Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 197

"Title divine—is mine!" by Emily Dickinson is a poem that uses a subtle Christian theme to convey her thoughts on womanhood, particularly in relation to her own life, and her identity within society. The poem should be read within the context of the Seven Sacraments. This theme is most prominent in the line, "Born-Bridled-Shrouded."

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One of the first things to note is Emily Dickinson's status during the time period (1830-1886). By that era's standards, Dickinson is considered unusual because women were expected to get married, have children, and become homemakers. Dickinson was never married, did not have children, and she wrote literature, which at the time was a male-dominated career.

Dickinson was pressured by some of her family members, friends, and society as a whole to become someone's wife. In this poem, Dickinson questions her own choice of remaining a single woman and becoming a recluse. She ponders whether she was sinning by not marrying and bearing children.

However, the line, "Is this--the way?" can also be interpreted as a criticism on the patriarchal nature of Christianity. The poem critiques the values of the Bible while Dickinson tries to figure out the right path in life.

The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 479

“Title divine—is mine!” is a short poem of fifteen lines written in 1862 and first published in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. The poem’s metrical formula and rhyme scheme are irregular but loosely follow those used in hymnals. The word “divine” in the title has a religious connotation as it calls the reader’s attention to a power structure that has been notorious in placing women at the bottom of the social totem pole and suggests the congeneric connection between two social institutions the poem addresses: religion and marriage.

The narrator in the poem is apparently a newlywed. On her wedding day or shortly after, the narrator reflects on her marriage and on women’s lives in general. Typical of Emily Dickinson’s poems, “Title divine—is mine!” starts with affirmation. The tone in the opening of the poem is almost euphoric. The narrator is overwhelmed. She appears very excited about all the titles and accolades the wedding has bestowed upon her (“Title divine—is mine!/ The Wife—without the Sign!”), and she is thrilled about the new possibilities marriage has promised her (“Acute Degree—conferred on me—/Empress of Calvary!”). The first part of the poem, however, ends with an ominous note. The word “Calvary” reminds readers of both the place where Jesus Christ was crucified and an experience similar to that of the Crucifixion, an experience of extreme suffering. As the narrator looks beyond all the titles the wedding has brought her, she starts to see something different: She is “Royal—all but the Crown”; she is “Betrothed,” regardless of whether she has experienced “the swoon”; and, because of her gender, she is relegated to a group of people who allegedly are only attracted to material possessions, things ranging from “Garnet to Garnet” and from “Gold—to Gold.” From birth to marriage and then to death, this pattern would never change.

The next three lines (“Born—Bridalled—Shrouded—/ In a Day—/ Tri Victory”) play a pivotal role in the poem: They represent a turning point where the narrator must face how she feels about the wedding and what it portends. In appearance, the wedding day represents a victory for the narrator. As the midpoint between birth and death, marriage is supposed to represent the peak and consummation of a woman’s life. However, when the narrator notices the clichéd pattern of a life that a woman is too powerless to change, she starts to question whose victory it really is. It is a life replete with monotonous and pernicious repetitions perpetuated by both the way women are treated by others (“God sends us Women—/ When you—hold—Garnet to Garnet—/ Gold—to Gold—/ Born—Bridalled—Shrouded—/ In a Day—”) and the way they treat themselves (“ ‘My Husband’—women say—/ Stroking the Melody—”). The poem ends with the narrator questioning whether this is “the way.”

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 399

Similar to Dickinson’s thematic approach, the predominant form of her poems also epitomizes a paradox. Many of her poems follow, with some variations, the standard hymnbook metrical formula and rhyme scheme. However, unconventional punctuation, unorthodox capitalization, and irregular metrical beat all highlight an effort to break away from the established grammatical and literary conventions. Dickinson frequently uses a dash where a comma should be. In doing so, she is able to control the rhythm and flow of ideas, accentuating those she deems important. In the opening line of “Title divine—is mine!” for instance, the dash not only accentuates the phrase “Title divine” but also reveals the narrator’s hesitation and inexperience in dealing with the situation. Similarly, by playing with the capitalization of the key words in her poems, Dickinson invites readers to participate in the process of creating tropes. The word “Calvary,” when spelled with a capitalized C, refers to the place where Jesus Christ was crucified. When the letter is lowercase, however, it also suggests an experience similar to that of the Crucifixion, an experience of extreme suffering. Since Dickinson capitalizes her nouns almost as whimsically as she accents her lines, the word “Calvary” used in the poem is as much a reference to how the narrator feels she is treated on her wedding day as to what weddings have portended to many women for centuries.

Dickinson’s poems celebrate individual spirit, freedom of choice, and social equality. They condemn oppressive social institutions, establishments, and structures. The syntax, punctuation, and capitalization of her poems correspond to her thematic concerns, calling for change and urging people to find ways that can accurately portray, describe, and represent human experiences. The form of Dickinson’s poems in general and that of “Title divine—is mine!” in particular, therefore, is the message. The poem’s circular movement suggests both emotional and physical confinement. The conflict between the narrator’s emotional response to the occasion and her keen observation and rational reflection remains unresolved. The glorious accolades do not conceal the fact that the marriage has contributed to more of the stigmatization that the narrator has been experiencing throughout her life. She is put on a pedestal without being fully understood and appreciated. She must carry signs that are placed on her whether she likes them or not. She must behave the way she is expected to behave by society.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 147

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.

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