Literary Elements In Emily Dickinson’s Poetry Essay

Dickinson’s poems use a stunning array of literary elements in order to reinforce the paradoxical nature of their purpose. These purposes range from a denouncement of religion and God, to her complex feelings towards death, to Dickinson’s declaration of her self-sufficiency and independence from society. “The Soul selects her own Society –“ is a Dickinson poem that conveys all three of these purposes.

Using the literary elements and devices of religion, individualism, skepticism, sensory depictions, and body parts, Dickinson’s speaker in “The Soul Selects her own Society –“ boldly declares their feelings towards independence, society, and religion. “The Soul selects her own Society – / Then – shuts the Door –“: immediately, the poem’s speaker separates her physical and spiritual selves from the outside world, fleeing into “her own Society –,” her own private world. This separation directly affects the poem’s meaning in two ways. The first is that this separation parallels the poem’s message towards religion.

Analyzing the poem biographically, Dickinson was famously known for her strong sense of individualism and isolation in all aspects of her life. Amongst this was her fierce agnosticism, which made her an outcast to her religiously traditional society. Knowing Dickinson’s troubled relationship with religion and God, then, this poem’s sentiments towards religion become clear. The “Soul” – capitalized to place emphasis on the conflation of the speaker’s entire being – suddenly “shuts the Door – / To her divine Majority–. ” This “divine Majority” represents Christianity, which was the religious “Majority” of Dickinson’s society.

The speaker creates a dichotomy of movement in the following two lines: “Unmoved – she notes the Chariots – pausing – / At her low Gate –. ” The speaker’s “Unmoved” “Soul” contrasts the “Chariots,” which are traditionally fast and brash. The purpose of this juxtaposition is that it emphasizes the steadfast, unwavering commitment towards her decision to shut off her soul from the world; even in the face of an “Emperor,” she remains “Unmoved. ” These physical descriptors also refer to the secluded, physically lax nature of Dickinson’s seclusion when paralleled with the busy public world.

This “Emperor” demonstrates the power of words in Dickinson’s poetry. In typical ambiguous Dickinson style, the “Emperor” is a conflation of God, and actual king, and Death. The ambiguity of the title “Emperor” enables the multiplicity of meaning from a single word, as an “Emperor” rules both religiously and physically over its people (since many emperors are viewed as Gods). In this interpretation, the speaker’s “Unmoved” soul parallels how Dickinson both spiritually and physically detached herself from society, denying both its customs and its traditions.

The entire second stanza also parallels a funeral procession: “Chariots,” the carriage carrying the dead, pause at “her low Gate,” which is the entrance to a graveyard; the dead are “Unmoved” after they are placed in their graves for eternity. Additionally, this stanza’s external structure creates tension and anxiety through its frequent usage of dashes, creating the same dread that one has when facing death. This macabre imagery enables an analysis of the “Emperor” as Death.

The close association between Death and God in this poem parallels Dickinson’s complex feelings towards religion and eternity: to Dickinson, the ultimate act of betrayal is the false hope of salvation that gets cruelly crushed at the end of one’s life. To this extent, Dickinson conflates God and Death into a single entity that both inspires hope and destroys it. The “Emperor” is “kneeling,” then, almost in forgiveness. The single image of the “Emperor” advances all of the poem’s major meanings: the speaker’s isolation from society, the speaker’s condemnation of religion, and the speaker’s feelings towards death.

The final stanza introduces the singular first-person pronoun “I,” establishing that this poem can be analyzed biographically using Dickinson as the speaker. “I’ve known her – from an ample nation – / Choose One –“: these two lines demonstrate Dickinson’s proud declaration of independence as she chooses “One” – herself – from “an ample nation. ” The fact that the speaker is able to “[know] her” parallels the speaker’s belief that privacy enables one to discover their true self. This message is advanced in other Dickinson poems, such as “I’m nobody!

Who are you? ,” and serves as a sort of self-legitimization of Dickinson’s seclusion. Rather than requiring religion in order to undergo growth, Dickinson is able to undergo her own spiritual resurrection through her self-sufficiency. “Then – close the Valves of her attention – / Like Stone –“: the poem’s final two lines describe a speaker who is both shutting away their “Soul” and closing their own tomb. Harsh consonant sounds in “close” and “Stone” create violent, numbing noises that parallel death and closing off a grave.

Through the dualistic meaning of these two lines, Dickinson establishes her independence at a dire cost: a social death. Her “Soul” chose its “own Society –,” that is, Dickinson chose her own company, but in the process she was forced to commit a figurative suicide to the public world in order to follow her interests. In “The Soul selects her own Society –,” Dickinson boldly declares her spiritual and physical independence from her society, one that blindly believes in salvation and believes women exist to serve as domestic servants for men.

Using the literary elements of structure, dichotomy, dualistic meanings, and physical imagery, Dickinson is able to advance her purpose and emphasize her religious skepticism. In the poem’s final image, Dickinson figuratively kills herself in order to free her “Soul,” embracing both life and death in a complex dichotomy that parallels her conflation of God and Death. Dickinson may have sacrificed a social life for her art, but this poem is proof that it was the right choice.