The poetry of Emily Dickinson is studied like the works of William Shakespeare, as timeless and perfect works of art, gracing the canon. This paper will analyze in detail eight of Dickinson’s poems which have been classified as “time” poems. The poems to be discussed are: “ I like to see it lap the Miles – “; “Because I could not stop for Death – “; “The Heart asks Pleasure- first- “; “After great pain, a formal feeling come”; “There’s a certain Slant of light”; I felt a Cleaving in my Mind”; “The first Day’s Night had come – “; and “Pain- expands the Time”.
“I like to see it lap the Miles” is considered a time poem by many Dickinson scholars because it tracks the daily route of a train. Its speaker, arguably the author, watches a train make its scheduled runs and stops through the mountains. The train, an unlikely subject for Dickinson, who refers mostly to nature or the natural in her poems, seems to take on characteristics much like a horse. The words “lap” and “lick” are two things a horse does; horses also have a “prodigious step” and come to rest at their “stable door”.
The four quatrain stanza poem has no noticeable rhyme pattern. The meter alternates between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter in the first two stanzas. The third stanza breaks the pattern suddenly with two lines of iambic dimeter and three lines of iambic trimester. This stanza is also odd in numbered lines. There are five lines, where the rest of the poem has quatrain stanzas. The last stanza has yet a different meter, consisting of two iambic trimeters for the first two lines. The poem ends with two lines of iambic tetrameter.
“Because I could not stop for Death –” is one of Dickinson’s best known and most studied poems, and arguably her most famous. This time poem starts with life and crosses over into death or eternity. The transition is easy and painless for both the poet and the reader because of the flow of rhythm. It is seemingly very natural. It is very melodic and has been acclaimed over and over again by scholars to be the most perfect poem ever written. “Because I could not stop for Death – ” is not only a time poem, but a death poem as well. It deals with the idea of the afterlife, something Emily Dickinson has been rumored to be obsessed with. The speaker is the poet, who speaks as a person crossing from life to death, who is travelling with possibly the Grim Reaper or the angel of death. Despite the circumstance, her tone is hopeful and casual.
There are 6 quatrain stanzas in this poem. It has an easy rhythm pattern throughout.
The first stanza has the only rhymed pattern of ABCB; the remaining five stanzas are all ABCD. The pattern is iambic tetrameter alternating with iambic trimeter, every other line in the first three stanzas. The fourth stanza switches the meter pattern temporarily to iambic trimeter, tetrameter, tetrameter, trimeter. This switch is indicitave of a switch in tone in the poem. The pattern is literally turned inside out. Every other stanza in this poem has eight and then six syllables, alternating that pattern throughout the poem except for in this fourth stanza. There are six, eight, eight, six, resembling a palindrome numerically. This fourth stanza switches from the poet being in control of the action to nature around her reflecting the action, here the sun, passing her by.
The last two stanzas continue with the previous pattern of alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and trimeter.
“The Heart asks Pleasure – first –” is a two stanza poem. Every line is iambic trimeter except for the fourth line in the first stanza, which is iambic tetrameter.This time poem is a step by step process, including he words, “first” and the phrase “and then” for each step. The requests of the heart seem to indicate a timeline of pain in a person’s life or the end of a person’s life or a time when a person is in great pain or when the heart is broken or suffering.
The narrator of the poem seems to be the actual heart speaking in the third person. The tone is somber and points to an ending of some kind, a long for release. There is a build up of intensity as the poem progresses, making the ending more dramatic and final. The poem “After great pain, a formal feeling comes” traces the time after pain, but not prior to it. The speaker is omnipotent, looking in from the outside, not connected with the piece. The tone is quite formal, in agreement with the title.
This poem consists of three stanzas of unequal length and meter. The first and third stanzas have an AABB rhyme pattern. The middle stanza has an odd number of lines (five lines as opposed to the four lines of stanzas one and three), with no rhyme pattern. The first stanza consists of four lines of iambic pentameter. The second stanza has varying meters. Lines one and five are iambic tetrameter; while lines two and four are iambic dimeter and the middle line is iambic trimeter, making an 84648 foot pattern for this stanza, again a palindrome in numbers similar to Dickinson’s previously analyzed poem, “Because I could not stop for Death- “. It is in this middle stanza where once again with the differing meter that the most change in tone takes place as well. Here is where there is a shift from writing about the natural or living to referencing to the non living, or non natural, such as “mechanical” and “stone”. It is also here where Dickinson refers to the elements beyond human control, such as “Ground” and “Air”.
The last quatrain begins with an odd seven meters, which is an uneven and unusual meter for a poem to have, but Dickinson does use the seven syllable line quite frequently. Sometimes it is acceptable to have an occasional 7 meter line mixed in with iambic tetrameter, and it is usually taken as such, “given” an extra syllable per say, but not in this poem.
The last two lines are iambic pentameter, in pattern with the first stanza.
“There’s a certain Slant of light” traces a person’s enlightenment the moment it happens. It is a short journey, there is no recall of a previous spiritual, mental, or physical journey, only the moment of enlightenment. The narrator could be omnipotent, omniscient or first person, although there is no reference to first person in the poem. It is however, written as though it was experienced firsthand. This poem consists of four quatrain stanzas. This rhyming poem has an ABCB rhyme pattern in all stanzas, which makes it sing-songy, or a hymnal poem in addition to being a time poem. The meter is trochaic. In the first three stanzas, there are alternating patterns of seven and five syllables respectively. The last stanza has eight and five syllables alternating.
“I felt a Cleaving in my Mind” is interesting because the poem refers to the brain being split into two, and the actual poem itself is made up of two stanzas of equal length and meter, much as is a brain symmetrical and proportional and in sync when functioning properly. The time sequence here is one that traces a person’s madness. The narrator, the author herself, writes of a moment in time where she could not assemble the pieces or remember something, and therefore time was as disjointed as the task.
There is an ABCB rhyme pattern in both stanzas. The meter alternates every other line between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter throughout both stanzas. The poem has a very pleasing, almost lighthearted rhythm to it, which is in stark contrast to the overall theme or message of the poem. The tone almost mocks the moment. “The first Day’s Night had come – ” traces a journey from a past experience to the beginning of a new moment and carries on to the future, recalling the life changing moment. The climax is either the onset of madness or a blocking of a memory. The narrator is the author. She is present in the poem.
The poem consists of five stanzas. There is one rhyme pattern present in the poem, and that is in the first stanza. The rhyme pattern is ABCB. There is no noticeable rhyme pattern in other stanzas. The meter in this poem is as follows for all five stanzas: two lines of iambic trimeter, one line of iambic tetrameter and one line of iambic trimeter. “Pain – expands the Time” is a short poem of two stanzas. The time reference in this particular poem deals with something actually influencing time – pain. There is unequal meter in the third line of each quatrain. The second stanza has a noticeable rhyme pattern of ABCB.