This reflective poem explains that Dickinson’s individuality derives from experiencing abject vertiginous terror. It reminds me of the commentary on the I Ching’s hexagram 51 ‘The Arousing (Shock, Thunder)’:
‘When a man has learnt within his heart what fear and trembling mean, he is safeguarded against any terror produced by outside influences.’
Dickinson’s internal terrors gave rise to an extraordinary body of poetry which has a most distinctive ‘gait’.
The poem’slines are in black; my commentary is in red:
I stepped from Plank to Plank In ‘I felt a Funeral in my Brain’, a ‘Plank in Reason’ suggests an apparently steady foundation for thought (before it breaks); here the metaphor conveys a different meaning and the sense of treading a makeshift path of the imagination.
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my Feet the Sea The antithesis of what is felt about head and feet draws out the endlessness of the heavens and the insubstantiality of her physical circumstances
I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch — The small measure is alarmingly short and too easily overstepped.
This gave me that precarious Gait Dickinson recognises that her thinking is idiosyncratic and full of dangerous thoughts; the visual image of a distinctive gait, which conveys and propels the body, is an apt metaphor for the unique presentational style of her poetry, which conveys and propels her thought.
Some call Experience The half rhyme, of ‘experience’ with ‘inch’, further conveys the sense that ever-present danger changes and individualises the way the poet/persona thinks. If the intonation is read to rise at the end of the line, there is the ironic implication that ‘some’ calling the episode ‘Experience‘ does not adequately describe the severity of what happened to her mind.
My commentary represents a personal reading of the poem, which I hope you will feel is adequately supported by close analysis. Please do not hesitate to contact me with alternative readings – I will publish them. The important thing is to develop a heartfelt and an informed critical response.
My Dickinson main page provides further analytical approaches, including considerations of language and structure.
MY OTHER PAGES ON EMILY DICKINSON’S WORK
Please go to the Dickinson tab for the drop-down menu on her poems A-Z or click on the following: