Emily Dickinson spent a large portion of he life in isolation. While others concerned themselves with "normal" daily activities, Emily was content to confine herself to her house, her garden, and her poetry. Due to her uncommon lifestyle, she was considered odd and was never respected as the great poet she is now recognized as. Living life as an outsider, her poems are written from a perspective we are not used to seeing in our popular culture. Even so, her works contain such themes as human nature/behavior, independence, the meaning of life, and optimism in a grim world. After reading and studying Emily Dickinson's works I have noticed many similarities between her beliefs and mine. I believe that most people would have to agree she was far more intelligent than anybody would have even considered and that one comes to understand our world better after contemplating her works.
The most numerous type of poem that Dickinson wrote was that which dealt with human nature. In "Success is counted Sweetest," she points out that the people who can truly enjoy success are those who have felt the pain of failure. Most of the pleasure of success comes from subconsciously knowing that since you have succeeded you don't have to feel the pain of failure. Throughout my life, especially in regard to athletics, I have won many times in big situations and lost many times in big situations. Every time I've won, without really thinking about what I was doing, and only for a very brief time, I've looked at my opponent and pitied them for having to go through the pain of losing. Immediately following this the victory felt much sweeter. Consequently, every time I've lost, I imagined what it would have felt like to have won, that's when the real pain hit. What I think Dickinson could also have had in mind is that you don't appreciate what you have unless you've had to struggle to get it. It seems far fetched but it could be that Dickinson didn't think the woman who ended up with the man she loved appreciated what she had. If you take the last stanza in that poem and make the "he" a "she" it could be assumed that she hears his wedding on her "forbidden ear." Forbidden that is from hearing it as she would if she were marrying him at the church. As it were so "The distant strains of triumph, Burst - agonized and clear!" Would be the celebration afterward that Dickinson didn't think the bride was worthy of enjoying. Dickinson believed the bride didn't appreciate how much pain others could go through seeing the one they love being taken by someone else.
Emily Dickinson's "Much madness is Divinest Sense" is a fine example of her themes of human nature and independence. In "Much Madness is Divinest Sense" she makes evident how society labels anyone as deranged that behaves and/or believes differently from normal. This is an example of human nature, groups of people tend to follow. Every day, I go to school with people who are labeled "freaks," our society calls them this because they participate in behaviors different than the rest of us. They in turn call us "sheep," which is a way of saying we are all followers. Today Emily Dickinson would be a freak, most people realize this yet we look back and praise her for what she did. Knowing this, and the fact that history repeats itself, I find it hard to imagine why people still label others as freaks and ridicule everything they do. What would the people of the mid-1800's think if they saw how we treat the freaks of their time now? Why then don't people stop labeling others even though they know today's freaks will be praised in the future for what they've done?
Because so far the poems I've discussed have all hinted at the uglier parts of life; pain, loneliness, failure, labeling, and disrespect, I've decided to end on a positive note. Dickinson's poem "'Hope' Is the Thing with Feathers" has the main theme of optimism in a grim world. The bird (assuming that little feathery noisemaker is a bird) symbolizes hope. Hope doesn't lead us out of bad times but it keeps us going with a mix of longing and desire of, and confidence and trust in, the good times to come. Hope is strongest in the worst of times. It would take a storm of pain and suffering so tremendously intense to lose the sole thing that keeps so many going, that if it does happen to someone then God save their soul. Without hope you cannot survive long in a grim world such as ours. The poem ends saying that Hope has saved her in the worst times and the worst places but for all it's done for her it's never asked for anything. In my life there was one period of 5 or 6 months (that I will not mention), but it seemed as if hope was almost all that I had left. There were a few bright spots in that bleak and ugly time but for the most part it was hope that kept me going. I think this poem is a way of saying she went through some ugly times, but like her, if you can just hang on to that one tiny bit of hope it will come through for you and things will start moving in the right direction.
Emily Dickinson's poems have been a tremendous help in understanding life in general. It allows us to look at life as freely as we would an ant farm. It allows us to look at life through the eyes of someone whose sight hadn't been fogged with other's ideas. It lets us look back on our own lives with new insight and will help us make better decisions and observations in the future. Her words lived on long after she has passed; in turn her ideas, observations, and messages will live on longer than her words. With every word read new beliefs are formed that will stay with the reader, these beliefs undoubtedly will be passed on to others until their origin is long since forgotten and people will begin to accept them as the truth.