They shut me up in Prose --As when a little GirlThey put me in the Closet --Because they liked me "still" --Still! Could themself have peeped --And seen my Brain -- go round --They might as wise have lodged a BirdFor Treason -- in the Pound --Himself has but to willAnd easy as a StarAbolish his Captivity --And laugh -- No more have I -- My Interpretation of Emily Dickinson's poem They Shut Me Up in Prose 1) They Shut me up with my thoughts and feelings 2) when I was a little girl3) They put me in the closet 4) because they didn't want me to moving or thinking for myself5) Still- That's funny if they could see me6)And see all my thoughts moving around5) Their logic is as silly as putting a bird in a pound for Treason-- none of these things make sense6) He himself is in charge7) His presence is as strong as a star8) Take away his captivity9) I can not find humor in my captor's inhumanity
The word that jumps out at me the most in this poem is " Shut" in the first line. I feel different things when I imagine this image-- At first I hear a prison door slamming "Shut"-- and then I see Darkness, solitary confinement with a steam of dim yellow light streaming from the bottom of the door. I imagine the anxiety I would feel being "shut" away in closet-- but Emily Dickinson seems to laugh at her former torture-- suggesting that by being "shut" away-- it only made her strive and fight more for her struggle and dream of independence.
1) “There is virtue yet in the hoe and the spade, for learned as well as for unlearned hands. And labor is everywhere welcome; always we are invited to work; only be this limitation observed, that a man shall not for the sake of wider activity sacrifice any opinion to the popular judgments and modes of action.” Emerson’s The American ScholarWith these words Emerson is basically saying that he not only has compassion for the working class , he respects them and finds that through their “work” they are able to truly understand the world’s struggles and truth in the world. Witman detests “the bookworm” sentiment of thought—classicists and their contemporary philosophers making generalizations about the world without really living in it. Witman encourages people and scholars not to be slaves to popular thought but instead immerse themselves in the real world with experiences. 2) “Could themself have peeped --And seen my Brain -- go round --They might as wise have lodged a BirdFor Treason -- in the Pound –“ Dickinson, Poem number 613With these words, Emily Dickinson describes her detest for the various overpowering people in her life; however, she seems to find an empowering amount freedom within herself and her imagination. Like the bird in the pound, she may be physically trapped and feel “shut” away for nonsensical reasons, but in spite of this tragedy of circumstance, her thoughts are imagination still fly freely.3) “I am the poet of commonsense and of the demonstrable and of immortality; And am not the poet of goodness only . . . . I do not decline to be the poet of wickedness also.”This quote is from Walt Witman’s Leaves of Grass—he says these words in section 48. It seems that Withman words suggest does not like to be defined as a poet in any one particular type of verse or theme or style—he is in essence, prefers to be a poet of limitless boundaries and freedom. 4) “The paper became my meat and my drink. My soul was set all on fire. Its sympathy for my brethren in bonds--its scathing denunciations of slaveholders--its faithful exposures of slavery--and its powerful attacks upon the upholders of the institution--sent a thrill of joy through my soul, such as I had never felt before!”With these words, Frederick Douglass describes the acute freedom he feels in reading the newspaper, The Liberator. He confesses that at first he did not have the money to buy the newspaper, but over time, after having steady employment, he was able to become a subscriber—and through gaining the skill of reading, he was able to become a free thinker through reading the various perspectives of the variety of writers. In essence, it is not so much escaping slavery that made Fredrick Douglass liberated, but it is his education that truly makes him a free man.
When first entering our American Literature Course, I had limited experience in reading this literary genre, which I say with a certain amount of humor and reprehensible embarrassment being that I myself descend from the same Dutch, Upstate New York Roots that Washington Irving references in his short story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. In high school, I had been exposed to Edgar Alan Poe, Mark Twain, Arthur Miller and Steinbeck, and in college I taken an American Proletarian Literary Theory course, but I still did not have a clear understanding of what the major themes and roots of American Literature were. Much like American literary characters, “Rip Van Winkle” and “ Young Goodman Brown” I embarked on a literary journey that paved a way to greater understanding of American History and Literature and how reading our nation’s past writers currently shape my present understanding of American perspective and identity.
Reading Nathaniel Hawthorne and Washington Irving were extremely rewarding experiences for me; in part because I love dreamlike fairytale narratives, but also because I identified with the characters in these stories being that my lineage embarks from this same region and time period of The United States. I loved the journey in which both authors set up for us: Irving’s playful, enchanted like setting of the Catskill mountainous both before and after the Revolution, as well as Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown’s bleak outlook of American paranoia following a foreboding, surreal journey he embarks on after charting unknown territory “the woods”. By studying these two early American writers, I was able to gain a greater understanding of the hopes, fears and perspectives that early American’s felt shortly after the revolution. In short, I began my American Journey narrative by studying these early American writers who wrote about journey narrative and how that changed and affected the title characters of Young Goodman Brown and Rip Van Winkle.
Another important text for me in understanding American Journey, Identity and Perspective was reading Ralpho Waldo Emerson’s essay The American Scholar. In it, Emerson describes, “The world is his who can see through its pretensions.” So much of Emerson’s article and speech focuses on his insistence that American’s break free from European traditions of classical education and thought, that being as he coined, “a bookworm”, was only shaping oneself to think and act as European automatons. For Emerson, “The day is always his who works in it with serenity and great aims.” He believed that work, travel and experience were vital in creating character and that once a person has succeeded in living life through hard work and experience, reading the classics will heighten our greater understanding American identity. I really appreciate what Emerson has to say about education, because I feel that its really hard to know who you are and what you stand for so early on in college, travel, working and experiencing the world that one truly appreciated freedom and education.
Breaking from the 19th century American writers, T. S. Elliot’s epic poem, The Wasteland truly puts into words the modernity crisis that both American’s and European’s felt following the devastating journey and aftermath of World War One. Much of the poem is chaotic and illusory—it is a grim psychological journey of despair that is often linked with Dante’s The Divine Comey. So much of Elliot’s poem centers around identity crisis, the famous line, “Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch” illustrates this point in fact. The after the great war, the world was divided and people did not know how to separate their identities and nationalities. Following the Treaty of Versailles, many people suffered not only from an Identity crisis, but also an epistemological crisis that truly reflected a global journey and identity crisis through the eyes of American writer, TS Elliot. The poem offers little hope and it seems that Elliot is enraged and fearful of his state of being following the disillusionment many soldiers and citizens felt after both during and after the war. Many young soldiers during this time had studied classical writers such as Cicero and Virgil, who sentimentalized going off to fight for one’s country as a proud sense of courage, duty, nationalism and humble bravery for the greater good of one’s nation. However, with the advent of modern technology such as machine guns, mustard gas and trench war fare, many of these young men felt disillusioned by the horrors of the modern world, and in the end felt disconnected with their national identity and sense of self. Elliot’s grim poem shatters any feeling of hope or sense of sanity: he opens his poem insisting that “APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain.” In this sense,; his words suggest that the sentimentalizing of springtime is a fabrication, that in embracing life’s true desolate and desperate nature one will become more in tune with reality and thus embark on a journey closer to philosophical understanding and happiness.
In the last few class sessions, we were asked to look at a modern American Text and search for themes and roots of American writers and narratives we have studied. My group selected George Saunders’, Civil War Land in Bad Decline, a collection of short stories that The Philadelphia Inquirer describe as, “ a Nightmarish post-apocalyptic world that might have been envisioned by Walt Disney on Acid.” I really can’t think of a better way of describing the setting and tone of the collection better than these words, so I can only say, Touche! I would argue that this short story collection is influenced by many of the themes, settings and ideas from many of the American writers we studied. When reading Civil War Land In Bad Decline, I frequently asked myself, “ Where am I ? What’s going on?” This is akin to the feeling I felt when reading Hawthorn, Rip Van Winkle and TS Elliot. He touches on journey narrative through exploring a series of characters who are unsatisfied with their lives and search for hope and meaning in a post apocalyptic world. Many of the characters, much like characters we have studied in this class, ( ranging from Hemmingway and Ginsberg narratives) are embarking on an epistemological crisis and trying to find ways to cope and or perhaps even gain an understanding why things are the way they are and how things came to be. When reading Saunders work, I couldn’t help but note the collage of crazy pessimism and despair in setting that is not unlike TS Elliot’s The Wasteland. There are many southern gothic themes of battling with one’s sanity that can be found in Edgar Allan Poe and Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. Many of the characters search out a journey and truth in Saunder’s nightmarish world which can be likened to themes an motifs that are found in Emerson, Hawthorne and Irving. Ultimately, I can confidently say that following my journey of studying American Literature in this class, I have a greater appreciation, understanding and perspective of American Identity that will continue to grow as I embark on my own life journey.