A Thread Comment from my Online Poetry Course (re: a Dickinson poem)

 

Susan Dickinson (Emily's Sister)

Susan Dickinson (Emily’s Sister)

I am, for many of you, stating the obvious. But I’ve noticed many of our ESL classmates of many nations are looking for a deeper understanding not just of poetry, but of the English language as well. So I’ve busied myself with this little exercise–I’ve taken every word in “I dwell in Possibility” in order, and provided what immediately comes to mind as the multiple meanings of each of them–when read by an English-speaking person. I have used ‘etc.’ in every case, because in every case, I could not possibly list all of the meanings for any of the words.

I think it is also important to note that, above and beyond the individual words’ and phrases’ multiple allusions, their combination into ideas and concepts by the poet (and the reader) allows an even greater multiplicity of meanings to the poem as a whole. I begin:

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“I dwell in”  can mean “I live at” or “this is my mindset” or “this is where I’m stuck being”, etc.

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“Possibility” can have Many possible meanings (a little joke–yes, very little.)

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“A fairer House than” can mean “a better place to live” or “a finer home than another’s” or “a more legitimate gamblers den”, etc.

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 “Prose” can refer to “writing”, “prosaic”, “worldly”, “tired”, etc.

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“More numerous of Windows –/ Superior – for Doors –” – well, let’s just agree that both ‘windows” and ‘doors’ are ubiquitous metaphors for just about anything, “openings”, “gateways”, “views”, “limits”, ad infinitum

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“Of Chambers” can mean “ones heart”, ‘ones cell”, “ones bedroom” , “a cave” , “chamber of a gun”, “chamber of a nautilus”, etc.”

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“as the Cedars –” – as previously addressed by older posts, manifold symbolisms are attached to “Cedar” and “Cedars”

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“Impregnable” can mean “inviolate”, “unknowable”, “unconquerable”, etc.

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“of eye”  can be literally anything–I believe ‘Eye” may be the most used and referenced metaphor in the history of civilization–even those ancient Egyptian pictographs show ‘forward facing’ eyes rather than an eye’s actual ‘in profile’-appearance–that’s what makes Egyptian art so instantly recognizable. The feet, the ears, the mouth–all in profile–but the Eye (the Soul) always idealized as front-and-center vision.

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“And for an everlasting Roof” can mean “and to cap it all off” or “the covering I’ve selected” or “what I see as an upward limit”, etc.

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“The Gambrels ” can mean a dutch barn, a crucifix, a rounded-shaped roof, a gibbet, a butcher’s tool, etc.

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“of the Sky ” can mean “of a sky-blue color”, “of Heaven”, “of Infinity”, simply “above”, and a host of other metaphors.

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“Of Visitors – the fairest –” ‘visitors’ can mean anything from “recalled memories” to “extraterrestrial explorers” -and- ‘fairest’ can mean “most beautiful”, “most pure”, “most equal”, “kindest”, “best”, etc.

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“For Occupation – This –” can mean “how I make a living”, “how I keep busy”, “what distracts me from other things”, etc.

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“The spreading wide my narrow Hands

To gather Paradise –”  this phrase of the poem paints a clear visual image–but none of the words in the phrase have one, simple, unambiguous meaning…

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So, there you have it. A poem can have thousands of meanings–even to just one reader or poet. A Poem may even be described (here in my conceit, at least) as something that has no definitive meaning. Hope I haven’t bored you all….

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