DICKINSON AS A POETESS
by Annie Finch
Page 3In other poems, it is only an initiation into object-hood which then allows the poet to objectify nature in her turn. During the course of the mysterious poem "I started Early - Took My Dog - "(JP 520), the poet is gradually objectified by the sea:
But no Man moved Me - till the TideThe tide, moving past the trappings of her humanity and her clothing (and perhaps past even the conventional objectification of the female body by male eyes), threatens to metaphorize the speaker into the most insubstantial of natural objects. Only after this point does the speaker seem to feel entitled to personify the tide specifically as a man with a "Silver Heel" who is "bowing - with a Mighty look -." The same process of self-objectification occurs more naturalistically in the early poem ending,
The Maple wears a gayer scarf -Such compensation resembles the strategy of sentimental poems such as Helen Hunt Jackson's "Covert," where the speaker, having startled a bird out of its nest, finally compensates for the process of metaphorization by describing her own heart as if it were a bird.
One of the techniques that Dickinson must have learned from the poetesses is the stated or implied question, emphasizing the speaker's inability ever to understand nature fully: "The tidy Breezes, with their Brooms / Sweep vale --and hill--and tree! / Prithee, My pretty Housewives! / Who may expected be?" writes Dickinson. "O helpless body of hickory tree,/What do I burn, in burning thee?'" asks Helen Hunt Jackson. Sigourney asks the stream, "Stream! why is thy rushing step delayed?" And Dickinson: "What tenements of clover / are fitting for the bee." A sentimentalist poem does not answer its own rhetorical questions or treat them as statements the way a romantic lyric might (as, for example, when Keats follows the question "what pipes and timbrels?" with the implied answering definition, ". . . those unheard / are sweeter" in "Ode on a Grecian Urn"). Dickinson adds indirect unanswered questions, certainly more mysterious and unique than those of the poetesses, but sharing in their spirit: "An ignorance a Sunset / confer upon the Eye--" or "He, the best Logician, / Refers my clumsy eye -- / To just vibrating Blossoms! / An Exquisite Reply! "
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Last updated on March 10, 2008