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Simons, Jefferey: "Hearing Dickinson in Spain"

Hearing Dickinson in Spain

Jefferey Simons, University of Huelva, Spain

Hearing Dickinson in Spain involves facing sorts of distance, and finding a cognitive frame. A first distance is geographic: hearing verse over the Atlantic. This distance is more than plainly evident, since Dickinson is a poet with her ear to the Amherst ground. A second distance is linguistic: hearing verse amid the “Mediterranean intonations” (F1295) of Spanish. This distance foregrounds the foreign. A third distance is temporal, but doesn’t differ from the divide that separates Dickinson from present-day readers in and outside the United States.
Finding a cognitive frame owes, in the present case, to hearing Dickinson as a foreign language, while being a native speaker of American English. The cognitive frame I develop starts with “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain” (F340), whose trope “Being, but an Ear” reduces existence to the hearing of sound. Taking this trope as a cue where abstraction (Being) and sense experience (Ear) converge, I move to other poems where the noun Ear/ear is similarly prominent.
The aims of the paper are two. The first is to identify the sorts of cognitive settings in which reference to the Ear/ear in Dickinson’s poetry arises. In “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,” the cognitive setting is the speaker’s ritual mourning of her own death. In the other poems where Ear/ear stands out, other settings appear, as in “The Spirit is the Conscious Ear” (F718), which opens a space of hearing where an inner voice sounds, and after names “a smaller Ear” where ambient sounds arrive.
The second aim is to identify the sounds to which Dickinson refers in the poems chosen for study. In “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,” reference is made to boots treading, to a drum, and to a bell. In other poems, reference to sound includes birdsong, bees, the wind, music, enchanting speech, and the voice. This second aim is to outline the spectrum of sounds to which Dickinson refers, a spectrum that complements her deft handling of syllables and phonic echoes “Enamoring the Ear” (F523).