Sadly, its been a late night in libraryland, so, just a quick post regarding ModPo’s first writing assignment.

Below is the poem in which we are to ‘close read’ and discuss. Needless to say, most of my literary education has been self-taught, ergo, I’ve no idea how to tackle poetic theory. As I biked to work today, bits of the ‘close read’ poem popped into my head, words like Tippler, drams, and Seraphs. Since I’ve read ED’s poems, some words rang familiar, however, first order of business shall be to research their meanings. Hopefully, that will get the rhetorical energies flowing…

Sidebar: If you read poetry, especially if you follow a poet’s work, do you notice that there are certain words; places; or ideologies that theme within their poems? It was once pointed out to me when I was reading a poet, that she used the color white in almost every poem. When I started to pay attention to other poets, I realized that many of them return to certain words or themes. Would one say this is part of the poet’s ‘voice’? If you write poems, do you notice such a trend within your own writing?


Below is a poem by Emily Dickinson, known by its first line, “I taste a liquor never brewed.”

I taste a liquor never brewed —
From Tankards scooped in Pearl —
Not all the Vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an Alcohol!

Inebriate of Air — am I —
And Debauchee of Dew —
Reeling — thro endless summer days —
From inns of Molten Blue —

When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee
Out of the Foxglove’s door —
When Butterflies — renounce their “drams” —
I shall but drink the more!

Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats —
And Saints — to windows run —
To see the little Tippler
Leaning against the — Sun —


13 thoughts on “Emily Dickinson – a close read

  1. Thank you for sharing a little ED.

    Forgive me if you have heard all this before.

    Close analysis of a piece of literary text involves, first of all, being able to summarise the ‘argument’ of the text – what is the author or poet saying or conveying in the extract. That can be done fairly briefly. The second stage is to look at the structure, the metre, the rhyme scheme, the language, the imagery, the use of metaphor, the choice of words, etc. etc. and specifically how the writer has used all these devices to further her argument.

    Emily Dickinson is one of my favourite poets, for which reason I have never bought a collection of her works – because I love to come across them by serendipity. You mention in your sidebar the features that run through a particular poet’s work. For me, ED’s fingerprints are seen in the way she expresses the barely-tangible by her use of half-rhymes (not so much in this poem, but ‘pearl’ and ‘alcohol’ are an example) and the way she inserts dashes into her lines as though conveying a momentary holding of the breath.

    Marie Marshall

    • No, most grateful for the information! I very much like the idea of not owning her poems, instead running across her poems serendipitously! Fabulous!

  2. I’m amused by people who claim to know what Dickinson was all about and suggest the poems aren’t difficult for them at all. Come on! This poem is a great example – do a close reading of that. Not easy….

    By the way, when you write yours, if you can help me find it at Modpo please do, and if you’d like I’ll do the same.

    • Oh my, is it not the most interesting/overwhelming/aggravating thing…these boards. Actually, people have been lovely to each other compared to another Coursera course…it got ugly.

      Absolutely will let you know, and vice-versa, okay? I’m a bit wondrous at this point. I’m thinking of lighting a candle, gathering a bee or two, and invoking dear old Emily’s name in the mirror…Ha!

  3. Angela,

    Speaking of white: What do you make of “Seraphs swing their snowy Hats” ? What are their snowy hats and how do they swing them? And what does “snow” particularly mean, as an emblem, to Dickinson?

    • Hi Mike! Truth, I’ve yet to delve into it. Ms. Dickinson seems to be drunk on words if you ask me! The tankard perhaps was ‘mother of pearl” on the inside… I shall start to unravel this one later in the week. Will post my results eventually – for better or worse…

  4. Right, mother of pearl on the inside, these tankards were ornamented often, filigreed silver on the outside. Sometimes a plainer pewter.

    The “snowy hats” of seraphs, I believe, are diadems, either crowns or head wraps of white. Snow to her is an emblem of purity. (She once described her virginity to a male correspondent, Samuel Bowles, assuring him her “snow” was pure. People expressed themselves so quaintly then.)

    The snowy hats swing when the seraphs swing their heads around to see the “tippler leaning against the sun.”

    I love how cryptically she writes. – Mike

  5. Pingback: MOOCs, ModPo and Me (Part Two) « A Patchwork Life

  6. I have read some of her works. Besides everything else that can be discussed what I find truly amazing is that in spite of leading a very reclusive life she could be so worldly in her knowledge.

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