The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“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...

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Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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