Emily Dickinson was America’s best-known female poet and one of the foremost authors in American literature. She was born in1830 in Amherst Massachusetts and died in her hometown in1886, at the age of 56, due to illness. Emily was the middle child of three children. Her father, Edward Dickinson, was a prominent lawyer and one-term United States congressional representative. Her mother, Emily Norcross Dickinson, was a housewife. From 1840 to 1847 Emily attended the Amherst Academy, and from 1847 to 1848 she studied at the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, a few miles from Amherst.
During her lifetime, she published only about 10 of her nearly 2000 poems, in newspapers, Civil War journals, and a poetry anthology. Most people believed that Dickinson was an extreme recluse, but this is not entirely true. Although it is true that Emily never married and became very selective about the company she kept. Emily was far more sociable than most descriptions would have readers believe. She frequently entertained guests at her home and the home of her brother and sister-in-law during her 20’s and 30’s.
Also, Dickinson kept up a huge correspondence with friends and family. Only recently are biographers beginning to recognize the role of Emily’s sister-in-law, Susan Dickinson, in Emily’s writing. They lived next door to each other for over 35 years, sharing mutual passions for literature, music, cooking, and gardening. It is rumored that Emily and Susan where secretly lovers. Emily sent Susan more than 400 poems and letters, twice as many as she sent to any other correspondent. Susan also is the only person at whose request Emily would actually change one of her poems.
Evidence has also surfaced that Susan participated in the writing of many poems with Emily, and Susan was probably responsible for the few poems Emily actually printed during her lifetime. In the early stages of her career, Emily’s handwritten lyrics were formally printed and her poetic techniques were conventional. But she later began to attend to the visual aspects of her poems. For example, she arranged and broke lines of verse in unusual ways and she created extravagantly shaped letters of the alphabet to emphasize a poem’s meaning. She also added cutouts from novels, magazines, and even the Bible to augment her own use of language.
Although few of Emily’s poems were formally published during her lifetime, she was able to self “publish” by sending out at least one-third of her poems in more than 1000 letters she wrote to at least 100 different correspondents. Emily’s method of binding about 800 of her poems into 40 manuscript books and distributing several hundred of them in letters are now widely recognized as her particular form of self-publication. She also read her poems aloud to several people, including her cousins Louise and Frances Norcross, over a period of three decades.
I’m ceded — I’ve stopped being Their’s — 1 And They can put it with my Dolls, 5 My childhood, and the string of spools, Baptized, before, without the choice, But this time, consciously, of Grace — Called to my Full — The Crescent dropped — My second Rank — too small the first — Crowned — Crowing — on my Father’s breast –15 But this time — Adequate — Erect, Upon a first reading of Emily Dickinson’s poems I found them very difficult to understand due to her unique style of writing. Once I was able to comprehend the general theme of her poems, they became clearer with profound meaning.
Emily’s writing style, leaving words absent and not completing sentences, allows the reader to fill in the gaps through reflection of their own life and experiences. Emily writes from experiences that have occurred in and around her life, her writing technique requires the reader to delve deep into their soul to apply the meaning that will bring a feeling of peace and understanding. Poem #508 speaks to a woman who has endured the challenges of entering adulthood. Emily employs a female speaker to describe the emotions a woman faces leaving her childhood behind to enter adulthood and deciding whether to marry.
There is sadness and resignation in the tone of the speaker. Aware she cannot remain under the security of her parents forever, she must decide to marry or become a spinster. Having limited opportunities as a woman in the nineteenth century, she is aware her most sensible choice is to marry. In the first stanza, the speaker’s sadness is evident when she states, “I’m ceded- I’ve stopped being Theirs-” (1), implying that being given up to marriage, she is losing her identity she obtained through her parents.
In order to become wed, she must exchange her family name for that of her husband’s, therefore severing the bond she shares with her parents. The second stanza continues the sad tone as the speaker laments, “And They can put it with my Dolls, My Childhood, and the string of spools, I’ve finished threading-too-” (5-7). Her sadness at this point is the result of leaving all of her childhood dreams and trifles behind and giving up her family name, to enter her new life, as a wife. As her new life will take her in another direction, she no longer has room for the things that brought her pleasure as a child.
Spiritual faith is prominent in the third stanza. It is apparent the speaker is to be married in a church before the eyes of God as she has chosen unlike when she was “Baptized, before, without the choice,” (8) as an infant. Having the knowledge of her faith and what is expected of her as she reaches maturity, she dons her “small Diadem” (small crown) (13), which is the symbol of her transformation from child to married woman. Sadness and resignation seem to be the focus of the fourth and final stanza. The speaker “A half unconscious Queen-” (16) does not see her life as a wife evolving beyond what her life as a child had.
Having been under the control of her parents, her decision to marry will result in her being under the control of her husband. Fully aware of her prospects if she were to chose the alternative, she resigns herself to her decision as she states, “And I choose, just a Crown. ” (19) Although this poem runs only nineteen lines, Emily has successfully and eloquently revealed the sadness women endure from having to resign themselves to the fact they have only one true option in life once maturity is attained, marriage.
I may be assuming too much but I believe this poem is in essence Emily’s way of expressing her views towards the issue of marriage in her own life. Emily was celibate her entire life and had a very few friends, she may have refused to give in to social pressures and remained a spinster in order to spite the rest of the world. One may reasonably conclude that the speaker in this melancholy poem may have indeed been speaking for Emily herself.