Suffering In Emily Dickinson's Poetry

1556 Words 6 Pages
Editor’s Note These five poems were selected for their commentary on suffering, pain, and madness. Dickinson seems to have an unusual view on these topics because she views them not as purely negative, but rather as honest and having the ability to edify those have borne them. In some ways, Dickinson seems to portray them as natural reactions and alternatives to the stoicism and artificiality of society. It is interesting to consider how these topics affected Emily Dickinson specifically as a woman poet. How is suffering connected to women and the roles they expected to perform? One value of suffering that is apparent in Dickinson’s poetry is that it forces its bearer to build up resilience. “Power is only Pain, / Stranded — thro’ Discipline, …show more content…
For example, in poem 339, “I like a look of Agony”, the speaker says: “I like a look of Agony, / Because I know it’s true —“ (339) Unlike joy which may be faked, pain is authentic. Additionally there is not much incentive to fake agony. As she says in 312, “to Ache is human — not polite.” Perhaps for this reason, she knows that “Men do not sham Convulsion” (339). More than that, people are honestly unable to fake suffering. It is “Impossible to feign / The Beads upon the Forehead” (339). In 458, the woman’s pretty words are “like Blades” — cutting and violent, but they also have this ability to reveal the truth, and expose people’s vulnerabilities1. It says “She dealt her pretty words like Blades — / How glittering they shone — / and every One unbared a Nerve” (458). It is unclear: Is it the pain that causes the truth to be revealed? Or is pain a side affect of honesty? More than just honest, suffering, pain and strong emotion seem in some ways, according to Dickinson, to be the only honest, reasonable way to react to society. Poem number 620 (“Much Madness is divinest Sense-“) surrounds how, to those who look carefully, “Madness is divinest Sense—“, but if one goes against what is expected of them from society, they are considered not just insane but “staightway dangerous”, and someone who needs to be controlled “with a Chain”. This is connected with sorrow and suffering, because it is considered impolite and …show more content…
There is such an ideal of stoicism in society. This is apparent in the line “To Ache is human — not polite —“ (458) Pain is human - it is honest and real, but it is not polite — it is not socially acceptable to reveal one’s weaknesses and suffering. This too is related to gender. Even more than men, women are expected to conform to this perky, happy, perfect, obedient ideal. Dickinson seems to feel stifled by these expectations on women. She expresses this in some of other poems with her commentary on marriage and women’s role in society. Women are expected to censor their emotions and ideas and to act fake — to fit into the boxes they are assigned. To get married and have children and be obedient to their husbands. When they will not, they are shunned by society and considered mad. In this culture where women have no control over their lives, the least they can do is have control over their own minds and opinions. In fact, Dickinson seems to be encouraging women to buck societal expectations when she says “To a discerning Eye — / Much sense — the starkest Madness — “(620), as if it is crazy to try to adhere to the guidelines of society, and that it makes more sense to allow people to think them

Related Documents