When Emily Dickinson breaks the boundaries of isolation

Essay on “This is my letter to the World” by Emily Dickinson

The feeling of being cut off from the world and the desire of reconnection is something we have been dealing with since the spread of Covid-19 forced us to isolation. These are the main topics I found among the lines of the poem “This is my letter to the World” by Emily Dickinson.

I originally wrote this essay as an assignment for the American Modern Poetry course I’m attending. Fun fact: while I was still completing the essay, the assignment changed and I had to do it again from scratch. Still, I think that analyzing “This is my letter to the World” by Emily Dickinson brings us to reflections that easily apply to our times – this poem is remarkably modern. Therefore I decided to publish the essay in my blog and share it with you.

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me —
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!

Let’s start with the word “World”. We know that Emily Dickinson writes certain words with a capital letter in order to highlight them. We can give many different explanations to this specific one: it could mean nature, the planet where we live or everything that surrounds us. The fact that she writes a letter to the world could lead us to connotate it as a recipient of a message: a person, or a group of people. I would see it as mankind, precisely everyone apart from the author. We can move back to the word “letter” now. A letter is a written message, the main means of communication in the XIX century. This is her letter, though, and it is something more: the poem itself. Emily Dickinson’s verses often have a self-referential level of interpretation. In this sense, we could think that “my letter to the World” is the very act of writing her poem.

In the second line “Me” is the sender of “my letter”. Dickinson has the ability to condense – only the essentials remain. She could have omitted the “to” before “me” and just said: “wrote me”. I think she chose to phrase it that way to emphasize “Me” and clearly distinguish it from “World”. “That” is precisely the world: those who, for their part, never tried to communicate with the writer. “Never” is a strong word, an absolute concept. It gives a certain sense of deprivation: there are some things we would like to happen but they never will. The dash at the end of the line is a typical Dickinsonian punctuation that creates bridges between poem sections and lets the verse open to those several possibilities in which the poet “dwells” in. The line “That never wrote to Me —” brings out a lack of dialogue and therefore a sense of isolation.

What is the content of this letter? The news that nature told. The news is a novelty that you wish to share, a message that you hand down. It is simple: basic, spontaneous. Nature – with a capital letter – is the source of the message. Typically a poet has a privileged relationship with nature and its mysteries. Here the poet is cut off and struggles to get answers, though. I would read “nature” as Dickinson’s life experience that taught her something – even when everybody else was ignoring her. What she learned in her life could be simple, but it is worth sharing. Tender majesty is the attribute associated with nature. Life has been a severe teacher but also capable of tenderness. I think that here Dickinson expresses how much in love with life she is despite everything. In fact, she seems to desire to be part of the world, to open a gateway on the wall that stands between her and the rest of the world.

The message of nature is carried by hands that the poet can not see. It is mysterious and hard to read – as Dickinson’s poetry. Invisible is also the audience of the poet – they don’t communicate with her. In this sense, we can say that Dickinson learned about the nature news spontaneously, without getting a letter addressed to her. Nevertheless, the poet addresses the world, embodied in the “countryman”. It’s a man from the country, who works the land. It’s a man who shares the love for nature with her, the love for life. She asks him not to be harsh with his judgment, for the sake of the common connection with nature. She wishes to find a way to communicate with the rest of the world and eventually be remembered fondly.

Dickinson’s poetry is an act of breaking the boundaries of isolation.

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