“Dickinson was a poet of short, succinct lines, often defying and redefining the rules of the traditional notions of the language itself and grammar in the late nineteenth century,” writes Tuhin Bhowal.
The verses of Emily Dickinson belong emphatically to what Emerson long since called “the Poetry of the Portfolio,” — something produced absolutely without the thought of publication, and solely by way of expression of the writer’s own mind.
– from the Preface, Thomas Wentworth Higginson,
Complete Works of Emily Dickinson, Delphi Classics 2012
There is a Solitude of Space
There is a solitude of space
A solitude of sea
A solitude of death, but these
Society shall be
Compared with that profounder site
That polar privacy
A soul admitted to itself—
Having been a recluse and an introvert who would often dodge meeting guests or even friends for that matter, it was only a given that Emily Dickinson wrote poetry behind the closed doors of her home at the Homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts. The universal feelings of loneliness and solitude thus are imbibed in her poetry like bones into flesh, the existence of one questionable at best, rather futile without the other. She was a poet of short, succinct lines, often defying and redefining the rules of the traditional notions of the language itself and grammar in the late nineteenth century. She not only unconventionally used dashes and enjambments to convey meaning almost always layered, but also the fact that she could so effortlessly condense complex emotions and ideas into such concise verses is a proof even centuries later of her poetic ingenuity.
Space, sea, and death. All three of these images in this poem invoke a sense of alienation and seclusion in the mind of the reader almost instinctively. From the very first line of the poem, which might sound as a statement made rather than the metaphor of it, Dickinson focuses to converge the attention of the reader on the themes of loneliness and solitude. She purposely repeats the word ‘solitude’ to enhance the tone of the poem and its effect as it begins, eventually guides the reader to where she wants it to end, the discovery of one’s true self.
Dickinson not only hints at loneliness and solitude but also subtly highlights that these emotions are not embraced by the commoner. Irony prevails in this poem as she mentions how in spite of being in a civilized society, a ‘solitude of sea’, the sea of the human population, in the end, we are all alone. There is a need to deep dive into the ‘profounder site’, one’s own soul if we endeavour to sincerely comprehend ourselves for in its privacy we can harness our infinite potential.
- Solitude of space
Primarily, Dickinson here draws attention to the space of one’s own loneliness. Often loneliness can be more than just the overwhelming perception of desolation and forlornness but turn into grave issues like depression. The solitude of space also can mean the state of introspection as more often than not when we choose to think and ponder over our decisions or choices it is in the privacy and space of ourselves. In an alternate argument, space can also sum up to the vastness of the outer space for it can be very well an ultimate metaphor of seclusion from the society and humankind.
- Solitude of sea
Sea briskly brings out the image of the openness of someone standing at the shores and embracing the zephyrs blowing across experiencing a heightened sense of being all alone. But, we need to constantly remind ourselves that this is poetry of the highest order, more importantly, the Dickinsonian form. Being indirect is a skill she has honed. Hence, with the phrase of ‘solitude of sea’, Emily means the sea of humans, the crowd of society in which we often find ourselves lost and alone, sans our true identity.
- Solitude of death
Death is the final solace, a quiet dark cold peaceful place where one shall be alone forever. All these symbols and their presence can be found within society, our surroundings and places we go and live. But it is the deeper site that we should choose to recognize and explore, the privacy of our soul.
Space, sea, and death. Dickinson does a wonderful job of using these specific things to present to us a vivid description and imagery of loneliness and solitude. All these images provoke an utter urge to empathize with the very same feelings, to reflect on one’s own personality, identity, and behaviour. Another vital point which can be noticed if one tries to work at this poem, a trait that all Dickinson’s poems carry, is that all three of the above instances of imagery are devoid of any human existence and life.
Solitude has been associated with sea, death, and space.
The phrases in which alliteration has been used are ‘solitude of space’, ’solitude of sea’, ‘Society shall be’, and ‘polar privacy’.
The tone remains to be on a serious note as most of Emily’s poems. She talks of topics and issues with grave concerns and hence any lack in the gravity of the language itself would be an act of impertinence to the art itself. Dickinson is meticulous in this regard. By the time one finishes to read the poem, a warm sensation of redemption seeps through as though one has actually redeemed themselves by admitting to their souls.
Repetition is often used in poetry to not only enhance the effect of lines or phrases but also alter the meanings and subjects the writer wants his readership to focus on each time. Here, ‘solitude’ being the essential theme is being repeated to reverberate the sensations of lonesomeness throughout the span of the poem.
In spite of being a poet of a strict, succinct form, Emily also plays around with the traditional rules of poetry and publishing masterfully. In this poem, after the first line, every alternating line follows a rhyme scheme while all the remaining lines do not rhyme. Therefore, the rhyme scheme stands out to be ABCBDBEB.
This is a figure of speech in which contradictory terms appear in conjunction. ‘Finite infinity’ is a beautiful example for we hold our profound souls in the vicinity of ourselves.
Tuhin Bhowal is a Bengaluru-based poet.