Free Use of Language to Develop Meaning Essay Sample


Emily Dickinson's world was a garden and a home she shared with her father in a small town situated in England. She lived a solitary life and because of her solitude, she was able to focus on her world. Her poems were discovered only after she had died. All her poems had a deeper connection with her inner world. Her style is characterized by use of compression and ellipsis which presented multiple and contradictory perspectives on major themes; unconventional use of syntax and grammar which rendered literal experience symbolic and abstract.  She was very lateral and divergent in her thinking. She saw relationships in contrary things, seemed fascinated with paradox and played with ambiguity and incongruence.

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Dickinson punctuated most of her poems with dashes rather than with normal punctuation marks. The dash often indicates a pause in thought or speech, emphasis, or physical movement in her poems. The dashes also serve as structural, interrupting and punctuating devices, breaking up the text, slowing down, or revealing a sense of a voice speaking in hesitant, deliberate, ecstatic or ironic tones. In the poem "it was not Death", she uses the dash as a punctuation mark in the third, fifth and sixth stanza repetitively. The dash in the first and third stanza connect thoughts, and then dashes in every line of the last two stanzas connect broken thoughts hence leaving the reader gasping to comprehend the persona's broken up thoughts.

She also capitalized words in the middle of line. She used irregular capitalization to stress and personify common nouns. Careful scrutiny of all the capitalized words in a poem may help determine its meaning. In the poem "This is My Letter to the World," she capitalized the words Me, News, World, Nature, Message, Majesty, Hands, Her, and Sweet. She did this most probably because these things meant a lot to her.  Some times she also changed the function or word class of a word for instance, adjectives and verbs may be used as nouns. A good example is in the poem, "We talk in Careless-and in loss." 

'Careless' is an adjective used as a noun. In many of her poems, she uses 'be' instead of 'is' or 'are'. This is perhaps because she was influenced by the modern spirit of transcendentalism. Earlier, she had rejected the traditional views in life. She followed her lifestyle and wrote about the only things that were important to her-love, religion, individuality and nature, and broke away from traditional forms of writing and wrote with profound energy and complexity never witnessed anywhere else. Her omissions of for example the suffixes of adjectives or adverbs in her poems seem to counter the assumptions that the world can be described and understood. In the same way, addition of an article challenges the reader's sense of certainty in the word. Her omissions and inclusions expand and limit the poem's meaning.

By deleting phrases or words as characterized in her works, and crafting elliptically compacted metaphors, she seems to do away with all that is not essential to her meaning. In her poems, ellipsis is denoted by dots, dashes or asterisks. According to Sharma, Emily also uses language figuratively to enhance the quality and meaning of her poems. She heavily employed imagery to achieve this effect. In the poem "Because I could not stop," she significantly uses the "I" very symbolically. "I could not stop for death." "I had put away." These lines symbolizes that each person ultimately will face death individually. Here death is symbolized as being lonely. Afterwards in the poem, she uses anaphora, "We passed the setting sun." "We passed the field." These two lines suggest that once we die we are no longer lonely.

We will be guided and comforted along the way. Initially, death is symbolized as being fearful and unwanted but as we read through the poem, we get a sense of consolation and relief that shows that death is not horrid as it is alleged. Again in the poem, "I will tell you how the Sun rose," the poet describes the obvious way in which the sunrises and sunsets, yet it describes the challenges of perceiving the world around us. At the beginning, the "I" shows confidence in describing a sunrise. As the poem, like the day, progresses, the "I" becomes less certain about what he/she knows: "But how he [the sun] set- I know not-"

According to Farr, Emily had a rare ability of describing abstract concepts with concrete images. In most of her poems, abstract ideas and material things explain each other, yet the relationship between them remains complicated and unpredictable. For example in the poem "I'll tell you how the sun rose," the sunrise is described in terms of a small village, with town news, church steeples and ladies' bonnets. But the sunset is described in terms of 'gathering home of a flock'. The shifting of tone from the initial to the end of the poem shows that the persona is confident talking about the sunrise than sunset, suggesting that more abstract questions about the mystery of death lurk within the image of sunset.

Dickinson uses partial rhyme in most of her poems. In her poem, "My life Had stood," she uses both rhyme and rhythm to bring out meaning for the reader. She uses them to emphasize key phrases and ideas. In the poem, "Because I could not stop," three key words: Immortality, Civility, and Eternity have direct rhyme and they are placed at the end of the first, second and last stanza respectively to suggest that the carriage held eternal life in death; to show the formal and cold politeness of the driver when ".....put away my Labor and my leisure to His civility."; and stating that death cares not for what you have done, but that it is random and unconcerned. The poem fails to rhyme conventionally in the third, fourth and fifth stanzas and then ends with the word Eternity inciting the inevitable yet infinite time of death.

There are incidences of repetition in some of her poems for instance in the poem, "The Railway Train," in which she personifies a train as it "licks the valleys," "laps the miles," and "feeds itself at tanks," things that a train cannot do. She uses these images to convey the image of the travelling train hence making the train's journey memorable and vivid to the reader. Repetition also features prominently in her poems. Repetition enhances the flow of her poems and serves to emphasize key words or phrases. For example in the poem "Because I could not stop for death," she repeats the phrase "we passed" to describe the dreaded journey she made with death.


In conclusion, Dickinson's poetry is complex because she deviated from themes and techniques of her time. Consequently, her poems require active and careful reading. With her ellipsis, she leaves out a lot with remarkably contracted metaphors which one must ponder carefully to decipher their meanings. Sensitivity is also paramount in approaching her unconventional syntax and grammar. She was never consistent in her views and they changed from poem to poem depending upon how she felt when writing the poem. She chose to change common things and invent a completely new style, a style she will be remembered for in the annals of poetry.


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