A Tiny Essay on Poem #826 by Emily Dickinson

A woman, Emily Dickinson, in a black and white photograph, is sitting next to a desk.

Just for y’all:

I wrote this essay for a free course on modern poetry that I’m currently enrolled in on Coursera. The class has been a really interesting exercise and I’ve gotten to read some poets that I’m woefully under-versed (pun intended) in. This short essay was just such an opportunity that I relished! Now I’m going to have to further bone up on my Dickinson.

Seriously, if you have any interest in learning about the history of contemporary poetry for free, you should check it out.

Also, this essay was given a word limit so it does jump right in pretty cold. I also don’t do a ton of verbatim quotes of phrases in the essay, so it may be worthwhile to refer to the text if you get lost. You can find the tiny, powerful poem here.

“Love” in the first line gives us images of affection or intensity of emotion. “Reckons” is tied to calculating, acting, but also can be used to mean “to rely upon.” “Itself” injects self-reference–love must be self-reliant and rely upon or calculate love. “Alone” set off by dashes and left lowercased underlines this self-reference and gives a feeling of singularity or solitary action. Even the choice to set it apart with two dashes and leave it lowercase underlines the loneliness and solitary notion.

The second line begins with a quotation that is a comparison. Perhaps “love” or “alone” is meant to be seen “as large as I,” but this is vague with the form of the poem. Dickinson refuses to use periods or comma and gives us breaks with dashes and line breaks. Regardless, “large” also connects to intensity–something that overwhelms another with its size. “I” in the comparison reminds us of the established self-reference and self-reliance.  After a dash, “Sun” also connects to intensity, power, and enormity while adding light. The third line offers “One” that is placed in a comparison with “Sun” enjambed across the line break; “One” in the comparison pointing to singularity and personhood. There seems to be two comparisons: “Love” is to “I” as the “Sun” is to “One.”

But the third line tells as that “One” has never felt “it blaze.” This lonely point hasn’t experienced the warmth or enormity of the sun. So while we have two comparisons–both seeming to draw an equivalence of size or magnitude–while knowing that the “One” has never experienced the “Sun.” From this point, we could potentially assume that the “I” has never felt “Love.” By giving the two relations that are to be taken as equal, we are to suppose this further extension of the comparison from the third line.

The final line (ending the poem with a dash, in kind with the rest of the lines) drives again at solitude and selfhood with “Itself” and “it.” It is not clear precisely what “it” is (perhaps it is Love or it is the self), but we are shown that “it” is alone and while it may be as great as “Love” or the “Sun,” “it” has not experienced those.

This riddle around an identity’s lack of love or sun leaves a lonely image, but refuses to relent by insisting that the self is just as great. Dickinson refuses to lament or whither in loneliness, but affirms it and affirms her own style of punctuation and twisting poetry that dares you to enter the practice of reading it.

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