Monday, September 8, 2014

MOOC ModPo Poem of the Day: "I dwell in Possibility" by Emily Dickinson

As I meander my way through the University of Pennsylvania’s Modern Poetry (ModPo) Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) over the next ten weeks, I will from time to time present close readings of poems being studied in the course.  (For those interested in joining me, and tens of thousands of other poetry enthusiasts, in this MOOC, please see:  (  In this task, I will endeavor NOT to be influenced by the course teachings in my initial presentations, but will revisit these poems if the course interpretations offers additional insight.

The Songs of Eretz MOOC ModPo Poem of the Day for September 8, 2014 is "I dwell in Possibility" by Emily Dickinson.  A link to the poem may be found here:  Dickinson's poetry has been examined many times in the Poetry Review.  A brief biography and references may be found here:

The poem is in the form of a nearly traditional ballad:  the stanzas are quatrains, the rhythm is iambic with three or four feet per line, and some of the lines rhyme.  In a strictly traditional ballad, every line would have a rhyming counterpart.

"I dwell in Possibility" is an autobiographical meta-poem, which is to say, a poem about poets, specifically Dickinson, and poetry.  The first stanza identifies the poem as meta-poetric rather emphatically and obviously.  The word "House" has a literal and figurative meaning.  Dickinson literally spent almost her entire life in a house in Amherst, Massachusetts.  Figuratively, "House" is a metaphor for the substance of poetry itself.  Compared to "Prose," poetry has more and superior windows and doors--which is to say more possibilities for seeing the world from different perspectives.

The second stanza continues with a further description of the House of  Poetry, or the House of infinite Possibility.  The rooms are a tall as the legendary "Cedars" of Lebanon (pictured).  For a roof, well, there is no roof!  The "Sky" is the limit.

In the first line of the final stanza, Dickinson proclaims that those who choose to visit the "House" of poetry are "the fairest," presumably the fairest of mind.  She concludes by describing the work of the poet as one of understanding, explaining, and reveling in the wonders of the universe.

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