poem index

Emily Dickinson Discussion Questions

Year

2000

1. What does it feel like to read a Dickinson poem? What is your sense of her musicality, sound, rhythm, and use of space? Do you read these poems quickly or slowly? What do you think about the capitals or punctuation?

2. In "They shut me up in Prose," Emily Dickinson writes that being inside prose is "As when a little Girl / They put me in the Closet –/ Because they liked me 'still' –" How does the musicality and rhythm of this poem contribute to her idea of movement? Is there a place for being still in Dickinson's poems?

3. In two of her poems about grief, Dickinson hints at the possibility of a greater truth coming from sadness. In "There's a certain slant of light" (258), she writes that the "Heavenly Hurt" gives us "internal difference / where the meanings are." In "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain" (280), she writes that it seems "That Sense was breaking through –" Read these two poems together. What kinds of "sense" or "meaning" might she be suggesting?

4. "I’m nobody – who are you?" (288) is an invitation to loneliness. How does this poem or "I taste a liquor never brewed" (214) invite the reader into the a kind of shared strangeness? Do you feel separated or connected by the language?

5. "What Soft Cherubic Creatures" (401) is full of contractions, such as "refined horror" and "common glory" as Dickinson describes the gentlewomen of her day. How do these contractions affect your understanding of these women?

6. In "I dwell in possibility" (657), Dickinson sets up "possibility" as the opposite of "prose." How does her poetry represent this idea of possibility? Using Dickinson’s metaphor of the house, what does she suggest when she says that poetry is "more numerous of windows, superior – for doors"?

7. In "The Soul Unto Itself" (683), Dickinson imagines that her soul is separate from herself. How can a soul be a "friend" or "spy"? How might a soul be "secure against its own"?

8. In "I heard a Fly Buzz" (465), Dickinson imagines the moment of her own death. What role does the fly play in this imagining? She writes "There interposed a Fly –/ With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz –/ Between the light – and me." What is her relationship to the fly?