Columns by Lisa Williams

Emily Dickinson’s Utopian Tongue


Emily Dickinson’s poems are a paradise for words. I say this because it was her poetry that sparked my awareness of what language can be. In this language utopia, words are not fixed entities but facets of conception. Other facets are hinted at in the suggestion of homonyms, synonyms, puns: a world of words beyond those seen. Even though one word has been chosen, others hover in the air around it, “Invisible as Music / but positive on Sound” (#501) as if the text were a ghostly palimpsest. Thus, a Dickinson poem “is not Conclusion”: a reader often has the freedom to see one word yet hear and imagine others, not just because a reader imposes the (contemporary) subjective approach to a poem while reading Dickinson, but because Dickinson’s poems were written with that sort of multi-verse in mind.

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