Most readers feel the power of this poem, which is based on rage. The
speaker compares her life
to an unused loaded gun and finds joy in fulfilling its purpose to
kill. Even if you have
never felt a rage so violent that you felt destructive or explosive,
can you imagine what such a state
must feel like? Does this poem convincingly portray such a rage?
The force of this poem strikes me every time I read it, and I
am moved by it though its exact
meaning eludes me. For the critic David Porter, its message lies "in
its very indefiniteness. Significance
rests not in what the poem says but in what it leaves out, what it
cannot get into its words and therefore
into consciousness." Dickinson may be attempting to express the
Inexpressible, or perhaps she is
struggling with what was inexpressible for her. In any event, I agree
with Adrienne Rich's view of this
...I think it is a poem about possession by the
daemon, about the dangers and risks of such possession
if you are a woman, about the knowledge that power in a woman can seem
destructive, and that you
cannot live without the daemon once it has possessed you. . . .
I do not
pretend to have--I don't even wish to
have--explained this poem, accounted for its every image; it will
reverberate with new tones long after
my words about it have ceased to matter. But I think that for us, at
this time, it is a central poem in
understanding Emily Dickinson, and ourselves, and the condition of the
woman artist, particularly in the
nineteenth century. It seems likely that the nineteenth-century woman
poet, especially, felt the medium
of poetry as dangerous. . . Emily Dickinson's is the only poetry in
English by a woman of that century
which pierces so far beyond the ideology of the "feminine" and the
conventions of womanly feeling. To
write it at all, she had to be willing to enter chambers of the self in
and to relinquish control there, to take those risks she had to create
a relationship to the outer world
where she could feel in control.
Ourself behind ourself, concealed--
Should startle most--
I will briefly discuss the view that this poem grows out of
her anger at the narrow life allowed to Dickinson
by her society and by her father. She felt forced to practice her art
privately, that is, she wrote her poetry
privately and shared it with only a few family members and friends. To
be able to dedicate herself to
poetry, she withdrew into seclusion. It was a heavy price to pay to be
a poet. This poem, with its
slaughter and its "Vesuvian" voice, expresses her rage at the
restrictions on the woman poet, her sense
of the power of language, and the sense of control that writing poetry
Try reading this poem by feeling the larger impressions, don't
about understanding or puzzling out every line and word.
Analysis of Poem
In the past, she "had" stood in the corner, without a purpose.
Then a hunter found her, knew her purpose
since he was her "Master," and used her to express her purpose. The gun
can be seen as language; the
hunter's shooting-- the expression of the gun--is creating poetry. The
"doe" (female deer) is hunted and
presumably killed, just as women writers have to kill or suppress a
part of themselves to write. Hunting
in the wood re-establishes a relationship with nature, a frequent topic
in Dickinson's poetry. It also gives a sense of control (the Woods are
Hunter/Owner/Master may symbolize the poet-part of the speaker, poetic
inspiration, or poetry itself--or
something else altogether. The speaker prefers to stand guard over her
Master rather than share a soft
downy pillow; she rejects the softer life, the homelier alternative.
The speaker's purpose, power, and
control are destructive and bring the her joy and satisfaction, until,
perhaps, the last stanza. The last
stanza is difficult, tangled and perhaps indicates some confusion in
|Dickinson, Online overview
"For each ecstatic instant," p. 2
"I taste a liquor never brewed,"
"Safe in their alabaster chambers,"
"I heard a fly buzz when I died," p.
"It was not death, for I stood up,"
| "A bird came down the walk,"
"I like to see it lap the miles,"
"Pain has an element of blank," p.
"A narrow fellow in the grass," p.
"I'm nobody! Who are you?" p. 9
| "After great pain a formal
feeling comes" (handout)
"The soul selects her own society"
"The heart asks pleasure first,"
"I'll tell you how the sun rose,"
"Presentiment is that long shadow on
the lawn," p. 36
| "Success is counted sweetest"
"I cannot live with you," p. 29
"He fumbles at your spirit," p.
"I felt a cleaving in my mind,"
"My life closed twice before its
close," p. 49
| "Wild nights! Wild nights!"
"She sweeps with many-colored brooms,"
"Hope is the thing with feathers,"
"I felt a funeral in my brain,"
"I had been hungry all the years,"
|"I started Early--took my Dog--"
"My life had stood a loaded gun"
"Because I could not stop for Death,"
"If you were coming in the fall,"
Sample Midtern and Student
Core Studies 6 Page || Melani Home Page