American Transcendentalism: An Online Travel Guide



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Pages from Leigh-Anne's Journal

"Reflecting on Emily Dickinson"

I have always found Dickinson to be rather intriguing and after learning more about her in this unit, I find her even more so then I did before. She would be an interesting person to talk to, I believe because she was questioning so much of what was accepted and considered to be the "norm" at a time when most when along with the flow. Added to that is the unusual way that she went about her "questioning" of the world.  Her defiance was private, quiet and such that many didn't even know of how she truly felt and thought until after her death. And the sheer volume of her workhow many poems can one write in a single lifetime? For her, the answer was thousands.

I also find it very fascinating how she chose to shut herself off the from the world (she did this even when she was a child as she would lock herself in the cellar to avoid going to church with the rest of her family).  I've often thought that people who lock themselves away or keep themselves apart from others are usually the ones that demonstrate the most intelligence and/or are the ones that spend the majority of their time caught up in thought and contemplation.

It's as Emerson said in "Self-Reliance"how the wise man is able to keep to himself; to remain an individual even in the midst of a crowd. Whitman was the master at this but Dickinson did it in a very literal senseshe removed herself completely, keeping her own thoughts to herself always and yet...she must have felt a driving force to express these thoughts to herself at the very least. In my mind, it seems that they must have burned within in her so brightly that she had to get them out on paper so that she at least could see them even if she chose not to share them with the world just yet.

Dickinson fascinates me because she is something of a paradox. A lonely sort of figure as her poems often convey a sense of distance and the loneliness of longing (or at least that's how I interpret many of them). And yet, she was probably not as lonely as she seems to us nowshe always had her family and even neighbors. What reclusiveness she possessed, she had by choiceit was her own choice to shut herself off from the world and no others. Whenever I think of Dickinson, this is the poem that always springs to my mind:

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,--
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.

Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!"

Emily Dickinson

To me, she will always be this paradoxical character that we will never quite be able to figure out to the best of our satisfaction. Writing letters to the world, writing poetry in a strong, clear voice and yet, she remained very locked up inside herself all at the same time. Only through writing was she confident and truly daring.  Such a combinationa loud mind-voice and a quiet speaking voice.

When one looks at Dickinson's life and at her work, there always seems to be more questions then answers. One of the many reasons why I would love to have the ability to travel backwards in time and sit down and have a conversation with her. Only then would I really be able to get an understanding of what she was like as a person and why she lived her life the way she did: existing within the world and yet not exactly a part of it.

Myself, I identify with that sentiment quite well.     

  Leigh-Anne Mauk is an English/Photography double major at Shepherd University (Spring 2006).

"American Transcendentalism: An Online Travel Guide" was produced by students in ENGL 446, American Transcendentalism, and ENGL 447, American Literature and the Prominence of Place: A Travel Practicum. These courses were team-taught in the Department of English at Shepherd University (formerly Shepherd College), Shepherdstown, West Virginia, in Spring 2002 by Dr. Patricia Dwyer and Dr. Linda Tate. The courses were taught again in Spring 2006 by Dr. Linda Tate. For more information on the course and the web project, visit "About This Site." 2003 and 2006 Linda Tate.