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Emily Dickinson themes for the poetry and prose OCR as level exam Watch

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    can someone please help me with some kind of spider diagram on themes for this exam (love,death, nature, thoughts & feelings, immortality). also does anyone know what themes are more likely to come up through a process of elimination from past years questions?
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    Hey, going to put this in the English forum for you. Might get more useful responses there.
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    Probably wont be death or nature as these have come up in the past two years. I wouldn't bet on it though as they still could repeat it! However the poems A bird came down the walk and the last night that she lived are unlikely to reappear.

    Nature and religion often come in pairs for Dickinson; nature is the comfort whilst religion is her reality despite her fight to remain agnostic and sustain her independence in a patriarchal society. So poems like 668, 986, 328, 314, 1400 all contain nature imagery... in fact most of her poetry does. You'll notice that most of the nature imagery is peaceful and beautiful as she often looked into it and personified it for comfort (maybe even used it as a substitute for humans because of her reclusiveness). She also often uses it as a device to portray her isolation from the world.

    The only poem you could really link to literal human love is poem 494 - going to him, happy letter. The 'him' in this poem could either be a lover (you could link this to context and her Master letters) or God himself, as the H is capitalised. You could then link the God reference to religion and beautiful naturalistic imagery associated with religion (poem 328, the child like and rose tinted view of the bird, "Butterflies" > soul leaving the body (cocoon) to be with God, "leap splashless" a paradox, link to the leap of faith humans do into religion. 314, "hope is the thing with feathers" > the bird could be either God himself when "never in extremity it asked a crumb of me" - omnibenevolent characteristic of the Christian God, or it could be the dove in Noah's Arc, 668 - "nature is harmony" - Dickinson finds comfort within nature as she cannot find it within her human society). Dickinson herself had a love for botony therefore love is found within the rose tinted view she has on animals (notice how she never seems to portray them as evil or gives them truly bad qualities - even the snake in poem 986 is never actually evil to the boy, he just creates fear "zero to the bone").

    Death is again a common theme in Dickinson's poetry therefore there are tonnes of poems you could include. I would chose 465, where the fly seems to be a macabre personification of death who comes "between the light and me" and even shows mental distraction even at the time of death, (notice how the fly (an animal) may be macabre but isn't cruel or evil! Also, flies are often linked to death and decay - think about that), 280, where she uses the extended metaphor "I felt a funeral in my brain" to either show the premature death of her sanity "a plank in reason broke" or she is narrating her own funeral, making it another death fantasy similar to poem 510 "it was not death for I stood up." The narrator believed she was dead yet she clearly isn't. Elemental naturalistic imagery is used "it was not frost.... nor fire... for just my marble feet" (nature is everywhere! Marble dehumanizes her) and by saying "it tasted like them all" she is putting a personal sensory experience on her fantasy of death. Also, don't forget how the poem ends on the concept of a desolate idea of heaven - for Dickinson death is being released from an anchor into an abyss "to Justify - Despair" (REMEMBER despair is the ultimate sin - so why does it crop up in so many poems???). Don't forget poem 712 "because i could not stop for death" here, death is personified and the narrator is not scared of death, he "kindly stops for me" showing he is peaceful, and almost like an old friend. This poem despite being about death uses peaceful naturalistic imagery "gazing grain" and "setting sun" so overall has a nice tone about it, we should not fight against death, we should allow it to take us when he wishes as everyone dies eventually and 'it is only a matter of time' and on the plus side, dying means we get to be with God, right? Furthermore, when death is involved, time seems to slow down pr stop entirely "tis centuries and yet feels shorter than the day" (poem 712), "everything that ticked - had stopped" (poem 510) "hour of lead" (poem 341) "it was a narrow time" (poem 1100). Why is it that time slows down? Does death cause us to see reality as slow and pointless? And we know that the death of a loved one causes us to become 'zombified' with grief and makes us realise we shouldn't take life for granted "we noticed smallest things, things overlooked before" -1100. Don't forget poem 1100! It's about the 'common' death of a woman, and how death is not exceptional, it is totally normal and nature does not pause for grief and dying. The narrator says that "jealousy arose so nearly infinite" this links to the context of the time as dying was not something to fear, it was great as we get to obtain fellowship with God himself.

    Immortality is a tricky one. I would use poems like 721 "behind me dips eternity" and 501 "this world is not conclusion" and possibly even 1400 "what mystery pervades a well!" In "what mystery pervades a well", Dickinson talks about the depth of the well is like looking into an "abyss' face!" It's eternal and immortal! She also talks about the sea being "floorless" and this again shows infinite depth maybe not only to the sea but to the world itself and our knowledge of it. This is re-emphasised in "but nature is a stranger yet" - there is still so much undiscovered and Dickinson seems to be thrilled about this, as it is quite a positive poem. Perhaps she is embracing the mysteries of life? She also looks at this idea of everything being undiscovered in poem 501. The declarative that starts off the poem tells us that "this world is not conclusion" > the Earth and our death is not the be all and end all. She seems to be offering the idea of an afterlife, yet she criticizes religion saying "faith slips and laughs" and it only has a "twig" of evidence to support it. This may have something to do with Darwin's new scientific ideas which cropped up in 1860. Knowledge of the world is difficultly abtained, "to guess it puzzles scholars". Dickinson finished the poem off with "narcotics cannot still the tooth that nibbles at the soul" basically, she believes in an afterlife yet doesn't seem to have faith in religions answer to life after death. Poem 721 shows the narrator stuck in the passive, boring life between birth and death ("behind me dips eternity, before me - immortality").
    Here's a good piece of analysis I found on the internet:
    "In this poem, somewhat unlike many of her other poems dealing with death, Dickinson presents death as so omnipresent a force that it is life that is the rupture in the otherwise continuous, eternal dark immortality. Her life, her identity, is the only thing that prevents an uninterrupted endlessness, but with the sense she creates of “Eternity” and “Immortality” pressing on her throughout the poem, this feels more and more like a blip, rather than like an important life which has any effect on the world, and her choice of the clinical word “Term” to describe it underscores this."

    Finally, let's deal with thoughts and feelings. I would use poems like 754, 670 and 341.
    Poem 341 "after great pain, a formal feeling comes" deals with the loss of a loved one and shows the 'zombified grief' I talked about earlier that someone left behind can feel. The narrator seems to become a passive robot "the feet mechanical, go round" and we seem to get that, 'life goes on no matter what happens to you' feel about it. She describes time as an "hour of lead" meaning it's heavy and hard to keep up. Dickinson then finishes the poem explaining what happens after a great pain affects your life, "first - chill - then stupor - then letting go -" Perhaps this is after the funeral and the letting go is there because she brings about closure?
    Poem 670 deals with the thoughts of the narrator and is essentially about confronting one's own thoughts inside the mind. She compares the brain to a house and states that physical things are far less scary than your own mind, "for safer a midnight meeting external ghost than its interior confronting that cooler host" She is saying that ghosts are scarier than your own thoughts! She also states that being chased by armed men through an Abbey is more appealing than confronting "one's self encounter." Dickinson clearly had some scary thoughts! She then speaks about assasin's in your own apartment and says "the body becomes a revolver" and then ends the poem on "overlooking a superior spectre - or more -" this clearly links to suicide and the superior spectre could be God, yet how will she reach him by committing suicide as doesn't that go against the decalogue? This is up for discussion.
    Finally poem 754. The narrator is a gun, and it talks about being passive until it is owned by a man (perhaps another way of saying women are nothing without men?), it's life stood a loaded gun until "the owner passed identified and carried me away" They become a partnership. Perhaps the owner is a lover (one interpretation meaning you can also link poem 754 to the love theme). The gun protects and defends the owner "I guard my Master's head" and "to foe of his I'm deadly foe" it even states that it would rather protect than share a bed with him, perhaps insinuating a fierce jealousy fueling the protective nature. However, perhaps the owner is God, and in so, being picked up by God the 'gun' becomes his marksman and becomes powerful and spreads the seed of religion "and every time I speak for him the Mountains straight reply" If we look at it this way, to serve God is a way to further your own power and existence.
    Here's another piece of great analysis I found:
    "In either case, whether the Master is deity or lover, the central dilemma of the poem is that of the fusion of the gun and its owner, the force and the agent, the violence and the perpetrator. This becomes very clear in the second stanza, where the speaker and her owner fuse together into a “We,” and this is emphasized further by the anaphora of the first two lines of that stanza. In addition, the gun, in going off, is communicating for the master—“every time I speak for Him –“—taking on his voice."


    I really hope this helps and good luck!
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    (Original post by Hlahodna)
    Probably wont be death or nature as these have come up in the past two years. I wouldn't bet on it though as they still could repeat it! However the poems A bird came down the walk and the last night that she lived are unlikely to reappear.

    Nature and religion often come in pairs for Dickinson; nature is the comfort whilst religion is her reality despite her fight to remain agnostic and sustain her independence in a patriarchal society. So poems like 668, 986, 328, 314, 1400 all contain nature imagery... in fact most of her poetry does. You'll notice that most of the nature imagery is peaceful and beautiful as she often looked into it and personified it for comfort (maybe even used it as a substitute for humans because of her reclusiveness). She also often uses it as a device to portray her isolation from the world.

    The only poem you could really link to literal human love is poem 494 - going to him, happy letter. The 'him' in this poem could either be a lover (you could link this to context and her Master letters) or God himself, as the H is capitalised. You could then link the God reference to religion and beautiful naturalistic imagery associated with religion (poem 328, the child like and rose tinted view of the bird, "Butterflies" > soul leaving the body (cocoon) to be with God, "leap splashless" a paradox, link to the leap of faith humans do into religion. 314, "hope is the thing with feathers" > the bird could be either God himself when "never in extremity it asked a crumb of me" - omnibenevolent characteristic of the Christian God, or it could be the dove in Noah's Arc, 668 - "nature is harmony" - Dickinson finds comfort within nature as she cannot find it within her human society). Dickinson herself had a love for botony therefore love is found within the rose tinted view she has on animals (notice how she never seems to portray them as evil or gives them truly bad qualities - even the snake in poem 986 is never actually evil to the boy, he just creates fear "zero to the bone").

    Death is again a common theme in Dickinson's poetry therefore there are tonnes of poems you could include. I would chose 465, where the fly seems to be a macabre personification of death who comes "between the light and me" and even shows mental distraction even at the time of death, (notice how the fly (an animal) may be macabre but isn't cruel or evil! Also, flies are often linked to death and decay - think about that), 280, where she uses the extended metaphor "I felt a funeral in my brain" to either show the premature death of her sanity "a plank in reason broke" or she is narrating her own funeral, making it another death fantasy similar to poem 510 "it was not death for I stood up." The narrator believed she was dead yet she clearly isn't. Elemental naturalistic imagery is used "it was not frost.... nor fire... for just my marble feet" (nature is everywhere! Marble dehumanizes her) and by saying "it tasted like them all" she is putting a personal sensory experience on her fantasy of death. Also, don't forget how the poem ends on the concept of a desolate idea of heaven - for Dickinson death is being released from an anchor into an abyss "to Justify - Despair" (REMEMBER despair is the ultimate sin - so why does it crop up in so many poems???). Don't forget poem 712 "because i could not stop for death" here, death is personified and the narrator is not scared of death, he "kindly stops for me" showing he is peaceful, and almost like an old friend. This poem despite being about death uses peaceful naturalistic imagery "gazing grain" and "setting sun" so overall has a nice tone about it, we should not fight against death, we should allow it to take us when he wishes as everyone dies eventually and 'it is only a matter of time' and on the plus side, dying means we get to be with God, right? Furthermore, when death is involved, time seems to slow down pr stop entirely "tis centuries and yet feels shorter than the day" (poem 712), "everything that ticked - had stopped" (poem 510) "hour of lead" (poem 341) "it was a narrow time" (poem 1100). Why is it that time slows down? Does death cause us to see reality as slow and pointless? And we know that the death of a loved one causes us to become 'zombified' with grief and makes us realise we shouldn't take life for granted "we noticed smallest things, things overlooked before" -1100. Don't forget poem 1100! It's about the 'common' death of a woman, and how death is not exceptional, it is totally normal and nature does not pause for grief and dying. The narrator says that "jealousy arose so nearly infinite" this links to the context of the time as dying was not something to fear, it was great as we get to obtain fellowship with God himself.

    Immortality is a tricky one. I would use poems like 721 "behind me dips eternity" and 501 "this world is not conclusion" and possibly even 1400 "what mystery pervades a well!" In "what mystery pervades a well", Dickinson talks about the depth of the well is like looking into an "abyss' face!" It's eternal and immortal! She also talks about the sea being "floorless" and this again shows infinite depth maybe not only to the sea but to the world itself and our knowledge of it. This is re-emphasised in "but nature is a stranger yet" - there is still so much undiscovered and Dickinson seems to be thrilled about this, as it is quite a positive poem. Perhaps she is embracing the mysteries of life? She also looks at this idea of everything being undiscovered in poem 501. The declarative that starts off the poem tells us that "this world is not conclusion" > the Earth and our death is not the be all and end all. She seems to be offering the idea of an afterlife, yet she criticizes religion saying "faith slips and laughs" and it only has a "twig" of evidence to support it. This may have something to do with Darwin's new scientific ideas which cropped up in 1860. Knowledge of the world is difficultly abtained, "to guess it puzzles scholars". Dickinson finished the poem off with "narcotics cannot still the tooth that nibbles at the soul" basically, she believes in an afterlife yet doesn't seem to have faith in religions answer to life after death. Poem 721 shows the narrator stuck in the passive, boring life between birth and death ("behind me dips eternity, before me - immortality").
    Here's a good piece of analysis I found on the internet:
    "In this poem, somewhat unlike many of her other poems dealing with death, Dickinson presents death as so omnipresent a force that it is life that is the rupture in the otherwise continuous, eternal dark immortality. Her life, her identity, is the only thing that prevents an uninterrupted endlessness, but with the sense she creates of “Eternity” and “Immortality” pressing on her throughout the poem, this feels more and more like a blip, rather than like an important life which has any effect on the world, and her choice of the clinical word “Term” to describe it underscores this."

    Finally, let's deal with thoughts and feelings. I would use poems like 754, 670 and 341.
    Poem 341 "after great pain, a formal feeling comes" deals with the loss of a loved one and shows the 'zombified grief' I talked about earlier that someone left behind can feel. The narrator seems to become a passive robot "the feet mechanical, go round" and we seem to get that, 'life goes on no matter what happens to you' feel about it. She describes time as an "hour of lead" meaning it's heavy and hard to keep up. Dickinson then finishes the poem explaining what happens after a great pain affects your life, "first - chill - then stupor - then letting go -" Perhaps this is after the funeral and the letting go is there because she brings about closure?
    Poem 670 deals with the thoughts of the narrator and is essentially about confronting one's own thoughts inside the mind. She compares the brain to a house and states that physical things are far less scary than your own mind, "for safer a midnight meeting external ghost than its interior confronting that cooler host" She is saying that ghosts are scarier than your own thoughts! She also states that being chased by armed men through an Abbey is more appealing than confronting "one's self encounter." Dickinson clearly had some scary thoughts! She then speaks about assasin's in your own apartment and says "the body becomes a revolver" and then ends the poem on "overlooking a superior spectre - or more -" this clearly links to suicide and the superior spectre could be God, yet how will she reach him by committing suicide as doesn't that go against the decalogue? This is up for discussion.
    Finally poem 754. The narrator is a gun, and it talks about being passive until it is owned by a man (perhaps another way of saying women are nothing without men?), it's life stood a loaded gun until "the owner passed identified and carried me away" They become a partnership. Perhaps the owner is a lover (one interpretation meaning you can also link poem 754 to the love theme). The gun protects and defends the owner "I guard my Master's head" and "to foe of his I'm deadly foe" it even states that it would rather protect than share a bed with him, perhaps insinuating a fierce jealousy fueling the protective nature. However, perhaps the owner is God, and in so, being picked up by God the 'gun' becomes his marksman and becomes powerful and spreads the seed of religion "and every time I speak for him the Mountains straight reply" If we look at it this way, to serve God is a way to further your own power and existence.
    Here's another piece of great analysis I found:
    "In either case, whether the Master is deity or lover, the central dilemma of the poem is that of the fusion of the gun and its owner, the force and the agent, the violence and the perpetrator. This becomes very clear in the second stanza, where the speaker and her owner fuse together into a “We,” and this is emphasized further by the anaphora of the first two lines of that stanza. In addition, the gun, in going off, is communicating for the master—“every time I speak for Him –“—taking on his voice."


    I really hope this helps and good luck!

    Hi this is so helpful thanks, I was just wondering which collection you got your numbers of poems from as my collection does not comply. xx
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    (Original post by EilidhHide)
    Hi this is so helpful thanks, I was just wondering which collection you got your numbers of poems from as my collection does not comply. xx
    Hiya,

    Really sorry, this was about a year ago in my AS exam so I have no idea! I think a mixture is from the internet and a sheet my English Lit teacher actually gave me, so. I got a B in the end anyway so I don't think it matters too much if your numbers don't comply!
 
 
 
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