The child in the poetry of Emily Dickinson



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An aura of childhood, either literal or covert, pervades much of Emily Dickinson's life as well as her poetry. She retained a lifelong dependence on family and friends and an intimacy with children and their imaginative worlds; she often displayed a childlike spiritual and artistic image of herself in which weakness and obligatory humiliation were central. Considered in the context of three other nineteenth-century writers, the Dickinson child remains distinctive. Unlike Wordsworth, Dickinson cannot find in childhood the source of the "philosophic mind" which takes comfort in recollection of the joyous childhood state. And Dickinson's child is distinguished from the literary children of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mark Twain by her inability to assimilate or reject the culture whose values ensnare her. Dickinson's child symbolizes spiritual immaturity in a Puritan world which demands full acceptance of its precepts to insure salvation. Dickinson's extensive use of the child metaphor establishes a dual image of creativity and limitation: the child represents not only inspiration, but also the inability to effectively translate the inspired thought into words. The child is stymied by both God and nature, although the latter offers the child a tentative possibility for unity. She attempts both philosophically and rhetorically to assert her spiritual and artistic will, but seldom does the child transcend her limitations.



Children in literature., Dickinson, Emily,--1830-1886--Criticism and interpretation.