Dickinson. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Vendler, Helen Hennessey. Poets Thinking: Pope, Whitman, Dickinson, Yeats. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004.