An Analysis on Emily .Dickinson: The Soul Selects Her Own Society
Emily. Dickinson (1830-1886) is one of the greatest poetesses in the history of American. All her life, she remained recluse. While Emily .Dickinson lived a more intense and passionate life than was thought by the neighbors and the acquaintances who saw her as eccentric maiden lady, the “moth” of Amherst, dressed only in white, who flitted almost ghostlike through her house and garden. Not even those closest to her knew fully the depth and extent of her emotion or that nearly 1,800 poems tied neatly in the packets found after her death, would reveal an immensely complex and passionate sensibility. Her subjects were love, death, nature, immortality, and beauty. And her poems
have always been confused the critics. The Soul Selects Her Own Society (303) is the
most intangible one among the 1,800 and interpreted in different ways. Here the paper tries to do a little analysis on it.
?. Brief Introduction to Emily. Dickinson
A. Life of Emily .Dickinson
thEmily. Dickinson was born in Amherst Massachusetts, on December 10 1830, and thdied there some fifty-five years later on May 15 1886. With the exception of a few visits
to Boston, Philadelphia and Washington D.C, she spent her whole life in Amherst. She never married, and she lived in comfortable dependence on her well-to-do father and his estate, though she did more than her share of household chores while creating a large body of poems and letters.
Little is known of Emily .Dickinson’s earliest years. She spent four years at primary school and then attended Amherst Academy from 1840 to 1847, somewhat irregularly because of poor health. She wrote imaginatively for school publications but none of these writings survive. Her intense letters to friends and classmates show a variety of tones, especially in her reluctance to embrace Christ and join the church and in her anticipation and fears about prospect of a married life. The world, as she understood the idea, was dearer to her than the renunciation which conversion seemed to require, and quite possibly she sensed something false or soft-mined in the professions of others.
In a period of regions living condition, without benefits of modern medicine, life spans were much shorter than ours, and Dickinson suffered the early deaths of many acquaintances and dear friends. She witnessed several deaths, doubtlessly impressed and shocked by the Puritan doctrine that looked for signs of election and salvation in the demeanor of the dying and especially in their willingness to die.
B. Emily .Dickinson’ Ideas
Emily .Dickinson’s major ideas are readily available to us in poems and letters, but on first reading, they form complicated and often contradictory patterns. This is not surprising; her world was insular and small, and she was highly introspective. In addition,
her work has it’s roots in the culture and society of her times, but though these can be
explored extensively and many parallels can be established between her statements and various literary and religion documents, the poems create more mutual illumination than does Emily .Dickinson’s background itself.
The tradition of classifying Dickinson’s poems into thematic grouping for analysis and comparison has been unjustly criticized. As we have remarked, it can contribute to simplification and distortion, but it is more illuminating than approaching the poems by categories of technique or periods in her life, and the danger of simplification can be easily net by a persistent tensing of her poems against categories; that is, one can always consider the possibility that they have been misplaced or need to be viewed as part of several categories. For these Notes, we have grouped her poems under five major headings, aware that a few major poems may escape such a classification: (1) Nature: Scene and Meaning; (2) Poetry, Art, and Imagination; (3) Friendship, Love, and Society; (4) Suffering and Growth; and (5) Death, Immortality, and Religion.
C. Emily .Dickinson’s Poetic Methods
A glance through Dickinson’s poems reveals their characteristic external forms as easily as a quick look through Whitman’s poems shows us his different forms. Most of Emily .Dickinson’s poems are written in short stanzas, mostly quatrains, with short lines,
usually rhyming only on the second and fourth lines. Others stanzas employ triplets or pairs of couplets and a few poems employ larger, looser, and more complicated stanzas. Dickinson evidently found a convenient mold for her thoughts in these forms, and her use of partial rhyme may have helped her to compose swiftly and to focus on reflection of words and metaphors. Therefore the poems sometimes seem puzzling, yet after a re-reading, they are often suddenly illuminating. TO paraphrase Dickinson, scrutiny of this problem keeps the mind nimble. Probably she wanted to keep her own and her readers’ mind as nimble as possible.
An Analysis on The Soul Selects Her Own Society (303) ?.
A. The Soul Selects Her Own Society (303) and the Traditional Interpretation
The Soul selects her own Society---
Then---shuts the Door---
To her divine Majority--
Present no more
Unmoved---she notes the Chariots---Pausing---
At her low Gate---
Unmoved---an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat---
I’ve known her ---from an ample nation---
Then---close the Valves of her attention---
The Soul Selects Her Own Society (303) is a difficult poem that has been variously
interpreted. It seems midway between the yearning of There Come a Day at Summer’s
Fall. Where fulfillment is hoped for in heaven and the scene of almost fulfilled desires in Wild Night. Here Dickinson appears to assert that in some special and mysterious way she is always in the company of one person whom her soul has chosen as its only needed companion. The poem is not in the usual first person of love poems, but in a detached and meditative third person, until the last stanza where the speaker appears and comments on the third person figure of the first two stanzas.
The “Soul” of the first line may at first appear to represent any person, but close examination shows that it is Dickinson herself, or the speaker of the poem, seen from a distance. Also “Society” at first may appear to be a large group of people, but in reality it
is one person. “Divine Majority” paradoxically implies that one person or better yet ---
two person--- have become more important than anyone else. The third line is probably a declaration that no others are present, but since Dickinson composed the word “obtrude”
as an alternative to “present”, the line may be an imperative telling other people to stay away. In the second stanza, the soul ,or essential self, sees people arriving in chariots, an elevated way of describing carriages (perhaps hinting at heavenly as well a at kingly status), but she indicates that she would not be moved even if an emperor asked for her prospective suitors.
In the last stanza, the switch to first person shows Dickinson quietly reveling in the strength of her renunciation. The ample nation is everyone available to her. The chosen one is the beloved whose spirit she lived with or her perhaps taken into herself by the power of imagination. “Valves of her attention” gives the soul the power of concentration. The soul has almost denied everything else in life to lock itself into its strange relationship with the chosen “one”. “Stone” represents its complete rejection of the rest of the world. The alternating in the two-syllable line of the last stanza parallels this closing down and strengthens our sense of a painful but glorious triumph in the concluding lines. Unusually rich in sound effects, including alliteration, rhyme, and modulation of vowels, this is one of Dickinson’s greatest successes in poetic technique. Some critics believe that
the subject of the poem is the union of the soul with the muse or the God, rather than with a lover.
B. New Interpretation
However, as loyal readers, still we could try to explain the poem in another way. As far as I am concerned, perhaps the selected “Society” is not other people, but the poetess herself. To a large extent, poets are all spirits who come from heaven, and Emily. Dickinson is not an exception. Her body is belongs to the practical world, while in her heart, she has set up a kingdom for her soul. In such a kingdom, the soul is completely free, independent, and happy. No one could interfere a little, for she is the absolute authority there. She could run as fast as she could; she could cry as loud as she like; and she could do everything on her own will. Therefore, when choosing the companion, she uses her own standard. We could never know what the standard is, but we could know at least it is not something material. If so, the Door has already been opened to the pausing Chariots and the kneeling Emperors. Furthermore, as we all know that poets are all both mentally and physically lonely, and poets need a companion more badly than an ordinary people in deed, but in the real life, they hardly find a single friend. The reason is that few
people could appreciate them. Just as the Chinese old saying “知音难求”---to find an
person who could understand us is very hard.
But poets need a listener deadly, they need someone could know them. And such a person is hard to find or even is not exist. How on earth the problem could be solved? How poets could get through the flight? Yes, they have to find the very person, if they can not make it, they would create such a one. Right, the best way to find the one is to create the one. Only in this way, can the very one could understand them, know them, appreciate them, and share the same idea with them. Therefore poets are satisfied with the result, for the created ones are so like them. In fact such created ones are just themselves. When they talk to the ones, they are talking to themselves, just like they talk to the other-selves in the mirrors.
Emily. Dickinson could not escape from such a fate. She also keeps looking for and choosing the very person. Because Emily .Dickinson is so unique, her heart is crystal, and her body is the clearest pure water, that there is no anyone could match her, and the God could not either. In the world only one person is qualified to be her companion, it is herself. At last, she chose “her own Society”---her “Self” and shuts the Door, and never
“Self” is the most important thing in one’s life, and our main task in our lives is to find the “Self”. The process is full of unexpected difficulties. Some people may achieve nothing after keep looking for all their lives. So that during the process, people need to suffer a lot . As for Emily .Dickinson, she suffers even more than any others. And the more important is the differences between an ordinary one and her. As for an ordinary one, he does not actively step onto the road of looking for the “Self”, while
Emily .Dickinson urgently and actively set off the work, and is full of self-consciousness, therefore, she is doomed to suffer a lot. Fortunately, she finds the “Self”. And we could regard “The Soul Selects Her Own Society (303)” is the manifesto of her finding her
In the first stanza, the poetess declares her decision to the world. She has found the “Self”, and then shuts the Door, and the Door will never open to anyone else, “her divine Majority presents no more”. That is to say her decision would not be interfered by anyone,
including the God. In Chinese traditional philosophy, the belief that one should not be hold back or enslaved by the outside world is always the mainstream one. And the real happiness is to make decisions according to one’s own heart. Here, Emily .Dickinson undoubtedly achieves the real happiness.
The heart of human beings is mysterious. Victor Hugo’s(l802；1885) heart is wide,
“The thing that is wider than the sea is the earth, and the earth is the sky, while is the widest is our hearts.” While Emily .Dickinson’s heart is not so that. After someone has been permitted to enter her heart, she shuts the Door, and no one could arouse her attention again, for there is no any spare room for another person. Thus, when seeing Chariots pausing, she is unmoved, seeing an Emperor be kneeling, still she is unmoved.
Can we assume that Emily .Dickinson’s heart is narrow and small? Of course we can
not. Judge from her poems, we are surprised by her unparallel sensitiveness and profound perceptiveness toward the practical world, and we need to admit the fact that without a wide and big heart, could not she writes such beautiful works. If so, why is there no any other spare room for another person? The reason is that her soul is immune to the hustle and bustle from the outside world. Her soul has already been winged and kept flying
beyond the material world freely. Hence no matter how rich you are---“Chariots pausing”,
and no matter how high status you could be---“an Emperor be kneeling”, she could not be
attracted a little. Getting rid of the confinement of the material world, Emily.Dickinson could be concentrated on her own world. She could keep thinking, writing, and doing everything as much as she like in her world. She is not alone, for her soul has chosen the right one for companion. And the chosen one understands her, appreciates her, and keeps exchanging ideas with her smoothly.
In the last stanza, “from an ample nation chose one” we may know the selecting process is difficult. To most of us, the most familiar strangers in the world are not other ones but ourselves. Every day, a person lives with “Self ”, he cooks with it, eats with it,
washes with it, and sleeps with it, but he maybe never realizes that the “Self ”has already been there.
In China, according to the famous anesthetist Wang Guowei, “To do research one
need to experience three steps. Firstly he needs to stand loneliness and try his best to chase after the aim. Secondly, he needs to endure both mentally and physically, even his body keeps fading rapidly and he is getting slim little by little. Thirdly, when finishing enduring all the hardness, he will find what he has been running after has accompanied him from the very beginning to the end.
The process of finding the “Self”. Is just like Wang Guowei’s idea we need to stand,
endure, and realize in a sudden. To some extent, to find the “Self”is like the Phoenix, a
kind of mysterious bird, flies directly to the fire, and revives from the ash. Emily.Dickinson has finished all the process, and walked on the road of life with her “Society”---her “Self” hand in hand. And leaves us the priceless poems and arouse us the endless admiration.
As we all know, “Stone” is indifferent and emotionless always. When the Soul “close the Valves of her attention---Like Stone”, she prevents other suitors from
approaching on the one hand, and treats her “Society”---the “Self ” whole heartedly on
the other hand. In ancient Chinese folk tales, there is a beautiful but sad story. It is about a poor woman who becomes a stone after years of waiting for her husband who goes out for a living but never returns back again. To become a stone is not emotionless, just the opposite, only the strongest love could turn a person into a stone. Under the appearance of stone, Emily .Dickinson loves her “society”---her “Self” passionately, and the practical
world is fading away from her mind.
To some extent, The Soul Selects Her Own Society (303) is the declaration of
independence to Emily .Dickinson’s soul. She tells the world her decision and shows her
self-esteem & her pride. To lead a life on her own will and to make decision as she like is the doctrine of her life. The soul cannot be free until she gets rid of any material obstacle. In The Soul Selects Her Own Society (303), Emily .Dickinson puts forward a question,
“What is the most important in the life?” And her answer is to find self, to choose a way
you want to take. As modern people, we are tired of the bustle and the hustle everyday. Our souls are not free. Maybe, we need to re-read The Soul Selects Her Own Society
(303), and perhaps we may calm ourselves down, and free our souls from the bustle and the hustle.
ndChang yaoxin. A Survey of American Lterature the 2 Edition. Tianjin: Nankai
Li yixie & Chang yaoxin. Selected Reading in American Literature. Tianjin: Nankai
Mordecai Marcus. Emily.Dickinson: Selectd Poems. Nebraska U.S.A: Cliffs Notes, 1982