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“My life had stood-”: Literary Interpretation of the Poem

Emily Dickinson uses the energy of metaphor and symbolism in her poem “My Life had stood-” to express the way she felt about herself as a poet in a time when women were permitted far significantly less independent believed and freedom of expression she provides her readers a painfully honest confession of the sacrifices she believed she had to make to be the artist she was. The structure, word selection, and symbolism in the poem function elegantly to translate her internal conflict to paper and to speak to her readers of how she sacrificed her identity as a woman in order to effectively unleash the creativity within her. The artistic authority denied her by society, since she was a lady, is somehow granted to her in the act of submitting to her inner male, her “owner” and “master”.

The poem consists of six quatrains and follows a rhythmic pattern very frequent in her writing. The very first and final stanzas are the only ones that have a strong rhyming pattern, ABCB, and the third and fourth contain slant rhymes, also ABCB. She is precise in generating her points and does not use any longer words than she feels required she is on-target and to the point, however strong and efficient in her execution. She speaks to the reader directly in a concise and matter-of-fact manner she provides the reader an account of how her life as a “loaded gun” had “sat in corners”, until 1 day her master “identified- and carried [her] away.” The rest of the poem describes various ways her life discovered meaning by way of the hands of this “master”. The last stanza, rather than concluding the poem, leaves the reader uncertain as to the nature of her partnership with the “master”.

The verb tenses differ somewhat all through the poem. The 1st stanza requires place in the previous, making use of the previous excellent verb “had stood” to imply that the situation that was true for her then is no longer actual. The rest of the poem carries on mostly in the active present tense. She speaks of her present reality, of what is actively taking place in her planet at that moment. She opens the final stanza in the indefinite future tense, giving the reader a sense of unknown relating to what lies ahead, and then she closes the poem with the last two lines in the present tense, their which means hanging on the uncertainty set up in the preceding two lines. Emily guides the reader, briefly, through her past, spends most of the poem concerned with the present, and closes the poem with an explanation of what she hopes will happen, what she thinks “must” happen, when the time comes for she and her “master” to die.

Emily uses nature and a theme of hunting to express her concepts. Her life is a “loaded gun”, her owner is a hunter. The truth that she chose nature as the realm inside which to express these ideas is very standard of her writing, and it serves an important purpose. Nature, “sovereign”, represents a spot where a man is in control of his life. These pictures evoke the atypical American pioneer spirit, the freedom to reside independently within one’s surroundings, anything she’d not recognized in her “corners”. The reader also senses her energetic rage by way of the words she uses. They “hunt the doe”, causing the mountains to ring with the sound of bullets. Her smile fires down “cordial light” upon the valley, as if a “Vesuvian face had let its pleasure through”. The power and force of their activity inside nature is like an erupting volcano, a effective release of pent up power.

Relating to the symbolism in the poem, there is much to be mentioned the complete poem is a metaphor. The poem begins with Emily speaking of her life as a loaded gun, in corners “not just a corner, the initial lines of the poem inform us, but corners, as although wherever she stood was thereby a constricted place.” (Gelpi) Carl Jung place forth that each human possesses the intrinsic qualities of each genders he calls them the anima (feminine) and animus (masculine). A single interpretation of this poem is that Emily offers complete manage of her anima to her animus, in order for the artistic power of the anima to be completely released. It is the animus, the “master”, who provides her identity, who gives her the hands to do the function she desperately desires to do.

Moreover, the reality they are hunting doe, female deer, ought to not be overlooked. The words “doe” and “foe” are connected in that they rhyme. It is clear that the target in the poem is fundamentally feminine. It is as if Emily is attacking womanhood, killing it, and discovering objective in performing so. She unapologetically, nearly proudly, refuses to acquiesce to society’s expectations of her as a woman, to rest her head in the “eider duck’s deep pillow”, next to her husband, as it have been, to fulfill the duties of wife and mother.

The last stanza presents somewhat of a mystery. Why need to he reside longer than she? By making this connection with death, she brings an element of immortality to the poem. Her art will reside on eternally, although her temporal part as an artist could finish her poems’ effective blows will be felt far past her time on Earth. She also suggests that a crucial dependency exists in between her and him: if it have been not for him, by way of whom her art is birthed into space and time, the art would not be, and would consequently not be able to exist into eternity. So we see that in the death of her womanhood, and consequently in her submission to the “master”, her art is born, which will reside on past the death of that which brought the art into existence. Beautifully, her death to womanhood has done fantastic service in bringing equality to women right after her.

Emily Dickinson might have struggled with her identity as a woman, nevertheless, the prior interpretations are debatable, as there is a tone of ambivalence in her writing, and appropriately so. Adrienne Wealthy says of this poem, “poetry is also much rooted in the unconscious it presses too close against the barriers of repression and the nineteenth-century woman had considerably to repress.” (Wealthy)

Gelpi, Albert. On 754 (My Life had stood a loaded gun). Modern American Poetry. University of Illinois. 14 Sep. 2013.

Rich, Adrienne. On 754 (My Life had stood a loaded gun). Modern day American Poetry. University of Illinois. 14 Sep. 2013.
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