illustrated portrait of English poet Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

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What is the significance of Emily Dickinson's poetic style and how does it portray themes of alienation, faith, and reason?

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Emily Dickinson employs a distinctive style in her poetry as she deeply explores the themes of alienation, faith, and reason. Let's take a closer look at this style and these themes.

To explore Dickinson's style, let's focus on the poem "'Hope' is the thing with feathers—." Notice the punctuation here. Dickinson uses dashes at the end of each line as well as dashes in the middle of the lines. The mid-line dashes set off the words within them for extra emphasis. The end dashes indicate a pause. Dickinson uses only one comma (in the second to last line) and only one period at the end of the poem.

Further, we can see that Dickinson capitalizes several words that are not proper nouns. She does this for the sake of emphasis. Dickinson wants her readers to think carefully about her stylistic choices. This poem also features one of Dickinson's metaphors as she compares hope to a bird.

Now let's think about some of Dickinson's themes. Dickinson was largely a recluse throughout her adult life, so it is no surprise that her poems reveal a certain loneliness and alienation. Look, for instance, at the poem "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain." The speaker is caught in a strange internal ceremony. Her mind goes numb, and she is silent and solitary, cut off from others. She feels herself dropping down, her reason failing. She plunges out of the world and into a new world, no longer knowing. The poem ends abruptly as the speaker's voice cuts off. We can see in this poem a strong sense of separation from the world.

Dickinson also explores the theme of faith, both positively and negatively. In "I know that He exists," Dickinson makes a strong statement of faith even as she faces the difficulties of doubt. Finally, Dickinson comments on reason. Look, for instance, at "I reason, Earth is short—." In this poem, the speaker uses her reason to examine life in this world, death, and heaven, yet she also understands the limits of reason and its inability to provide answers to the greatest mysteries.

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