Wednesday, November 5, 2014

MOOC ModPo Poem of the Day: "My Life had stood -- a Loaded Gun -- " by Emily Dickinson

The Songs of Eretz Poetry Review MOOC ModPo Poem of the Day for November 5, 2014 is "My Life had stood -- a Loaded Gun --" by Emily Dickinson.  The poem is in the public domain and therefore legally reprinted here.  Dickinson's poetry has been examined several times in the Poetry Review, including a post made December 31, 2013, which includes a brief biography

My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun -
In Corners - till a Day
The Owner passed - identified -
And carried Me away -

And now We roam in Sovreign Woods -
And now We hunt the Doe -
And every time I speak for Him
The Mountains straight reply -

And do I smile, such cordial light
Opon the Valley glow -
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let it’s pleasure through -

And when at Night - Our good Day done -
I guard My Master’s Head -
’Tis better than the Eider Duck’s
Deep Pillow - to have shared -

To foe of His - I’m deadly foe -
None stir the second time -
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye -
Or an emphatic Thumb -

Though I than He - may longer live
He longer must - than I -
For I have but the power to kill,
Without - the power to die -

Emily Dickinson

The poem is in the familiar form of a Dickinsonian proto-modernist ballad.  The use of quatrains is preserved, after a fashion--the second and fourth lines of each four-line stanza either rhyme, nearly rhyme, are consonant, or recover the rhyme in the stanza following (as is the case with the rhyme on "oh" in the second and third stanzas).  The rhythm of a traditional ballad is preserved--iambic tetrameter with the deliberate omission of a foot every even line.  

Twenty-five of the thirty lines of the poem contain Dickinsonian dashes, and some lines contain two.  While Dickinson's use of dashes is often enigmatic, here they appear to function as commas, with the exception of the final dash which appears to function as an ellipsis.

In the first stanza, the speaker, presumably Dickinson, compares her life to a loaded gun--full of explosive power, the power to kill, the power to wound.  She did not release her potential, her barrage of words, her poetry, until the Owner of her life, God, gave her license.

In the second stanza, Dickinson alludes to her love of nature.  Her poetry is a God-given talent--she speaks for God through her poetry, and incorporates pastoral and natural imagery into it.

In the third stanza, the smile is metaphor for Dickinson's poetry.  It brings light, but is explosive--like a gun or as Mount Vesuvius, whose eruption destroyed a civilization.  Her poetry is powerful enough to reshape the world--for good or ill.

In the fourth stanza, Dickinson presents her poetry as a guardian of God's wisdom.  In the fifth, she states that her poetry is powerful enough to destroy God's detractors.

The last stanza is enigmatic.  Though it is possible that Dickinson's words may be remembered better than those of the bible and for longer, she emphasizes that God's words must outlast hers--even though her words can never be forgotten.

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