Emily Dickinson’s place in history has affected many aspects of social order. Dickinson’s writing touched on many issues that were very important to the life and development of Dickinson’s persona; such as religion, war, psychosis, and love. Dickinson’s insight into these issues has been the source of the majority of the interest in her work. In the poem #564 Dickinson centers on the physical building of churches as a problem with her understanding of God. Within this poem Dickinson tells the reader that the deification of the man made houses of worship also distract from one’s understanding of God.
The line “God grows above—so those who pray / Horizons—must ascend” illustrates Dickinson’s idea that limiting one’s view, as in focusing on a building rather than God himself, would hinder one’s ability to see God. Dickinson goes on to clarify, succinctly, her feelings on the worshiping of God through churches: “His house was not—no sign had He / By Chimney—nor by Door / Could I infer his Residence— / Vast Prairies of Air” Dickinson tells the reader that nothing tangible or built by the hand of man has been seen by God as His house.
Dickenson contends that there is a separation between “praying and “worshipping”. The churches used by the people around Dickinson are used to “worship” and show the action of belief. Whereas praying is the only way to “reach” God and prove one’s heart as a believer. In the poem numbered 1499, Dickinson again questions the physical place worship by calling insecure the “Physiognomy” of the Calvinist theology. Dickinson begins this poem by acknowledging the temporality of the human visage: “How firm Eternity must look / To Crumbling men”.
Dickinson obviously feels that the “face value” of religion is passing and worthless. She felt that the eternality of action and the long lasting effects of true faith were far more important and worth while. The questions raised by Emily Dickenson within her poetry, echoes the problems that people have had with religion for ages—where does the truth about God reside? Dickenson wanted to find a peace that accompanied the acceptance of God; however her exposure to the Calvinist Puritans stifled that. Her distain and mistrust from the sect resounded throughout her life and her poetry.
Though not all of her poetry maintained such as hard line rejection of Puritan ideals, the ones selected here illustrate her desire to find something else, outside of the Calvinist dogma that better explained to her the nature of God. It has been “suggested that [the] contradictions in Emily Dickinson [‘s poetry] were due to her dual nature, which made her at once a pagan and a “sincerely religious woman. ” (Voigt 193) This constant pull within her life, caused Dickinson to struggle throughout her lifetime with her desire to loved by God, and her inability to accept the blind faith that accompanies devotion to religion.
In poem numbered 315, for example, the fumbling of the unnamed “he” at the soul of the narrator is immediately seen as the ultimate of personal invasions. The hap-hazard bumbling of this “he” is made worse by the “stun[ning]” that is caused by this invasion. The different degrees of this stunned soul hints at the multiple levels of invasion that is taking place—emotional, physical and, presumably, spiritual. The objectifying human “Nature” as brittle is an obvious tool to illustrate the suffering that humanity is plagued with throughout their lives. It also brings in the idea of death and mortality to the concept of human existence.
The “he” deals the final blow the brittle human narrator with “One – Imperial – Thunderbolt” (315. 11) This assumed death, however, does not promise an escape from the constant suffering of life, but instead we learn that “The Universe – is still –“ (315. 12) The final dash after “still” tells the reader that the universe is still moving, turning, and continuing the pain that the narrator wishes to be freed from. The Civil War was another issue that was addressed by Dickinson. With the poem, “The name – of it – is ‘Autumn’”, Dickinson uses natural imagery to describe the horrors of war. David Cody wrote, in his article on the poem, that
Dickinson’s poem continues both to beckon and to baffle its readers, and the present essay is devoted not so much to an attempt to “guess” its meaning as to the more modest task of recalling or reviving, palingenetically as it were, some faint ghost or echo at least of the rich, complex and increasingly remote cultural moment in which it came into being. Precisely because it seems to embody. (Cody 24) Ed Folsom wrote that her poem, numbered 754 “My Life has stood – a loaded gun”; “explicitly with the Master/slave relationship”. (Folsom) The poem identifies with the slave’s reality of being worthless until pressed into service by the master.
The work that Dickinson did during her lifetime was as diversely inspired as it was cryptic. However, the subjects that were covered by her work still hold enough interest and importance to warrant a continued study. The questions that Dickinson raised about religion, echoed the questions of many people who were slowly becoming disenfranchised with the Calvinist movement. Her own issues with psychosis were also subject to her eye. The poems she wrote about her lack of understanding of the world, and the fear that kept her secluded from society offer a deep insight into her mind.