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Chou, Ann Shih-Yuan: "'Where the Meanings are—' the unpresentable in Emily Dickinson’s Love Poems"

“Where the Meanings are—” the unpresentable in Emily Dickinson’s Love Poems

Ann Shih-Yuan Chou

In this paper, I explore Dickinson’s presentations of human relationships: my purpose is to find out what her ideal human relationship, especially a romantic one, is like. In the introduction part of my paper, I explain how unique Dickinson’s language is. Her poems are known for their idiosyncratic grammar and syntax which baffles many readers. What’s more, her poems very often start from the middle of an event: there is no background information on the poems and their scenelessness is always a mystery to people from scholars to general readers. They simply start without explaining the consequences of events, which makes detecting their significance all the more troubling. “This quality of what is not there, its foregrounded presence of absence, is implicit in the critical responses to her poetry from both her very earliest reviewers and contemporary Dickinson scholars” (Freeman, 191). People believe that Dickinson’s intended readers are only her close ones. In this way, her poems serve as a mysterious code: only those who know her well and share the same experiences with her can unravel the puzzle.
“Speech is one symptom of Affection” (Fr1694) and “We talked with each other about each other” (Fr1506) are poems which further accelerate such a tendency: now silence is viewed as the best way of communication. Perhaps what Dickinson conveys through her poetry is that the essence of human communication is unknown and ineffable: it is something “That Science cannot overtake/ But Human Nature feels” (Fr962). With this idea in mind, I read “There came a Day - at Summer’s full - ” (Fr325), “Forever at His side to walk” (Fr264) and “He was my host-he was my guest” (Fr1754) to better understand Dickinson’s concept of the perfect relationship.