Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 441

There are no easy answers in life. Unlike, for instance, Shakespeare's Sonnet 18, "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day," which neatly ties up the question of mortality in its final couplet, Dickinson's poem is jagged and raw, ending on a note of profound uncertainty. The poem is ambiguous, its meaning eluding one's grasp, and at the end, it breaks off with a question, asking if a "husband"—be it "husband" as Christ or a physical mate—is the answer to life's problems. Her final line leaves us uncertain, without resolution: "Is this—the way?" The poem seems to presage the aching questions of post-World War I modernism. And yet by not offering easy answers, Dickinson invites us to join us in her doubts and inner explorations.

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Religion and sexuality are connected. Dickinson leaves the reader uncertain as to whether she is discussing a religious experience, a sexual experience, or both, but there is no question from her language that she connects the two. If this poem primarily describes a religious experience, it is one cast in terms of marriage: Dickinson uses words such as "bride," "betrothed," "bridled," and "husband." "Garnet" was a popular engagement ring stone in the nineteenth century, and "gold" would suggest wedding bands. Conversely, if this a poem about sex/marriage, it is cast in religious terms: "divine," "God," and "Empress of Calvary" are all terms with strong spiritual associations. Dickinson makes no clear distinction between the carnal and spiritual realms, leaving us as readers to ponder the connection. The implication is that spiritual and sexual experiences in their purity are ecstatic/intense (indicated by exclamation points), while the institutional manifestations of the two raise doubts in the speaker's mind. For instance, marriage being "bridled"—a term itself that suggests a horse being bridled or tamed and master—is juxtaposed to the word "shrouded," meaning dead.

Pain and joy are connected. Both pain and joy are implied in the opening lines. What we can be sure of, from the series of exclamation points, is that the speaker experiences deep emotions, but the imagery suggests these emotions combine conflicting feelings: "title divine" would appear ecstatic, but this is undercut by "Empress of Calvary." Calvary is the place of torture and pain where Christ was crucified. "Title divine" and "Empress of Calvary" are linked by the ambiguous words "Acute degree"—of what? Pain, joy, both? Further, the triad of birth, marriage, and death are described as a "Tri-Victory," a term that may or may not be ironic, given the speaker's uncertainty that marriage is the way. Dickinson connects pain and joy but leaves us to work out the implications.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 482

Dickinson’s thematic approach in “Title divine—is mine!” is as ironic as it is paradoxical. In appearance, the wedding day is the biggest celebration in the narrator’s life. It brings her recognition and titles. It represents a “Tri Victory” connecting the past and the future. However, the narrator gradually realizes that she is a person who has been acted upon rather than one who has acted, a person who has been forced into the role of a passive receiver rather than an active participant. The emotional conflict the narrator reveals in the second half of the poem is, in fact, embedded in the very beginning of the poem: She is given a title by someone who apparently is more powerful than “divine,” she is given the sign “Wife” with or without her consent, and she is conferred the “Acute Degree” that makes her the “Empress of Calvary.” If the narrator’s reading of history is accurate, the end is, indeed, in the beginning.

Thematically, “Title divine—is mine!” is firmly anchored in and representative of a large group of Dickinson’s poems that protest against society’s discriminatory treatment of women and condemn a system in which people are treated not as individuals but as types. In “They shut me up in Prose,” Dickinson portrays a female teenager who, because of her gender, is questioned about her natural poetic talent. In “My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun,” the narrator complains about a metaphoric marriage in which her volition, thanks to her social status, has been deprived to the point where although she has “the power to kill,” she does not have “the power to die.” “Title divine—is mine!” follows the same thematic line, calling the reader’s attention to the pernicious impact of a social institution that has physically imprisoned and emotionally tormented women for centuries. All the accolades the narrator has received do not conceal the fact that there is no true mutual understanding and respect between two human beings as long as one of them is judged not by who she really is but by who she is supposed to be. The titles are as nominal and empty as the prejudice against women is strong. They are as misleading as the stereotypes and preconceived ideas that people use to judge other people.

What distinguishes “Title divine—is mine!” from Dickinson’s other poems with similar thematic preoccupations is its juxtaposition of religion and marriage. The poem abounds with words with religious connotations such as “divine,” “the Sign,” and “Calvary.” The juxtaposition of two established social institutions challenges oppressive power structures in general. Marriage can function the same way as religion if the power structure is not built on equity and justice. In “Title divine—is mine!” readers are forced to confront a reality that suggests exactly the opposite of what they expect out of both institutions.

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