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Schuhriemen, Mary: "Dickinson’s Paradoxical Union of War and Nature in a New Civil War Poem"

Dickinson’s Paradoxical Union of War and Nature in a New Civil War Poem

Mary Schuhriemen

Emily Dickinson’s poetic interest in the Civil War has been firmly established in many studies. Leigh-Anne Urbanowicz Marcellin categorizes the war poems into three general groups: poetry concerned with mourning the loss of soldiers, poetry questioning the righteousness of the cause, and the final category of poetry dealing with war, God, and nature. Marcellin herself focuses upon the poetry of mourning, while scholars such as Shira Wolosky concentrate particularly upon Dickinson’s questioning the value of the war in light of the huge loss of lives. Lawrence Berkove, among other scholars, has completely transformed the readings of poems which Barton Levi St. Armand and others formerly had categorized as nature poetry and which had been read as such for almost one hundred years. Much of the scholarship on Dickinson’s poetry of war, God, and nature has replaced the traditional readings of the nature poems and examines nature as a metaphor of war.
I have identified one of Dickinson’s nature poems as a war poem describing a particular battle of the Civil War. The interaction of the poem’s natural imagery and the war reveals Dickinson to be a poet who has reflected deeply upon the paradox of a war fought over union. This paradox translates to the interpretation of the poem as well, which I will argue must be read both as a nature poem and a war poem. This poem offers insight as to how Dickinson viewed the war within her life-long concern with humanity’s suffering and her difficulty in justifying or accepting the role of Providence in that agony. This poem’s paradoxical union of war and nature demonstrates that Dickinson seeks to pierce through the popular conception of the war as a purifying struggle for the divinely ordained political Union. Dickinson’s scrutiny of union in this poem does not result in a rejection of the role of Providence nor an outright dismissal of the war. My reading of this poem is influenced by Civil War materials from the Library of Congress in addition to Richard Sewall’s biography of Dickinson.