The Poet’s Voice:
Poems are just words, words strung aligned together strategically. A poem can represent a
poet’s entire life. When a poem is read the reader can see the poet’s life and influences behind
the writing of the poem. A poem can be viewed like memoirs or autobiographies. Even for
people who don’t live in a world of words, poems can have a profound impact on their life.
Realism is a type of poetry that takes the world as it is, not as we would like it to be. The realism
movement started in the 1840’s and ended in the 1880’s. Others call realism ‘The
representation of reality’, one of the most renowned realist poets was Emily Dickinson.
Dickinson’s life is reflected in her poetry, where she wrote hundreds of poems, mainly in secret.
Dickinson’s use of poetic devices, language and aesthetic features create a world of wonder for
the reader, opening a window into her soul.
A reader can learn about the poet by analysing the structure, poetic devices, language use,
aesthetic features and the poet’s life. The poem “Death is the supple suitor” has a structure with
only two full rhymes and two half rhymes in it. “Death is the supple suitor” only has one stanza
as Dickinson gets her message across quickly whereas “Because I could not stop for Death – “
has six stanzas and the message is more in depth and slower due to the use of dashes
throughout. Most of Dickinson’s poems are short and generally written as a single speaker. In
one of Dickinson’s letters to Higginson, her pen pal, she wrote why she uses the personal
pronoun ‘I’ in her writing. She stated “When I state myself, as the Representative of the Verse-it
does not mean-me-but a supposed person.” (L268). Dickinson, like other poets of her era, threw
out conventional restraints and experimented with expression which is shown in her poems,
“Death is the supple Suitor” and “Because I could not stop for Death -”.
Some of the poetic devices in both “Because I could not stop for Death -” and “Death is the
supple Suitor” are obvious, whilst others require deeper analysis. The imagery in “Death is the
supple Suitor” is about knowing that eventually everyone dies. In the line “To Troth unknown”
Dickinson is stating she doesn’t know where people go after their death. The first line of the
poem is the same as the title “Death is the supple Suitor”, this line is an example of
personification as it makes Death sound more real, like a person. Dickinson uses repetition in
“Because I could not stop for Death -” when she repeats the words ‘we passed’ three times in
the one stanza. The word Ground was repeated twice as Dickinson wanted it to stand out for it’s
alluding to how everyone ends up in the ground when you die. The use of oxymorons in; “He
kindly stopped for me -” is a comparison with the commonly accepted idea of death. An
example of a metaphor is “We passed the Setting Sun -” which implies the end of life as when
the sun sets it is the end of the day, evoking the image that the end of someone’s day is that
they are dying.
The language in “Because I could not stop for Death -” makes the reader acknowledge death as
a person throughout the poem. In “Death is the supple Suitor” the reader can tell that Dickinson
implies that death is slow and no one knows when it is coming. Death is subtle until the end. A
person becomes aware they are dying quicker when they are closer to death. “The Dews drew
quivering and chill -” associates the dew with the morning or a new day like the next chapter of
your life even after death. In the line “We slowly drove – He knew no haste,” ‘slowly’ is reflected
in the slow pace of the poem caused by the punctuation for effect. The vocabulary used by
Dickinson in her poetry is very descriptive as she was very observant of the things around her.
Her poetry reflected a wide range of topics from the wonders of nature to death, love and
In many of Dickinson’s poems including “Because I could not stop for Death” she uses dashes
for effect as the reader pauses at each one of them. Dickinson uses alliteration throughout her
poetry to emphasis a particular point she is trying to make. “But brave at last with Bugles And a
bisected coach” is an example of alliteration which increases the speed the reader says the two
lines, creating a rhythm for the reader, as if they are actually in the coach with Dickinson and
Death. The effect of alliteration on the reader draws the reader to that line and created rhythm
and mood. One of the aesthetic features in most of Dickinson’s poems is the bluntness in her
words. She uses the word death a great deal as she does not like to sugar coat anything. This is
a result of the darkness and death her life was surrounded by.
It’s obvious Dickinson had quite the depressing life. She was born in 1830 to a well-known
family, as her father was a US Congressmen. She lived in Massachusetts her entire life.
Throughout her life she said she was haunted by what she called the menace of death as you
can see the majority of her poems have the reoccurring theme of death. Between 1858 and
1865 she wrote nearly 800 poems. She chose to be confined to her house in those seven years.
It wasn’t just her house she would stay in, family members hardly saw her come out of her
room. She talked to visitors on the other side of her door. After her father died in 1874 his
funeral took place downstairs and Dickinson did not even leave her room for the funeral. She
only published about 12 poems while she was alive. Her sister discovered over 1800 poems
after Dickinson’s death in 1886. She had a couple of eccentric practices, one was that she only
ever wore white on the occasion she would leave her house as she associated the colour white
with passion and intensity. Another was that she called red, fires common tint. Dickinson lived in
an era where realism was a reaction against romanticism. Her poetry represented middle-class
life as it appeared here and now rather than the ideal and superficiality of romanticism. Realism
was prevalent from the Civil War to the turn of the century and in this period all literature
reflected the realism of the time. The literary exploration of realism was influenced through the
rapid shifts in culture, the industrialisation, urbanisation, expanding immigration and the rise in
middle-class affluence in America at that time. Dickinson was exploring these shifts in social
change through her poetry.
Poetry is an artform. It can express how you feel, think and act. The experiences in Dickinson’s
life are reflected within the poems she has written. The time period of realism she was born in
was also a big help to her love of writing poetry. When a poem is read the reader can see the
poet’s life and influences behind the making of the poem. Poetry is very underappreciated,
readers say they do not enjoy poetry but they really intend that they do not understand its
context. If the reader can understand formative contexts, that knowledge can inform the reader
in all texts not just poems. If you choose to believe the facts or not, poetry is an artform where a
page is a poet’s canvas