Hope is the emotional state of anticipating possible change for better. It is consoling and pleasant, but not always useful and important for human self-realization. The real state of things may not correspond to these positive reflections, and any idealization can lead to withdrawal from the reality and its challenges.
Emily Dickinson, an outstanding woman in American poetry, had spent all her life with hope for spiritual survival being in love with her only man. Her poetic heritage was a revelation to the followers and became a sensation only after the author’s death. Emily Dickinson did not reflect the meaningful historical events of her era in the poetry. At the same time, she showed a very deep and strong connection to the moods and philosophical ideas of that respective epoch. Emily Dickinson was influenced by the changes in American literature and developed her personal unique style. She did no have many friends or associates to share her ideas with and led a reclusive life. She failed to realize her cherished hopes and happiness expectations in the real life. She never exposed herself to the society. Her introverted personality and protection, which she had due to the social status of her prosperous family, helped to present something new, deeply emotional, and true to the American literary world, which has always lacked spirituality and sacrifice. Poetry became the only hope of Emily Dickinson to open the borders of her inner world and to save it. The poet had never been married or in serious relationships with a man, and all her dreams about love remained only hopes. However, such self-sacrifice revealed to the world a pure and unspoiled soul, secured in her hopes, dreams, and transcendental connections.
The paper represents the concept of hope in Emily Dickenson’s poetry and studies the peculiarities of the ideological content and style of her verses.
Emily Dickinson’s Life Story
Emily Dickinson is one of the most enigmatic figures in the history of world literature, both in human and creative aspects. Her life was extraordinary and unusual because even the neighbors did not know that she wrote poetry. Her biography conceals many mysteries and attracts more and more attention with the course of time.
Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born on 10 December 1830 in the house of her grandfather. Her brother Austin was born in April 1829, and sister Lavinia appeared in February 1833. All the family members were very friendly and did not want to separate. Emily attended elementary school, and at the age of nine, she started to go to Amherst Academy for girls. Her grandfather was the founder of the educational establishment and the nearby college (Bloom 41). Religious education was only part of the curriculum of the Academy. The process or studying raised a burning interest of the poet in the issues of death and immortality, love to nature, and literary achievements of that time. Emily began to review the Bible searching the answers to the questions regarding preserving and non-suggestive vision of reality and life phenomena.
Such events of the XIX century as Civil War between the North and the South in the United States, Mexican War, formation of a distinctive national literature, and the formulation of the national system of philosophy and transcendentalism, influenced only partly the poet and her work. She was mostly concerned with the universal problems and themes such as essence of life, the beauty and connection of nature and God, eternity and death.
Dickinson started writing poetry when she was twenty years old. She showed especially acute interest in the English writers and poets, who were famous in the whole world. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Miles and Charlotte Bronte became spiritual idols for Emily Dickinson (Bloom 44). Her world was not solid and dichotomous, leaving some eternal questions without definitive answers, because she could not choose several mutually exclusive responses in favor of one of them. However, poetry deals with the questions, not the answers. This fact stipulated the choice of Emily Dickinson’s creativity.
She was a good student and showed great wit and curiosity to life, people, and social events. However, gradually, the social circle of E. Dickinson’s connections became narrow and limited only to her family and close friends. She mostly corresponded with people she was interested in. The reason for this course of events was obviously her love affair, which began in Washington in 1855. There she met Charles Wadsworth, pastor of the Presbyterian Church, who made such an impression on Emily by his sermons that she returned to Amherst and wrote him a passionate letter. It was the beginning of their long correspondence. Twice he visited the poet in Amherst, but their love was hopeless because they both were people of high moral principles (Bloom 49).
Ideological Content of Emily Dickinson’s Verses
Emily Dickinson originated from the world with the type of consciousness formed under the influence of Puritan spiritual culture. Calvinism was the main condition of the Puritan severity. It represented a harsh and dogmatic theology created by Geneva religious reformer John Calvin. Calvinism proclaimed the God’s sovereign power against which a man rebelled in the person of Adam. That sin led to breaking a sacred and solemn agreement between people and the holy entity. Calvinism was the dominant theology of New England during the colonial period. Emily Dickinson was a female rebel. She dared to raise prohibited themes of the God’s justice and almighty. Moreover, she did not want to submit herself to the established rules as any Puritan woman. Her light, easy, romantic, and ironic poems stained even the deepest religious thoughts, and they became not philosophical treatises and sermons, but were always a little game (Bloom 51).
Transcendentalism had a special influence on the work of Emily Dickinson (Bloom 54). This movement followed its core belief in the unity of the world and God. The doctrine of trust to oneself and individualism is developed to convince the reader that the human soul is connected and identified with God. American transcendentalists brought radical individualism to the Puritan society of New England. They worshiped nature, giving it a spiritual force. They wrote that merging with nature was beneficial to the development of a personality. Under this influence, Emily inherited the interest in nature and associated strongly herself with the processes in the environment. In her poems, Emily Dickinson often spiritualizes depicted objects with the manner close to transcendental. With its help, she revealed her own experiences and feelings as well as managed to develop a unique and extraordinary rhythm and symbolism in her works.
Emily Dickinson recreated and transformed the laws of poetics (Bloom 62). She did not only take symbolic meaning of the trees, birds, and flowers from the folk poetry and assimilated them in her verses. She often gave the objects of nature the meaning of individual lyrical color.
For example, she associated hope with a flying bird ever singing and jolly. Emily Dickinson did not only observe, but also deeply experienced the phenomena of nature. Her mind and feelings sought the ways to penetrate its secrets. She comprehended the nature of integrity in constant motion and, most importantly, in unity with the indispensable man. In her poems, she often emphasizes the spiritual unity with nature projecting her wide range of human experiences. According to Dickinson, nature was a link between her and God, and, therefore, she wrote the word “nature” with a capital letter in her poems.
E. Dikinson had a bright talent and a special vision of the world and its aesthetics. The astonishing wealth of poetic shapes, sizes and types of verse, peculiarities of rhyming, unusual punctuation and syntax, accuracy of visual and tactile images are present in Dickinson’s poetry.
Seclusion, in which Emily Dickinson cherished her unrealizable love, was an attempt to create some kind of alternate universe in the common, mundane, and ordinary world. The poet voluntarily condemned herself to ever-increasing loneliness. It was not her only strangeness. She never signed her letters and she was never married despite several marriage proposals. All that untypical behaviors resulted in speculation and stories. In Amherst, she described herself as a small, wren-like bird; her eyes had color of cherries that guests left at the bottom of their glasses. According to the memories of her contemporaries, she was a woman with a light step, quiet childlike voice and quick wit. She had strange intellect and tremendous spiritual needs according to the critics of the XX century.
A huge number of Emily Dickinson’s verses refer to the Scripture (Bloom 66). She was constantly engaged in different conversations with God such as discussing episode stories of the people in Israel, the characters, kings and prophets, demonstrating not puritanical independent judgment. God was father for her, a loving one, but sometimes too strict. She was not always an obedient daughter because she was striving to discover everything by herself. It was the strength of her character and the special spiritual need, her talent, which deprived her of self-satisfaction and life serenity. The mystery made that woman so persistent and alert. She could have led a simple happy family life with a reliable man, but something prevented her from living in piece and harmony with physiological needs. She chose the way of self-restrictions and subconscious search for spiritual perfection, which finally led her to sublimation (Fraud).
Themes of Emily Dickenson’s poetry were nature, love, life, death, immortality. The concepts were not only abstraction, but something real and concrete with the features of lively objects. Her poems are generally very short and devoted to everyday life phenomena. She could describe morning, clover flower, a well in the garden in absolutely unexpected and unusual manner. Moreover, her verses are full of implications, which have philosophical meaning and connection with universal and eternal human values. Therefore, any small detail created by the author acquired special significance, and the interest in the detailed search of symbols in her poems increases with the course of time.
Hope in Emily Dickenson’s Poetry
There are several poems, where the concept of hope appears vividly and shows the transformation of the poet’s attitude and vision. In her early poems presented in numerological manner, she provides bright, happy and optimistic metaphors. However, there appear sad, gloomy as well as ironical reflections and feelings with the course of time. The creative representation of hope transforms into some failed expectations. However, the poet remains satisfied with her bright experiences connected with the longing fulfillment of some desired dream.
There is a definition stating that hope is waiting for the benefits of something desired. In antiquity, there was double-sided view of the values and meanings of hope (Tinder 39). In negative perspective, hope was the cause of illusions, a voluntary self-deception. On the other hand, the representation of the illusory nature of hope did not always lead to the conclusion that hope was evil. It often acted as a consolation. In Christianity, hope was perceived exclusively as a positive value. Despite the opinion that the objects may have different expectations and benefits, it did not refer to the human life on the earth, and eternity was its main content. Hope implied fair trial of Christ and salvation, Messianic hope (Tinder 42). Therefore, hope was regarded as one of the fundamental virtues as well as faith and charity.
According to Emily Dickinson’s interpretation, faith transforms from bright and happy expectation to an illusion. However, the poet does not dramatize her fate and reveals that hope is valuable for her as a meaningful experience, which leads to spiritual development and growth.
The poem under current analysis is “Hope is the Thing with Teathers”. The first line compares an abstract meaning of hope with a bird, which is alive and material creature existing in nature. The author transfers the usual bird’s activity, such as singing and perching, to the properties of mind. People connect their most cherished expectations with hopes and try to make everything to fulfill the desired intention.
Hope can help humans even in the helpless cases and situations. Moreover, it is closely connected with faith in the positive outcome. There is always some unspoken joy in the birds’ singing, and the same is with the hope. It encourages a person to believe even when he understands there is no solution to his problems. That happy bird is never tired to sing its song and never seeks a benefit. The poet implies that even in the hardest times, hope helps people to survive and move forward. Hope is present everywhere, in every successful as well as forgotten and shabby life. The meaning of hope is not significant while its intensity is important. This poem reflects an optimistic and promising vision of the concept.
The verses reveal Emily Dickinson’s hope for opportunity and some miracle to come. They show that she experienced a spiritual delight and saw the world in bright colors. Her beloved man did not return in her life, but still she persisted and remained faithful to her heart and ideals. Obviously, the poem reflected excited love expectation of the young woman.
The next poem to review is ”Hope is a Strange Invention”. It reveals a subtle distrust of poet to the spiritual entity of hope. She seems to doubt its power; however, her desire to believe in the positive outcome becomes evident in the verb expression “never wearing out”. It is persistent and “unremitting” action directed to the achievement of the set goal. Dickinson compares hope with an electric adjunct between spiritual intention and action. In addition, she suggests that hope is the only meaningful human possession at every passing moment. It is important when people feel satisfied and happy. Hope, as illusion, can be healing and necessary in the situations of distress and frustration.
When someone acquires and perceives hope, it becomes a momentum of revelation and incentive as well as shows the most appropriate direction for further development. Moreover, it always encourages acting and moving forward. Hope cannot be completely perceived. It may be compared to the God’s power, which is not visible but runs human lives daily.
The third poem revealing the concept of hope is “When I Hoped I Feared”. The verse changes the tone from optimistic to distrustful. The poet implies that ability to believe and wait is connected with fears, life disappointments, and challenges. She underlines that those who preserve hope should remain persistent even when they are alone, “as a church”. In this poem, hope is something painful and dangerous.
There appear gloomy images of specters, serpent, and almighty Doom. Dickinson reveals that fulfilling one’s dream requires much spiritual energy, effort and ability to face threats with open heart without fear. This is the only way to depose the merciless Doom, which prevents people from faith in their strength and opportunity. The poet compares loneliness with the church existence, maybe hinting on the puritanical views preventing strict religious followers from self-realization in love and affection. This verse is the key to understand the vulnerable nature of the poet. It reveals her strong adherence to the high principles and doubt in their validity. It can turn a disastrous disappointment that one’s hopes remain only a mirage, and this possible and predictable outcome scares Emily, but does not let her surrender. It provokes her to follow her dreams, idealistic visions and keeps her in everyday agony.
The last poem under analysis is “And This of All My Hopes”. It reflects the feeling of some discontent with the expected result. Emily Dickinson describes the end of her hopes as “silent” and “bountiful colored”. It can mean that she has passed the time of blind faith into her hopes and illusions. Thousands of people face such situation of broken and cherished hopes every day worldwide. However, the poem teaches that hope is valuable and beautiful, and it is a great gift to experience such intense and bright emotions. Dickinson says that her hopes have ended. They have been cherished and nourished by her emotions enough, and then transformed into something meaningful.
After poet’s death her hopes continued to live and revive in other human hearts with new intensity. It is not important whether hope leads to some real change. If it is genuine, it becomes the special bunch of utmost positive energy source and it is never wasted. The poet compares her hope to a stem without a bud. These lines reveal her disappointment as well as the last words about the confident and warm reality. She compares herself to a brave and unrevealed root. Dickinson confessed her failure in realization of some cherished hopes. However, she remains grateful, yet self-ironical and genuine in her mysterious and eternal poetry.
Poetic heritage of Emily Dickinson provokes thinking and work of soul. It makes the reader return to forgotten, but still actual eternal spiritual values. The self-sacrifice and revelations of this little but unbroken woman arises surprise and interest in modern spiritless world where people are in perpetual race for money and success. Emily Dickinson’s story is an example of withdrawal from both acknowledgement and the joy of socially active wealthy life. She devoted herself, as any genuinely talented person, solely to her calling and created a unique example of poetic writing by not following, but breaking the rules. Her inner maturity and stem allowed her to resist the critiques of the most prominent writers and poets of her time. She hoped for a personal happiness with the man she was in love with. However, failure of hope for love led the poet to an utmost devotion to her creativity and encouraged writing of poems, which continue inspiring hope in people’s hearts worldwide.