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Koizumi, Yumiko Sakata: "Emily Dickinson and 'that Keyless Rhyme'"

Emily Dickinson and “that Keyless Rhyme”

Yumiko Sakata Koizumi, Ibaraki University, Japan

Emily Dickinson’s poems are well-known to be characterized by irregular meters and partial rhymes. However, the fact that they also contain some regular meters and pure full rhymes has not been made equally clear. She is famous for having been a highly ingenius inventor of partial rhymes, while little attention has been paid to her deliberate use of full rhymes and their poetic effect. Harmon and Small (1987, 1990) briefly mention that Dickinson’s peculiar use of full rhyme at the end of a poem may signify the poet’s intention of creating a solid foundation of a poem, although they extensively discuss the poetic effect of partial rhymes in her poems. This stable rhyme pattern appears in approximately 15% of her poems from 1862 to 1864. Morris’s detailed analysis (1988) of the frequency of rhymes in Dickinson’s poems support the present study author’s point. The frequency of full rhymes in Dickinson’s early 1860 poems steadily decreases. The best way to enduringly impress the reader could be through the arrangement of sounds. Dickinson pays particular attention to the last word of the last stanza because it lingers longest in the reader’s ears. In particular, a setting marked by deficient rhymes, a full rhyme at the end of a poem has a great impact on the reader. The last rhyme pair in a poem is the most important because it represents the culmination of her vision. Since Dickinson was an end-focused poet, end-rhymes surely play a great role in the poetic effect. In “Better – than Music!” (FP378), she attempts to create the very moment when earthly humming turns into a sacred song by ending the poem with a full rhyme. The correspondence of sounds in terminating words in the last stanza brings this heaven to earth through the use of “that Keyless Rhyme.” Rhyme is an essential element in Dickinson’s magic.