Emily Dickinson Poems (2/2)

I chose “Honest” by Kodaline because the entire song is basically about honesty. It’s exaggerated, but it still reminded me of the Dickinson poem, “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant–”

That particular poem is short and seemingly simple, yet it holds a lot of meaning for interpretation, and though I read it multiple times, I’m still not entirely sure what she means by the line “Success in Circuit lies.” Aside from that line though, I think what Dickinson is trying to say is that we should always tell the truth but that we shouldn’t say it outright. She writes,

“As Lightning to the Children eased / With explanation kind / The Truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind–“

I really like the lightning imagery that she uses to describe how sudden and bold truth can be blinding. She believes that unless we tell truths gradually, we will be dazzled by it just as young children are with lightning before it can be explained to them. This idea ties back to the first line nicely.

This poem is also important because of the slant rhyme which can be seen in this poem as well as many of her other poems as well.

In another poem, Dickinson criticizes public figures or celebrities while claiming to be “Nobody!” Except Dickinson actually prefers to be a nobody than a somebody because it lets her keep her sense of self. She doesn’t have to try to impress anyone or go around in the public light repeating the same thing over and over. Dickinson writes,

“How dreary–to be–somebody! / How public–like a Frog– / To tell your name–the livelong June– / To an admiring Bog!”

In both poems, she still uses features of nature to make her points, such as the frog and lightning. At first I didn’t understand why she would use a frog, but then I understood that the public figures are like frogs in that they are constantly repeating themselves, specifically their names. They want everyone to know who they are, and everyone is asking who they are as well. Dickinson would prefer to be left alone with her anonymity, and her excitement at the possibility of finding another individual like herself is satirical in  light of what she’s criticizing.

Again, she capitalizes certain letters in both poems, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s a stylistic element like the persistent dashes.

Emily Dickinson Poems (1/2)

I chose this song, Silhouettes by Of Monsters and Men, for Emily Dickinson mostly because of the repetition of the line “I’m already there” and “I will be there too.” It reminded me to the line in J. 324 where she is talking about finding God in nature rather than in church and says, “So instead of getting to Heaven, at last– / I’m going, all along.”

In this poem, Emily Dickinson seems to be criticizing religion and the church. She states that while many will go to church on the Sabbath, she’ll be staying home. At first it isn’t completely clear what she means by “home,” but as the poem continues, it becomes obvious that she is referring to nature as her home. Like many of the transcendentalists, Dickinson believes that it’s better to find the divine in nature because you only have to rely on yourself to find happiness instead of listening to a priest.  She uses the birds in the first stanza as a metaphor for the singing of a choir in a church, and says how she would prefer to listen to the birds. I found the bird imagery especially interesting when I got to the second stanza where she says, “I just wear my wings–” I didn’t know what it meant at first, but it could be interpreted as being another nod at nature, but it’s important that she uses a bird because it can fly. The flying must be how she’ll get to Heaven. The wings emphasize the fact that the narrator has been ready “all along.”

The bird metaphor could also be applied to the church bell ringing, though the narrator would rather hear the chirping of the bird, God’s own creation, than the bells. Then in the fourth stanza she criticizes the long sermons from the clergyman. All of this leads up to her final statement about going to Heaven all along. Dickinson is confident that because she found the divine in nature which is closer to God, she is guaranteed into Heaven. This theme of nature appears in several of her other poems as well.

A few pages later, poem J. 441 also deals with nature. In small groups, we referred to the poem as Dickinson’s ode to nature. It seems as though Dickinson wants to share the message and beauty of nature with the world who has given her nothing back. Perhaps she feels insignificant in society, and so she could online confide in nature and then wants to share what it has told her. And for what she says, she hopes nobody will judge her.

Though perhaps this could also be interpreted another way. It seems like Dickinson is almost writing a disclaimer here for people who will read her poetry in the future. Her plea, “Judge tenderly–of Me,” sounds almost like an apology for her words, which goes to show how people of the time thought about nature. It’s also interesting that she capitalizes words such as “Me,” “Message,” “Her,” and “Sweet” which aren’t words that would typically be capitalized in poetry. What is she trying to convey by doing this? I’m not sure.

Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”

I didn’t intend to repeat an artist already, but this song seemed too perfect to not use for these particular readings.  The Haunting by Anberlin may be more about a relationship, but it also has a lot of eerie descriptions, as well as a spooky tone to match. The first verse describes an old, seemingly haunted house which of course reminded me of the House of Usher. When listening to this song, I felt a lot of the same feelings as I did reading the story, which is the main reason I chose it for this post.

So far, this has been my favorite reading assignment because I love Poe. I like the darker tones in his stories, and to me they are easier to read and enjoy than some of the others.

Of course, both stories are loaded with Gothic elements and imagery, but what I like most is how the House of Usher seems like a character of its own, especially with the “vacant eye-like windows.” The house also seems to really effect the characters’ state of mind. The narrator seems intrigued but fine before entering the house, but his friend clearly has psychological problems. As the story progresses, the narrator also begins battling with his mind. A key moment for me was when the narrator becomes overwhelmed with horror in the night.

“Overpowered by an intense sentiment of horror, unaccountable yet unendurable, i threw on my clothes with haste, (for I felt that I should sleep no more during the night,) and endeavored to arouse myself from the pitiful condition into which I had fallen, by pacing rapidly to and fro through the apartment,” (2716).

This is when the house begins to take control over his mind. In a way, this reminded me of The Scarlet Letter when Dimmesdale is affected by his sin. Similarly, Usher is physically affected by the house. He is described as having “an evidently restrained hysteria in his whole demeanor.” His physical appearance only gets worse as the story continues. Right at the end, before Usher’s dead sister appears to them, it seems like Usher is being possessed. That description, more so than the image of the sister, is what was most creepy to me.

To expand on some of the Gothic elements, the supernatural is extremely present, but I was most intrigued by the nightmarish obsession element that comes up for Usher and odd outbursts having to do with “hearing it” again and again throughout the story. And of course, there’s the sister who escapes her coffin. One could also argue that Usher is trapped by his psychological problems caused by the house.

“The Tell-Tale Heart” had similar themes. The eye comes up again, but in a more prominent way. And again, I was reminded of The Scarlet Letter as the beating heart haunted the narrator until he was forced to confess because it was making him so crazy. There is also this line that made me think of Dimmesdale:

“Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me,” (2728).

Just as Dimmesdale had the scarlet A etched into his skin over his chest, the narrator in this story can feel this need to cut out the eye in his very chest. By saying that it “wells” makes the feeling seem mystical or supernatural, similar to the scarlet A.

One difference I noticed between this and “The Fall of the House of Usher” was the writing style. “The Tell-Tale Heart” seemed to have a smoother, more modern-sounding tone. It’s not quite as full of detailed, long descriptions. It gets straight into the plot and moves quickly. The supernatural, enchanted elements still remained, but it read different.

In both stories, I also noted several instances of fantastical or magical words used which gave the stories a magical tone. The characters even seem to “feel” things that don’t seem possible or real.


Melville’s “Benito Cereno” Part 1

Since this post will be all about the ship that Captain Delano sees toward the beginning, I thought using “The Black Pearl” song off the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack seemed appropriate. The tone of the song seemed fitting for the description of the ship, and The Black Pearl is known as the ship with supernatural elements.

Melville uses a whole two pages just to describe the ship that Captain Delano sees, and there is a lot of imagery in those two pages. Right away we get the sense that this ship was ordinarily fancy and made high quality, but that it’s now seen better days. Just one of the many lines describing the state of the ship says, “Battered and mouldy, the castellated forecastle seemed some ancient turret, long ago taken by assault, and then left to decay,” (2900). It’s covered in sea moss, rust, weeds, and slimy sea-grass. There is also a canvas covering part of the ship to hide the decay.

Besides the awful state of the ship, it also possesses some supernatural qualities There is part of a paragraph describing relics that depict mythological symbols  and a masked satyr. Along with that, there is a quote that states,

“The ship seems unreal; these strange costumes, gestures, and faces, but a shadowy tableau just emerged from the deep, which directly must receive back what it gave,” (2901).

There is also a moment where the ship is described as having “something of the effect of enchantment” on that same page. These supernatural elements are what originally reminded me of The Black Pearl, but they also provide a Gothic feel to the story. The exotic location also adds to that.

It’s also interesting to note that because the quarter deck is described as being raised above the rest of the ship, there is a sense of disconnect between its Captain and passengers which would explain the “follow your leader” painted on the side.

Captain Delano also seems to be intrigued by the ship. He can’t stop looking at it, but not with fear. His glances at the ship are described as “eager.” Some people in class were calling his character overly trusting, and this could be one of those contributing factors. He is eager to see this ship that may contain something dangerous. However, it is noted that no guns could be seen on the ship, but that could also mean that the passengers are hiding their weapons away until confrontation happens.

“The Scarlet Letter” Ch. 20-End

This time around, the song gets dedicated to Dimmesdale once again.

I imagine him singing this to himself as he begins to realize he can longer handle all the guilt and gets ready to finally confess.


Finally! Dimmesdale confessed in this section, and my first (well, second since I’ve read this already) is that the scene is incredibly dramatic. It makes sense with the minister’s stored up guilt and self-hatred. I found it interesting that he gets around to the confession by using the third person before revealing that he’s talking about himself. It’s almost like he wants the townspeople to believe in what he is saying without allowing them to automatically denounce the truth simply because it’s their beloved minister.

“‘The devil knew it well, and fretted it continually with the touch of his burning finger! But he hid it cunningly from men, and walked among you with the mien of a spirit, mournful, because so pure in a sinful world!–and sad, because he missed his heavenly kindred,'” (174)

I get the impression that Dimmesdale just wants to get out all of his feelings that have been building. Or perhaps he is so disgusted by his sin that he has to talk about them as if they were done by someone else, like he can’t quite get himself to admit to what he did. It’s also interesting that Dimmesdale gave his best sermon before he confesses as if he thinks he owes the people for keeping this huge secret. It could also mean he was trying to reconnect with his more spiritual self before he confesses.  It is mentioned on page 163 that when he gave his last sermon it seemed as though his strength “seemed not of body. It might be spiritual…” On the same page it is observed that he has noticeable energy and his hand never lingered over his heart like it usually does. It seems as though Dimmesdale can feel that confessing will bring him back to God which is what he so dearly misses, as he expresses in my first quote.

The narrator forms his own opinion on what Dimmesdale’s death signifies, and that struck me while finishing the novel. He says,

“After exhausting life in his efforts for mankind’s spiritual good, he had made the manner of his death a parable, in order to impress on his admirers the mighty and mournful lesson, that, in the view of Infinite Purity, we are sinners all alike,” (177).

I don;t know if this was Dimmesdale’s intention when he revealed his secret and died, but it’s an interesting way to look at it. Instead of saying it was all a lesson about not keeping secrets or committing adultery, the narrator goes with this. It wasn’t until I read this quote that I considered the idea. Thinking about it, Dimmesdale did come off to a majority of the people as the holiest man who could never do wrong, yet behind all their backs he was a sinner plagued by guilt. Instead of coming out right away as Hester did, he hides his sin and was never able to find salvation until he confessed. Maybe the true parable is that it’s better to confess to sin and receive peace of mind or forgiveness than to hide one’s sin and live in misery.



“The Scarlet Letter” Ch. 13-19

I’m using one of my all time favorite songs for this post, “Grow Old” by The Naked and Famous. It seemed fitting for the parts I am going to discuss, particularly Chillingworth and his transformation (and not just because of the title of the song).

In class, my group talked a lot about the passage describing Chillingworth right at the beginning of chapter 15. His need for revenge has not only taken over his life, but its also taken over his appearance for the worst. I kept thinking of Jafar disguised as the beggar at the beginning of Aladdin, all hunched over with a long beard and a general craziness about him.

“His gray beard almost touched the ground, as he crept onward. Hester gazed after him a little while, looking with a half-fantastic curiosity to see whether the tender grass of early spring would not be blighted beneath him, and show the wavering track of his footsteps, sere and brown, across its cheerful verdure,” (120).

This quote struck me because it has switched the roles of the gaze for once in this story. Hester is gazing on at Chillingworth, and he is completely unaware. Usually someone is looking on at Hester. We talked about this a few times in class, and it was just an interesting change. Perhaps Chillingworth is derailing so much that he has lost that power.

I was also interested in how Hester brings up the “grass of early spring” because in past readings we know that spring is supposed to be about new life and starting over, but it doesn’t seem here that Chillingworth is changing at all. His darkness is only getting worse as the story progresses regardless of what season it is. That reminds me of Whitman who was the only other author who related spring with death in one of his poems because of Abraham Lincoln. Chillingworth certainly isn’t any kind of embodiment of rebirth. In fact, he tends to have a negative effect on other characters as well.

“The emotions of that brief space, while she stood gazing after the crooked figure of old Roger Chillingworth, threw a dark light on Hester’s state of mind, revealing much that she might not otherwise have acknowledged to herself,” (121).

Once again Hester is the one gazing at Chillingworth, but she also notices that he makes her acknowledge the darkness in herself, probably because he is so dark. It seems that Chillingworth has attained an almost supernatural ability to make people feel bad about their sins or want to confront their darkness. He has become this creepy, negative figure that is obsessed with revenge and makes other people feel bad as well.

“The Scarlet Letter” Ch. 11-12

I’ve used a song in one of my earlier entries, but I want to make that a continuing occurrence because I enjoy relating songs to literature.

This one is dedicated to Dimmesdale and Chillingworth’s complicated relationship.

How it relates: Chillingworth has caught on to Dimmesdale’s secret and is frustrated that he won’t admit it. Only when Chillingworth finally confesses will he finally feel “saved” or “free.”  Go ahead, Dimmesdale, tell the people.

Page 99 states:

“And yet, by the constitution of his nature, he loved the truth, and loathed the lie, as few men ever did. Therefore, above all things else, he loathed his miserable self!”

Dimmesdale begins to wage war against himself in these chapters because the guilt and need to confess is eating away  at him so much that he loathes himself. What I find interesting about this quote is that he believes that few men ever loath a lie.  We see that Chillingworth loathes Dimmesdale’s lie, yet not his own. He is similar in that he hides who he truly is from the public. There is a lot of secrecy involved here, and only Hester knows both sides. She holds the power to reveal them if she wants, but she doesn’t. In my last entry I wondered why Hester would want to save the identities of each of the men, but now I wonder if she might secretly know that the secrets will strongly effect both Dimmesdale and Chillingworth. Chillingworth is therefore forced to pretend to get to know Dimmesdale while Dimmesdale has to deal with the agony of his secret. Maybe Hester wants to see them suffer in their own ways which is why she agrees to stay quiet about who they are.

It’s also interesting that Dimmesdale seems more guilty about the peoples’ undeserving respect for him than he does about the actual deed itself. He mentions the agony he is in because of the genuine adoration from the people. I think perhaps this reason may be what finally pushes him to confess because he eventually won’t be able to stand their false love for him.

Then we have this vivid image of Dimmesdale, Pearl, and Hester holding hands on the platform.

“The minister felt for the child’s other hand, and took it.  The moment that he did so, there came what seemed a rush of new life, other life than his own…as if the mother and the child were communicating their vital warmth to his half-torpid system. The three formed and electric chain,” (105).

When Pearl tries to pull away a few lines later, the minister insists she hang on for a few more moments. It’s as if Dimmesdale cannot feel complete without being latched on to the other two. The source of his great guilt also appears to be the source of him feeling more alive which is interesting. It is also symbolic because after they see the light in the sky, Dimmesdale is standing with his hand over his heart, Hester has the red A over her heart, and Pearl is the symbol of the very A. It’s as if they are all three bearing the scarlet letter in this scene It is even more symbolic that they happen to be standing on the platform where Hester was first introduced for her crimes. Then of course, they see the A in the sky which just emphasizes the symbolism in the scene.