PAGE FIVE -
Emily Dickinson and the Punctuation
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Six | Works
State of Wondrous Multiplicity
|Importantly, Dickinson ends the epistolary sentence
and the poem with dashes; the poet withholds closure because she cannot
personally resolve the ongoing struggle between her desire for unquestioning
faith, her suspicion of divine trickery, and her trust in only the knowable.
She leaves readers immersed in an identical state of ongoing wonderment:
|Wonder is not precisely Knowing
And not precisely Knowing not
A beautiful but bleak condition
He has not lived who has not felt
|In this first stanza of Poem 1331, Dickinson seems
to comfort us. Follow the associative beauty of the mind, even without
obtaining clarity and final answers. Even if we as readers feel frustrated
by the absence of clear-cut solutions, Emily Dickinson thrived on far-reaching,
limitless explorations of the mind. She felt freedom when safely locked
inside her room because the undisturbed self could move anywhere, associate
|On one of the tiny scraps of poem fragments, compiled
by Johnson almost as an afterthought to the third volume of letters, Dickinson
scribbled: "As it takes but a moment of imagination to place us anywhere,
it would not seem worth while to stay where it was stale " (PF 66).
This single statement explains her decision to retreat from society, from
daily emptiness, from unquestioning routine. The line concludes with a
dash moving towards alternatives, along alternative routes to knowing.
Similarly, as Ian Watt describes, "Sterne didn't want unity or coherence
or defined direction, at least in any conventional sense; he wanted multiplicity
. . . " (48). Sterne used experimental typography to move "backwards or
forwards or sideways, not in straight linear paths" (48).
|In another poem fragment, Dickinson seeks equal circumvention:
"Did you ever read one of her Poems backward, because the plunge from the
front overturned you? I sometimes have A something overtakes the
Mind " (PF 30). I suspect she refers to her own poetry, writing in
the persona of her only audience: herself. Take her advice. Reverse the
dashed ending. The Mind overtakes something and everything -- overturning
conceptions and plunging into poetry.
|By diving inward for poetic inspiration and probing
an interior with the vastness of genius -- as grand as sky and sea and
divinity -- Emily Dickinson learned more about the capacity of the mind
than countless neuroscientists counting synapses. But her dash only gapes
open briefly; we must leap through quickly and fearlessly for any hope
of comprehension. As Jane Donahue Eberwain writes, "To read Emily Dickinson
is an exhilarating experience; to write about her a humbling one" (1).
A tiny mark dashing between words conjoins complex meaning, requiring pages
of explication to decipher but leaving us worried that the significance
escaped. Following her private code of cryptic associations probably requires
greater familiarity with our minds: solitude, contemplation, reflection,
exploration, imagination, and creation. John Locke studied his mind through
meticulous philosophical reflection. Laurence Sterne played in his mind
through audacious fictional digressions. Emily Dickinson dwelled in her
mind through introspection and possibility. We should do the same.