Emily Dickinson is an original poet as she used her pen to challenge the existing conventions of poetry. Throughout her poems, Emily clearly experimented with a style of expression that moved away from the traditional styles of poetry and took on a unique style that made her speakers sharp-sighted observers who face the challenges of no escape from their societies. Additionally, Dickenson used her poems as a sword that would serve to liberate the speakers from the inescapable boundaries of the society. Clearly, Dickenson wrote poems that broke away from the traditional rules of poetry which challenged the narrow-minded views of the society. As a recluse, Dickenson lived in Massachusetts and wrote nearly 2000 poems that would eventually revolutionized the world of poetry. Despite the fact that much of Dickinson’s writings shift away from the conventional styles of poetry, Dickinson’s wrote “I Dwell in Possibility” to give the reader an insight into the reality that persons can break away from the cages of the expectations of the society. In essence, Dickenson uses the elements of poetry to create the explicit image that allows the readers to use poetry to expand the power of one’s mind and force the reader to think about the possibilities that life offers.
The poem uses the first person point of view and could indicate that Dickenson is speaking throughout the poem of her life’s activities. The reader realizes that the poem is a description of the self-contained intellect and inspiration that serve as the key elements of Dickenson’s poems. "I dwell in Possibility" indicates that Dickinson found a way to survive in a society that saw her as being unaware of the benefits of communication that can be derived from poetry (Legenski, par. 1). Dickinson's poetry was a reflection of her life which was “filled with double meanings and contradictions” (Legenski, par. 1). But, despite the double meanings in the poem, the reader sees that the poem provides the speaker with the freedom to imagine and explore a number of possibilities without being interrupted.
Literally, the poem talks about speaker “dwelling” in Possibility. The use of the capital P suggests that Dickenson is adding emphasis to specific words to keep with the conventions of poetry in the 1800s. Additionally, the emphasis on the word Possibility also suggests that the poets wishes to draw the reader’s attention to the main concept of life’ possibilities. Much of the poem centers on the image of a literal house with many windows that would allow for openness to the possibilities of life. This understanding is the opposite of the reference to the doors which would suggest that the poet is selective in how she chooses the possibilities that may influence her imagination. Literally, the closed doors remind the readers that it is important to be selective of the people who come into our lives. Dickenson expands on this idea as she allows the speaker to choose only the superior and the most intelligent of the visitors and implies that there is an open and closed perception to the possibilities of life.
Suzanne Juhasz suggests that “the enclosure experienced in the place of the mind” (Juhasz, par. 1) represents the “confinement and internal strife” (Juhasz, par. 1) that comes from “an architectural vocabulary” (Juhasz, par. 1). Nonetheless, this understanding comes from the reality that the consciousness of the mind can break the windows and doors that confines someone’s imagination. At first reading, the poem does not appear to be about the mind mainly because one can assume that the speaker lives in a house. The “possibility” is clearly a house, but with closer reading one could easily understand that the poem speaks to one’s imagination. Dickenson uses figurative language to build the house and show the strength of the possibilities in life. In addition, the literal reference to the sky suggests that life has endless possibilities that strengthen one’s imagination.
Arguably, the house represents the possibility of the imagination and poet establishes this in the first stanza. For Dickenson, the house of words is poetry and this poetry creates the image of closing and opening as she writes "spreading wide my narrow Hands / To gather Paradise" (Dickenson, 11 – 12). The lines imply that the imagination opens and closes, but the direct contrast to the lines "I dwell in Possibility— / A fairer House than Prose" (Dickenson, 1 -2) suggests that there are limitations to the possibilities that one can reach. Possibility is closely tied to the poetic elements as Dickenson contrasts this with impossibilities. As such, the readers realize that the speaker attempts to spread her narrow hands in order "to gather Paradise," or the creation of poetry. But, paradise is clearly a wider concept that the mind cannot embrace and leads to the conclusion that anyone can achieve just about any goals. Dickenson further implies that the imagination is powerful and even the housewife can achieve possibilities because of the ability to imagine.
Dickenson’s poetic language combines the literal and the metaphorical elements of poetry. Such poetic style allows the readers to develop a unique understanding of the logical ideas of the closure of some possibilities and the openness of the imagination. The use of contrast is also important as the poet presents “possibilities” as a positive thought that leaves the reader hoping for a better ending. But, the use of “dwell” in the same line suggests that there are negative connotations to the symbolic house. The speaker does not dream nor think about her possibilities, but in fact dwells in possibilities which would suggest a sense of confinement. As a recluse, Dickenson puts some of her frustrations and disappointments with the world. The windows are numerous, yet the doors are superior which implies that she has no means of escape.
The image of the window suggests that there are multiple reflections on the part of the speaker. The numerous windows points to openness and the reference to the size of the house with its high roofs and huge rooms indicate that there are many views to the way in which one can explore the possibilities of life. The speaker acknowledges that there are many views about the way one changes one’s life. The imagination can spread far as the speakers refer to the mountains and the river flowing across a field. But, the most interesting aspect of the poem is the endless views that one can have of life. The speaker notes that if one were to look through the windows, there would be different views of the internal structure of the house. In other words, the different views of the inside of the house are symbolic of the different ways in which people have the right to reflect on and internalize different views and perceptions about reality.
The doors are symbolic as they offer security against the negative elements of the outside world. Additionally, doors symbolize privacy, yet the poet suggests that this house is more superior to doors. The implication is that there are no doors to constrict the movement through the rooms and as such there are no constrictions on the way a person sees imagines the possibilities of life. The poet also uses symbolism in the form of the “Chambers as the Cedars/Impregnable of eye/And for an everlasting Roof/The Gambrels of the Sky” (Dickenson, 5 – 8).
The chambers symbolize the rooms and are proof of Possibility. Many persons see the reality of situations, but there is the truth that the reality of one’s perception can be restrictive to the concept that one has of life. In other words, the house is tasteful like many of the opportunities that persons faces, but the reader realizes that the windows on the house implies a greater meaning as there is more to the imagination than the immediate vision that one has of the openness of reality.
Additionally, the openness of the rooms provides an infinite openness to the meaning of life. The theme in the poem can be one of reflection as the poet reflects on the possibilities of the imagination. The reader realizes that there are no limits as the high roof suggests the heights of the possibilities. The speaker also suggests that there is no restriction to her world and this helps to characterize the speaker as one who sees the possibilities of not just the house but of the world beyond. Clearly, the house is symbolic of one’s life and further implies that despite the closed circumstances in one’s life, there are always windows that allows for further dreams and possibilities.
Jennifer Edison argues that “Puritanism allowed Dickinson to remain grounded in her faith of God” (Edison, par. 2). It is this belief couples with her Transcendentalism views that allowed Dickenson to “release herself from limiting conceptions of humanity which enabled her to view herself as an individual with an identity” (Edison, par, 2) and further see the world as one of possibilities. Transcendentalism allowed Dickinson to move away from her Puritan beliefs and this is clear in the way she presents the speaker as one who is attempting to discover her self-worth by recognizing that there was more to the boundaries of the physical self. The house represents the boundaries of her life and the speaker realizes that the imagination she had within should be recognized despite the “doors” of the “house.”
The house represents the imagination as the lady of the house does not conform to the societal image of the typical woman who makes cake and takes care of the house. Instead, Dickenson creates a different view of the typical woman. She presents a woman who makes poetry and the “Possibility becomes associated with poetry in stanza one” (Talierco, par. 1) and later contrasted to “its opposite--not impossibility, but prose" (Juhasz, Undiscovered Continent 20 as cited by Talierco, par. 1). The possibilities referred to in the poem can be perceived from a theological and poetic perspective as the house is the Temple and shows the confidence and grace of the speaker (Talierco, par. 1). Additionally, Doriani suggests that Dickenson’s poetry is a reflection of the ideas, intellectual strength, outstanding imagery which makes them similar to the traditional sermon (Doriani, p. 54) and urges people to change.
In the poem, Dickenson changes the perception of women a being restricted to the private sphere (Talierco (b), par. 1). She reiterates this belief as she shows the speaker’s attempts to foster the imaginations of poetry within the confines of a private space. Based on her transcendentalist views, the readers experience the possibilities of creating poetry to rise above the problems that existed in the society. In addition, the readers realize that poetry allows persons to transcend to another reality that comes through the imagination. There is a greater meaning in the poem as the reader realizes that poetry provides a link between the spiritual world and the real world. Furthermore Dickenson provides a symbolic approach to almost every aspect of the house and creates a link to the over soul which allows the poet to dwell in the private sphere and access the ability of reason.
In concluding, Dickenson’s poem is a reflection of the difference between the world of freedom and the creative imagination. She makes clear reference to this difference as she points out the difference between prose and poetry at the onset of the poem. The symbolic use of the confinement of prose is in stark contrast to the openness of the imagination that is often associated with poetry. Poetry in the poem becomes dominant as the speaker is able to explore the heights and depth of the house and connect this exploration to the possibilities of the windows of the world. As the speaker explores the house, the reader realizes that there is the figurative exploration that can only come from being able to use one’s imagination to explore one’s identity. Dickenson establishes her ability as a poet to find her identity despite the confinement of the society. The imagery in the poem adds to the vivid reality that the society creates confinement for women, but the poetry that Dickenson mentions, allow the reader to appreciate that the imagination can surpass any type of confinement.
Doriani, Beth Maclay, Emily Dickenson: Daughter of Prophecy, (2996), University of
Massachusetts Press, Amherst, Print
Edison, Jennifer Gage, Religious Influences on Emily Dickinson: Puritanism and
Transcendentalism in Her Poetry, (1996) American Literature, Retrieved from
http://itech.fgcu.edu/faculty/wohlpart/alra/edidwell.htm 8 Feb 2016
Juhasz, Suzanne, On 657, I Dwell in Possibility, (1983), Modern American Poetry, from The
Undiscovered Continent, Indiana University Press, Retrieved from http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/dickinson/657.htm 8 Feb 2016
Legenski, Maureen Sweeney, Critical Readings of Emily Dickinson's "I dwell in Possibiity": The
House of Poetry (1996) American Literature, Retrieved from http://itech.fgcu.edu/faculty/wohlpart/alra/edidwell.htm 8 Feb 2016
Talierco, Kathi M., Emily Dickinson's "I dwell in Possibility" (J 657): with anchors for the
primary symbols and images, (1996) American Literature, Retrieved from http://itech.fgcu.edu/faculty/wohlpart/alra/edidwell.htm 8 Feb 2016
Talierco, Kathi M., (b) Public vs Private: Opportunity and Gender in Emily Dickinson's "I dwell
in Possibility" (1996), American Literature, Retrieved from http://itech.fgcu.edu/faculty/wohlpart/alra/edidwell.htm 8 Feb 2016