Let's Talk Emily Dickinson
Updated: Jul 1
Last year, I kicked Pride off by talking about the OG lesbian poet. This year, as Pride reaches its end, let’s talk about some more lesbian poets. It’s time to talk about the one and only Emily Dickinson.
I guess I only talk about poetry once a year, and it’s during Pride. And I guess I only talk about lesbian poets. I’m fine with that.
Much like my Sappho post from way back in the day, we will be analyzing some pieces of Dickinson’s poetry and I’ll discuss what I like and dislike about the poems I pick. As a reminder, I do not read poetry that often; it is not my cup of tea. When it comes to this analysis, it’s not gonna be the greatest because I never bothered to take poetry courses when I was in college. Sorry not sorry, I’m not up to snuff on how to properly analyze a poem. I spent my time in courses where I would read literature from a singular time period for a semester instead.
On that note, please welcome to the stage poem 303! Poem 303 is sometimes referred to as “the Soul selects her own” poem if you’re doing a quick Google search for it. It’s a very quick poem--only three stanzas--and, from my super quick research, it tends to be analyzed as a general take on life. I’m here to tell you that it’s about lesbian lovers.
No, this is not a hot take post. I guess this post does lean that way, but this is just a quick analysis of a singular poem from Dickinson’s canon. We’re just dipping out toes into what she has to offer us. So let’s start at the beginning of poem 303.
Let me start off by saying, Dickinson loves to capitalize words in her poems. If you're familiar with even one of Dickinson's poems, you know how true this is. In 303, the words “soul” and “society” are capitalized, and this is only the first line. At least one word per line is capitalized. That has nothing to do with my analysis, but I felt like I should mention in. Anyway, in this first line, Dickinson uses feminine pronouns. This is what leads me to believe we have a female narrator. But what leads me to believe this is a woman talking about another woman? Well, I have three reasons for you.
1. This is Emily Dickinson we’re talking about.
2. There do be a lesbian vibe to the poem; I don’t know how else to explain this point. The vibes simply read as lesbian.
3. Dickinson states that the “Soul” chooses her “Society.” You know what else freely chooses things/people? The heart.
Get it? Got it? Good.
Now that Dickinson has established that love is love, we will continue on to stanza two. It begins with the narrator watching some sort of procession. This procession is heading towards who I assume to be the narrator’s lover, and leading this procession is an Emperor. Question time. What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word procession?
Personally, I think of a bridal procession. Now we have discovered that our narrator’s lover seemingly has become either unhappily betrothed or married to this Emperor. Thus ends stanza two.
The third and final stanza is simply stating the love affair between the two lovers is now over with this marriage or betrothal. There’s nothing else to talk about in this stanza. In short, poem 303 is about two closeted women who are in a relationship until one marries a man and the love affair has to end for fear of being caught. These two gal pals can no longer be.
Alternatively, the procession I brought up could be a funeral procession. The Emperor could represent death, and the lovers could be separated that way. Either way, they can no longer be together.
I guess the traditional analysis one sees online, and the one I’ve come up with, are seemingly the same in saying that this poem is about how life sucks. Poem 303 definitely has that vibe to it. I just choose to see it as two lovers separated by a loveless marriage. All in all, Dickinson says life isn’t fair or a happy thing.
Shall we move onto another poem now? I think we shall. Please welcome to the stage poem 449!
449 is actually one of my favorite poems by Dickinson. It’s about death, it’s got some gothic adjacent imagery, it’s short and sweet; it’s a ten-out-of-ten in my book. Go ahead and click away for a moment to go read this one as well. It won’t even take you a minute.
Let’s jump in now. Poem 449 has some *chef’s kiss* beautiful imagery. I do have to give it to Emily Dickinson, she created some haunting images. And I think she created one of my all-time favorite stanzas with:
We talked between the Rooms—
Until the Moss had reached our lips—
And covered up—our names—
It’s just so beautiful, and so haunting as well. I mean, Dickinson is literally saying you can die for the noblest of causes, but you’ll still be forgotten in death. People will likely forget your name after awhile, and within a few generations your death will mean nothing. Sad, but true. And that’s what makes this poem so beautiful as it’s nothing more than a sad, dark truth.
Now that I’ve brought the mood way down, I must bid you adieu. Sorry, I don’t have anything else to offer you with poem 449. I can’t give a different analysis on it. It’s just dark and pretty, and I wanted to talk about it for a short while.
I hope you enjoyed this quick dip into everyone’s favorite recluse poet lady. I lowkey aspire to have her life. I too would like to stay inside all the time and avoid people; that’s the dream. Until next time, stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask if you aren’t vaccinated, and read some good books for me.