Poem Analysis Of Emily Dickinson & Relationships Between Men And Women

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In this discussion, you will read three poems by Emily Dickinson, one of the finest and most famous American poets. Among other topics, you will explore some of the ways that Dickinson views the relationships between men and women.
Upon successful completion of this assignment you will be able to:
  • Identify examples of symbols and diction.
  • Explain how various literary devices are used to communicate truths about humankind in works of poetry.
  • Apply discoveries about human nature to your own personal and/or professional life.
Resources Instructions
Read the headnote on Emily Dickson (pp. 234-239).
  1. Read "Tell all the Truth" (p. 243). What do you think she means by "tell it slant?"
  2. What do you think the first stanza is telling the reader about the nature of truth, or about human nature?
  3. What is she saying in the second stanza about truth or about human nature?
  4. One of the creative strengths of the poetry of Dickinson—who is often thought of as a subversive writer—is that many of her poems can be read on two levels. On the surface, the poem seems to be about truth and human nature, but, for feminists, on a subversive (secretive) level, the poem can also be read as resisting the views of "male-dominated" culture. Review the two potential close readings of this poem in the Surface Reading & Subversive Reading link (above). Do you think Dickinson meant for the poem to be read this way? Explain your answer.
  5. Based on your own understanding of the poem and your opinion of the close readings, compose a thesis for "Tell all the Truth" using the following formula: "In Emily Dickinson's poem, "Tell all the Truth," she uses (specific literary device) to show that (universal truth).
  6. Read "The Daisy follows soft the Sun" (p. 242).
  7. What natural event is being described in the first stanza, and how does the daisy react to it?
  8. What question does the sun ask the daisy in the first stanza, and what is the daisy's answer?
  9. Whom do you think the pronouns "We" and "Thou" refer to in the second stanza?
  10. What (or whom) do you think the daisy represents? Explain your reasoning with specific reference to the text.
  11. What (or whom) do you think the sun represents? Explain your reasoning with specific reference to the text.
  12. What seems to be the sun's attitude toward the daisy? Include specific reference to the text for support.
  13. What seems to be the daisy's attitude toward the sun? Include specific reference to the text for support.
  14. Some scholars see this poem as a subversive proclamation of the validity of women poets, while others see it as a proclamation of Dickinson's love for a married man. Does either interpretation seem valid to you, or do you think the poem has another message (expression of universal truth)? Explain your answer with specific reference to the text.
  15. Read "Essential Oils—are wrung" (p. 244). Complete a close reading of the surface or literal level of the poem, assuming that this literal level is a rather straightforward description of the process for producing perfume ("attar").
  16. What is emphasized about the process of creating perfume from flowers in the first stanza? Include specific reference to the text for support.
  17. What point is made about the rose and the perfume in the second stanza? Include specific reference to the text for support.
  18. Explain what you believe each of these symbols may stand for: the sun, the rose, the perfume.
  19. Based on your interpretations of the symbols, what universal truth does the poem reveal?
  20. Pick one of the poems above and explain how the universal truth it reveals can be observed or applied to your personal experience or to the story of a well-known person.

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CLOSE READINGS OF “TELL ALL THE TRUTH” Original Poem: Tell all the Truth but tell it slant-Success in Circuit lies Too bright for our infirm Delight The Truth's superb surprise As Lightning to the Children eased With explanation kind The Truth must dazzle gradually Or every man be blind-- Surface Reading: [Dear Male Poets,] tell the complete truth to us females, but tell it indirectly In order for we females to successfully understand truth you must tell it through pathways (a circuit) familiar to women. Too overwhelming for the feeble joy women (might experience) Is the excellent shock of the truth. Just as you might pacify a child By explaining an overwhelming light in a caring and nonthreatening way, So too you must reveal to women that the potentially dazzling nature of the truth slowly Or every one of us will either be overwhelmed (blinded) or simply not be able to understand (blind to) the truth. Subversive Reading: [Dear Women Poets, publicly] tell [the whole world] the complete truth [about your artistic powers], but tell it [through your poetry] secretively or even subversively. [In order for women poets to] successfully communicate [the truth about themselves to the world, we must do so] in a roundabout or circuitous) way [so that men cannot block us]* [Continue to let men think that] we take joy in their “truth” but it is too overwhelming for we feeble women. [Continue to let men think that] we experience their “truth” like a wonderfully unexpected gift. [It is really the men who are] like children who need to have bright truths Explained to them [by women poets] in easy and compassionate ways. Because the brilliant nature of our [female] truth must be eased [into the public sphere] slowly. Otherwise every male will continue to be ignorant of the real truth [about what powerful artists we can be] or every male will be overwhelmed by and incapable of accepting the real truth. *Note that another possible subversive reading of line two is that “success in circuit lies” could be that successfully communicating the truth of who we are to the world must be done through a pathway (circuit) of lies (or half-truths or secretly encoded poems where the surface reading is a type of lie or half-truth). Note that another name for a slant rhyme is a “half rhyme.” LITERARY GLOSSARY 4.3 Slant Rhyme: Usually an instance in which the stressed syllable of two words that the reader might expect to rhyme do not match perfectly in terms of either the final vowel or consonant. For example, “shape” and “keep” would be slant rhymes; similarly “graze” and “face” would be slant rhymes. Subversion: Subversion typically involves the reversal of established values or the insertion of other values into established values. Another helpful definition comes from MerriamWebster.com: “A systematic attempt to overthrow or undermine a government or political system by persons working secretly from within.” For Dickinson, the “political system” she was secretly trying to undermine was a male-dominated hierarchy, a system which suggested that the only appropriate roles for women were the private, domestic roles of wife and mother. This system, therefore, asserted that women had no business venturing into public, professional roles such as those of a poet. (As your Dickinson headnote suggests, publication was not considered “entirely respectable for women in the mid-nineteenth century.”) Furthermore, if women did attempt to be poets their art work, according to patriarchal culture, would be poorly crafted and quickly forgotten. Symbol: A visible object or action that functions on a literal level within the text, but which also suggests some further meaning in addition to itself. One of the most common examples is the heart. As a symbol, the heart is a literal physical object (a muscle that pumps blood), but it also very often has the additional symbolic meaning of “love.” Diction: Diction refers to an author’s careful selection of one word over another to convey meaning. Often, word choice takes advantage of the connotation of words. For example, if an author wanted to describe the dwelling place of a character, she could convey a very different meanings through her diction if she used “shack” versus “mansion.” Diction may also take advantage of the fact that a single word may have multiple dictionary definitions.
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