Tag Archives: trimeter

“The Soul selects her own Society”

The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —

Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
At her low Gate —
Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat —

I’ve known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —

Emily Dickinson’s “The Soul selects her own Society” was composed in 1862 and published posthumously in Poems by Emily Dickinson in 1890. The poem is composed in iambic trimeter with the occasional line in tetrameter, using dashes to interrupt flow and create dramatic pauses.

Dickinson’s characteristic use of seemingly out-of-place dashes and capital letters help to set the somber mood of the poem. The speaker of the poem starts out by saying that the, “Soul selects her own Society— / Then—shuts the Door” (Dickinson 143). Once the door is shut no one else is allowed through, not even “an Emperor be kneeling / Upon her Mat—.” This indicates that the speaker rejects larger society and creates her own society based on her individual self, indifferent to wealth or status. The speaker separates the individual from society, or the “divine Majority,” and “from an ample nation— / Chooses One.” In this way the speaker shuts people out her life. The “Valves of her attention,” like the valves of her heart, are “Like Stone—” to everyone except the “One”. It is open to interpretation whether the choice of whom the speaker lets in is made on whether they were deemed worthy enough, or perhaps that the speaker had no choice at all. Dickinson capitalizes “Soul” personifying it. This indicates that the speaker does not have conscious control over the “Soul.” It is as if the “Soul” makes choices of its own will. The “Soul” decides instead of the mind. Even if the speaker is missing out on great people, like an “Emperor,” it is too late to open the door.

Marijane Suttor reads “The Soul selects her own Society” in the context of Dickinson’s life. “This poem allows the reader a sense of her inner thoughts about her own reclusive nature.” It is known that during the 1860s Dickinson became reclusive. She withdrew from society and never left the family property, only interacting with her family members and close friends (UIC). Suttor writes that the poem “gives the sense that perhaps others were telling her that she needed to broaden her ‘society.’ It appears that this is Emily Dickinson responding to this type of observation from others indicating that who she accepted into her society was not her decision; instead it came from her soul.

In this reading “The Soul selects her own Society” registers Dickinson’s social anxiety.  During her lifetime she rarely published her writing. But when she did it was anonymous.  She only allowed those closest to her to read her work and experience her inner conciseness. The “One” that Dickinson chose might be interpreted as the “solitary, interior life of creativity and self-discovery” (High Beam).

—Rose O’Callaghan

Bibliography and Further Reading Emily Dickinson. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1960. Print; Gale. “Frequently-Asked Questions | Emily Dickinson Museum.” Emily Dickinson Museum: The Homestead and the Evergreens. Emily Dickinson Museum, 2009. Web; High Beam. “The Soul Selects Her Own Society.” Encyclopedia.com. HighBeam Research, 2013. Web; Marijane Suttor. “Poetry Analysis the Soul Selects Her Own Society by Emily Dickinson.” Poets and Poetry, 31 Dec. 2011. Web.; UIC. “Emily Dickinson.” Emily Dickinson. University of Illinois, n.d. Web.


“Because I could not stop for Death”

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –

Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death,” (#712 in Thomas H. Johnson’s The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson) was written in 1863 and first published posthumously in Poems in 1890 by Roberts Brothers of Boston. This edition was assembled and edited by Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson and was titled, “The Chariot.” The lyric poem personifies Death as a gentleman caller who takes Dickinson on a carriage ride to her own grave. The U.S. was still fighting the Civil War in 1863, so Dickinson was living in a time of violence and of change. During the early 1860s, Dickinson had fully developed her, “flood subjects,” on the themes of living and dying. With enigmas of incredible insight, she repeatedly gives relationship to the ideas and experiences which exist in time, but never are a part of it (Johnson viii-ix). “Because I could not stop for Death” was part of her packet poems, verses written from 1858-1865, the years of great creativeness for Dickinson. These poems are two thirds of the entire body of her poetry. The packet for the year 1863, contained 140 poems. In 1862, she initiated a life-long correspondence with Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who later went on to edit the first edition of her poetry (“A Timeline of Emily Dickinson’s Life”).

The poem is comprised of six quatrains, with a meter alternating between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. There is an internal rhyme throughout the poem especially in stanzas 1, 2, 4, and 6. Some of these stanzas only use eye rhyme. For example: “me” and “immortality”; “away” and “civility”; “chill” and “Tulle”; and “Day” and “Eternity.” The poem uses alliteration as well. For example: “May labor and my leisure too”; “At Recess — in the Ring —”; “We passed the Fields of Grazing Grain —”; “We passed the Setting Sun —”; “The Dews drew quivering and chill —”; “For only Gossamer, my Gown —”; “My Tippet — only Tulle —.” Anaphora is also used in the poem, as seen in lines nine, and eleven and twelve when Dickinson repeats, “We passed.” It is also seen when she repeats, “Ground” in lines eighteen and twenty. There is also the personification of Death and Immortality.

Allen Tate believes that it was one of the greatest poems in the English language (14). He writes that every image in the poem extends and intensifies the other images and that Dickinson was able to fuse sensibility and thought within the poem (15-16). Yvor Winters would later comment on Tate’s admiration of the poem by saying that the poem ends in a statement that is not offered seriously, and that to praise the poem is unsound criticism (289-290). Winters concludes that the poem is an example of a poem representing a mixed theme and falls below her finest achievement (288-89). Joanne Feit Diehl reads the poem through Freud’s “The Theme of the Three Caskets,” which she believes clarifies Dickinson’s relationship to desire and to the awareness of her own death. And commentator Martha Nell Smith reads the poem as a way for Dickinson to convey her comedic side. “That this poem begins and ends with humanity’s ultimate dream of self-importance – Immortality and Eternity – could well be the joke central to its meaning, for Dickinson carefully surrounds the fantasy of living ever after with the dirty facts of life – dusty carriage rides, schoolyards, and farmer’s fields… she pulls the sublime down to the ridiculous but unavoidable facts of existence, thus imbues life on earth with its real import” ( 95).

Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death” reflects on the journey and reality of death through the personification of Death and Immortality and the simple act of going on a carriage ride. Many commentators have had their own takes on the poem, from comedic, to Freudian, however, the fact still remains that the poem is a greatly important one, and helps shape our understanding of Dickinson herself.

–Danielle Field

Bibliography and Further Reading “A Timeline of Emily Dickinson’s Life.” Emily Dickinson Museum. Emily Dickinson Museum (2009. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.); Emily Dickinson.. “712.” The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. (Boston: Bay Back Books, 1960. 350. Print.); Joanne Feit Diehl. Women Poets and the American Sublime. (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990. Print.); Thomas H. Johnson. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. By Emily Dickinson. Ed. Johnson. (Boston: Back Bay Books, 1960. v-xi. Print.); Suzanne Miller, Cristanne Miller, and Martha Nell Smith. Comic Power in Emily Dickinson. (Austin: U of Texas Press, 1993. 95. Print.); Allen Tate. Reactionary Essays on Poetry and Ideas (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936.13-16, 22-25. Print.); Yvor Winters. “Emily Dickinson and the Limits of Judgment,” In Defense of Reason. 3rd ed. (Denver: Alan Swallow, 1947. 283-99. Print.).

“A Diamond on the Hand”

A Diamond on the Hand
To Custom Common grown
Subsides from its significance
The Gem were best unknown —

Within a Seller’s Shrine
How many sight and sigh
And cannot, but are mad for fear
That any other buy.

Emily Dickinson’s, “A Diamond on the Hand,”also known as 1108, in Thomas H. Johnson’s edition of Poems, describes a diamond ring that is worn daily and loses its importance. However, people still sigh because they cannot afford diamonds, and are jealous of those who can. Therefore, it would be better if diamonds did not exist at all. The lyric poem was written in 1867, and then published in 1932 in, Emily Dickinson Face to Face: Unpublished Letters with Notes and Reminiscences edited by Martha Dickinson Bianchi. At the time of writing, America was in the midst of The Reconstruction Era, which began in 1865. America was beginning to return back to “normal” after the Civil War.

The poem is written in short meter, composed of lines with six syllables, six syllables, eight syllables, and six syllables twice, since the poem is eight lines long. This can also be seen as the first two lines being in iambic trimeter, the third line in iambic tetrameter, the fourth-sixth lines in iambic trimeter, the seventh line in iambic tetrameter, and finally the eighth line in iambic trimeter. The poem also has an (abcb) rhyme scheme as seen with the rhyming words “grown” and “unknown” and “sigh” and “buy.” Alliteration is seen as well; for example: “To Common Custom grown,” “Subsides from its significance,” “Within a Seller’s Shrine,” and “How many sight and sigh.” Dickinson only has three poems that focus on diamonds: 1108, 395 “Reverse cannot befall,” and 427 “I’ll clutch — and clutch —.” All focus in some way on materialization.

There are very few, if any pieces of critical reception on this poem; however, there is commentary on the book that it was published in: Emily Dickinson Face to Face. In 1933, a year after the book’s publication, Morris U. Schappes, writes that the poems that were included, such as “A Diamond on the Hand,” will, “add nothing to a high reputation (Schappes 83), and that the editing that was done by Dickinson’s niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, on the notes and the poems can be seen as suspicious because she “cannot copy the same page twice without making some error.” Overall, he suspects the accuracy and authenticity of her editing all together. Since “A Diamond on the Hand” was included in the book, Schappes probably does not think much of it, based on his views of Bianchi’s editing. In 1971, thirty nine years after publication, Scott Donaldson writes about the book saying that it, “remains of value principally as a document in the long, and sadly vindictive, struggle over the hoard of Dickinson verse conducted by Mme. Bianchi and the heirs of Mabel Loomis Todd.” He then writes that the book reveals more about the “ill temper, arrogance, and conspicuous propriety of Emily Dickinson’s niece…than about the woman-and poet-who continues to dazzle” (163). Again, this opinion, like Schappes, focuses on Bianchi, rather than the works contained in the book she edited. Finally, in 1999, Martha Nell Smith and Ellen Louise Hart focus on the poem in terms of the actual manuscript. In the original, the opening lines are crossed out and replaced with alternates, and the poem is meant for Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson, her sister-in-law (Smith and Hart 30-31). In Franklin’s edition however, he excludes “A Diamond on the Hand” from his list of those sent to her and instead places it in the list of those excluded, mostly because it was a draft. What is interesting though is that the manuscript has fold marks that suggest that the stationary was folded and refolded into a small square, so it could easily be passed to other people, which was common with the manuscripts sent to Susan.

Though the amount of commentary is few for “A Diamond on the Hand,” the poem, though small, is still significant in that it calls attention to materialism and how it is unnecessary for us in our world. Dickinson’s use of short meter and of a common rhyme scheme make the poem flow and overall it conveys its message clearly and efficiently.

—Danielle Field

Bibliography and Further Reading “A Timeline of Emily Dickinson’s Life.” Emily Dickinson Museum. Emily Dickinson Museum (2009. Web. 11 Nov. 2013); Emily Dickinson. “1108.” The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. (Boston: Bay Back Books, 1960. 500. Print); Scott Donaldson. “Emily Dickinson Face to Face by Martha Dickinson Bianchi.” Rev. for Emily Dickinson Face to Face by Martha Dickinson Bianchi. The New England Quarterly (44.1 [1971]: 161-63. Print); Morris U Schappes. Emily Dickinson Face to Face: Unpublished Letters with Notes and Reminiscences by Emily Dickinson, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, Alfred Leete Hampson.” Rev. for Emily Dickinson Face to Face: Unpublished Letters with Notes and Reminiscences by Emily Dickinson, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, Alfred Leete Hampson. American Literature (5.1 [1933]: 82-85. Print); Martha Nell Smith & Ellen Louise Hart. “On Franklin’s Gifts and Ghosts.” The Emily Dickinson Journal (8.2 [1999]: 24-38. Print).