My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun Essay

Emily Dickinson’s “My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun” is a powerful poem that takes into account various thematic expressions. Its comprehensiveness in brevity is another essential feature of this poem. It symbolizes power and unconventional feminist urges on the art of the poetess. In this poem, Emily Dickinson finds an instrument adequate enough to render her need for fulfillment through absolute commitment to love’s service. The poem begins with a brilliant conceit.

Fused from the ambiguous abstraction of life and the explicit concretion of loaded gun, it expresses the charged potential of the human being who remains dormant until “identified” into a conscious vitality.

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And after hat identification, we observe the start of a new poem i. e. the start of a new life. Historically, it was written in age when American society was torn with civil war. The symbol that Emily Dickenson has used is an essence of an experience. It is quite obvious that a universal insight that the poet tries to express in not obtained merely by imaginative wandering, it is based on concrete experiences.

Emily Dickinson presents the same insight into the historical experiences of her time. The very first stanza symbolizes the paradox of finding oneself through losing oneself. It is rendered in the poem by one word: identity is claimed when someone claimed the gun as her own. The American civil war was also the process of finding ones own identity by losing ones own identity. The internal rivalries and petty identities were to be removed to achieve a national reconciliation. This national reconciliation ultimately brought the national identity.

Although this process was on halt and stayed “in corners” for many decades till a day came. Now they “roam in Sovereign Woods”. So Emily Dickinson has epitomized a national experience. Now this “gun” is “foe of His – I’m deadly foe”. “His can be described in various connotations. “His” is emblem of nation state that is fully sovereign. “His” is an integrated society or the one who longs to be integrated after the pathos and miseries of Civil war. Poetess further emphasize that “None stir the second time -/ whom I lay a Yellow Eye -/ an emphatic Thumb”.

All these gestures are for those who are internal or external antagonists to the new national experience. This poem has also captivated the feminist attention who has given it a new evaluative dimension. Some critics are of the view that thorough this poem, Emily has tried to present a woman that she was not primarily in the second half of the 19th century whereas other feminist critics holds the view that poem totally negates the feminine qualities and the main metaphor considers “everything [that]”woman” is not: cruel not pleasant, hard not soft, emphatic not weak, one who kills not one who nurtures.

” (Bennet, 1986) But Emily Dickinson has provided a framework of power i. e. feminine power and established certain pattern on which women power can grow and has shown certain direction where women power can direct itself. It must be kept in mind that all the action verbs in the poem are not destructive or of insidious nature. It expresses powers to “hunt” “speak” “smile” “guard” and “kill”. So this power has paradoxical nature and a balance mix of these powers is necessary as shown and done by Emily Dickinson.

Furthermore, Miss Dickinson does show a longing for deadliness but in actuality it is only for safeguarding. Wrath is a part of her being but she does not let it go if not invoked or incited. So her aggression and anger and the consequences as a result of it (killing and deaths) are not unwomanly but are an extension of her very personality. These feelings are not uncommon but are surely unpredictable. In the second half of the poem, she is only providing guard to one who has helped her to get rid of her alienation and had blessed her with intimacy.

Here Emily Dickinson seems conventional in her feminist approach that a woman can do everything unwomanly for the one who is her companion in true sense of the word. Christine Miller (1987) says in this regard that “In the second instance, the speaker prefers guarding the master to having shared his pillow, that is, to having shared intimacy with him–primarily sexual, one would guess from the general structure of the poem. ” On the other hand, this poem expresses the agonies of a female poet that was restricted by her family and society to a narrow life devoid of any intellectual and/or literary independence.

These social and familial compulsion produced rashness in Emily’s attitude. She was forced to produce art in seclusion and to it keep to herself only. So language becomes her only mean and tool to bear the torments of her intellectual beings. She embodies language as gun and is of the view that this loaded gun accompanied with her literary beings is fatal for socio-cultural compulsion against women. It provided her a sense of power and control. She further eulogizes language and considers it a safeguard to her literary being.

And her language is enemy to al those traditions, norms, people and things who are against her poetical endeavors. This poem can further illustrate the conflicts between two classes with their interest. Although this conflict is not materialistic or monetary but it exists in the socio-cultural domain. One class adheres to the conventions and does not allow female members to express their view on any issue especially in the form of poetry whereas other lass are comprised of the intellectual beings who consider it their right to create and disseminate their thoughts and ideas in the literary form.

This poem symbolizes the struggle of the latter class and demonstrates that they are more powerful than the convention-ridden society. The poem starts with an individual quest for his/her identity but it changed into a capitalized “We”. Now the concern of the poetess is no more individualistic and sentimental, rather it has been transformed into something collective, societal and concrete. The identities have been mingled up with each other. Both owner and the “owned” perform the same masculine activities.

They are no more individual but become a part of the larger whole i. e. society. Overall the poem captures a variety of themes through various thematic expressions. Although the conclusion is disturbing but it has relevance to the thematic expressions as it tries to resolve the problem initiated in the first half. Powerlessness or even fear of that is death to the poetess has no other option but “to die” without powerlessness. Last stanza is not a moralistic commentary but is identification of a wider truth.

Bennett, Paula. My Life a Loaded Gun: Dickinson, Plath, Rich, and Female Creativity. Boston: Beacon Press. 1986. Gilbert, Sandra M & Gubar, Susan. The madwoman in the attic: the woman writer and the nineteenth-century literary imagination. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1979. Miller, Christanne. Emily Dickinson, a poet’s grammar. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press. 1987. Smith, Martha Nell & Loeffelholz, Mary. A companion to Emily Dickinson. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pubishers. 2008.

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