Analyse several poems by one poet. Establish what makes that poet's style distinctive through a close examination of particular formal elements.

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Student’s name:  Christopher Harris Jones

Tutor’s name:  Gwyneth Bodger

Course title:  Lit 101 – IALS

Essay title:  Analyse several poems by one poet.  Establish what makes that poet’s style distinctive through a close examination of particular formal elements.

        As Jeremy Bentham argued, there can be no criteria for a poem other than something that “does not reach the right hand margin”.  Bentham is not being facetious by stating the visually obvious; rather he is implying that poetry has no rules.  Every poem, and thus poet’s style, is unique and distinctive and the poetry of Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) is particularly and acutely original.  All scholars seem to agree on this fact, Shira Wolosky comments that Dickinson is “a poet who so transgresses against the norms”, and even her early critics could only attack her individuality as it broke the mould of poetry at that time.  Dickinson’s themes in themselves are not peculiar to poetry; in fact they seem to neatly fall into George Putenam’s prescription that all poems deal with intense emotions.  The predominant themes of Dickinson’s work are Love, Religion and Death, to an almost obsessive degree.  It could be argued that for a woman in nineteenth-century America these are uncommon subjects for discussion but it is the way she deals with the issues that is most distinguishing.  Her punctuation and syntax (or lack of), word choice, use of rhyme, meter and form are what sets her apart and makes her work so nonpareil.

Ted Hughes reflected that Emily Dickinson “is one of the oddest and most intriguing personalities in literary history”.  Despite the upheavals in her lifetime, which included American Civil War (a Nation on the brink of suicide or rebirth), the ruthless battle of the frontier at its apex, as well as puritan revival struggling against the new age of Transcendentalism in religion while Darwinism spread the world over, Dickinson remained a sceptical level-headed spectator.  Hughes refers to this as a “suspension of judgement”, and this sense of doubt is reflected in her relationship with God and view of marriage, which are both remarkably complex and odd.  

Firstly, her philosophy of the Deity is always viewed with ambiguity.  In her poetry there is a sense that her devotion to God leads to ecstasy (“Wild Nights”) but her doubt to despair.  However, it is important not to fall to the conclusion that the voice of the poem is that of the poet.  In “Prayer is the little implement”, it is questionable as to whether the narrator is Dickinson or another figure in prayer.  What is clear is the struggle to reach God; “the little implement” refers to prayer as a weak tool.  It could, paradoxically, be seen as small but great making “Men reach/ Where Presence – is denied them./”.  Although, there is then a doubt as to whether God hears (“If”) and the repetition of the similar inactive mechanisms, “implement” and “Apparatus” is a characteristic word choice from Dickinson, which leaves the reader with the image of a passive God. This is also seen in poem 742 as the lack of verbs and the list of stationary nouns; “Four Trees”, “The Sun”, “The Wind”, give the image of God as a static onlooker or part of a “frozen” scene.  The dichotomy of the praying figure in poem 437 is heightened by the form of the poem being as a hymn, like a song reaching up to God, and the broken syntax reflecting the “suspension of judgement”.  All these qualities give the poem an unexampled uniqueness.

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As aforementioned, another unsettled argument for academics is Emily Dickinson’s view on marriage.  It is assumed that a man spurned her sometime before 1862, which turned her into a matchless eccentric.  It is known, through her letters that she continually warned her friends off marrying and when they did so, she rebuked them for it, dismissing their lives as wasted in servitude, this is also seen in her verse, “She rose to His Requirement”.  In this particular poem the female role is portrayed as extremely negative, with the emphasis through the truncated lineation on the word “dropt” and the syllabic ...

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