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The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Features of Dickinson’s Style

Theresa Sowerby | Monday September 03, 2012


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Introduction and Biography | Features of Dickinson’s Style | Themes and Subject Matter | Poem by Poem Analysis | Sample Answer

Some Key Features of Dickinson’s Poetic Style

Form and Structure

The “form? of a work of literature refers to what we can perceive of it via our five senses and the effects this creates in terms of shaping meaning and interpretations. Thus effects created by aspects of shape (lines, stanzas, sentences, enjambment, etc.) and sound (e.g. rhyme, rhythm, alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, etc.) are elements of form. “Imagery?, which is the creation of mental images of form, is included by exam boards under this heading, too. 

“Structure? refers to the overall sequencing of language, ideas and images and the accumulating effect of these. Almost all Dickinson’s poems are written in quatrains (i.e. equal stanzas of four lines) with a variety of metrical structures, the most common being what is known as “ballad or hymn metre? in which lines one and three are written in iambic tetrameter with four stresses and lines two and four in iambic trimeter with three stresses. The following 2 lines show how this works. Stressed syllables are in bold:

It was not Death, for I stood up,
And All the Dead, lie down

“Meter? refers to the repeating sequences of rhythm within a line of poetry and different repetitive sequences are given different names, based on Greek words. An “iamb? is a repeating structure of two beats, called a “foot?; in an iamb, the first beat is not emphasised, but the second is (as above – di-dum). “Iambic rhythm? often approximates natural speech. At times Dickinson uses iambic pentameter (i.e. penta = five repeating iambs per line) but she can also make use of startlingly short lines (e.g. the monometer or single iambic foot at the end of One need not be a Chamber – to be Haunted). Dickinson’s basically regular rhyme schemes...

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