Friday, February 11, 2000

According to Emily Dickinson

According to Emily Dickinson, “People say a word dies when it is written by a pen, but for me that word's life is just about to begin.” Her quote simply states that the power of a chosen word derives from the poet who wrote that word and gives the word its meaning. Dylan Thomas and Emily Dickinson are two poets who exemplify the meaning of their words by means of either an external form or an internal structure. Thomas's poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” excels in the external form that enhances each word usage, while Emily Dickinson's “The Wind begun to knead the Grass” plays with word usage in order to intensify the internal structure of the poem. It is their technique and style in delivering those words that gives each word life. (burningbird, 2004) (Norton, pg 533, 555, 2006)
Thomas displays his poem in an external form called 'villanelle'. In the 16th century, many French poets use the villanelle verse form which consists of nineteen lines, divided by five (tercet) three line stanzas with one final (quatrain) four line stanza and two refrain lines from the first stanza, that are strategically placed in the other five stanzas. The poem appears to be in iambic meter; whereby, it is written in a meter consisting of ten syllables or five iambic feet in each line. Each line has the the first syllable unstressed, the second stressed and so on. Thomas's poem end rhyme scheme is aba in the first five stanzas and abaa in the sixth stanza. (Norton, pp 507-508, 553 - 555, A9, 2006)
The format use in this poem is the following:
Refrain lines :
Repeat lines 1, lines 6, lines 12, and lines 18 – “Do not go gentle into that good night;”
Line 3, line 9, line 15, line 19 - “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Unstressed and stressed syllables used in the first two lines:
/ / / / /
Do not go gen tle in to the good night,

/ / / / /
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rhyme a b a a
Stanza 1 Night Day Light
Stanza 2 Right They Night
Stanza 3 Bright Bay Light
Stanza 4 Flight Way Night
Stanza 5 Sight Gay Light
Stanza 6 Height Pray Night light

Thomas's structured villanelle penetrates the deep emotion felt with in each stanza. The poem's message is like a flashing neon light: 'Don't give up, fight until the last breath'. The poem emphasizes these deep emotions comparison through figures of speech such as oxymoron, alliteration, simile and metaphor. Example of some 'figures of speech' are the following: oxymoron – good death (line 1), blinding sight (line 13); alliteration – go, good (line 1), deeds, danced (line 8); sang, sun (line 10); simile - “Bind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay.” (line 14); and metaphor – “good night” - means death. (Norton, pg 542, A1, A6, 481, 485, 505, 555, 2006)
In Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” is about a man, who pleads with his father not to surrender to death's calling and “. . .go gentle into the good night” (line 1). Instead he encourages his father to fight, to “. . . burn and rave at close of day;” (line 2) and use “[r]age, rage against the dying of the light.” (line 3) All men, “wise”, “good”, “wild”, and “grave” rage against death; while grasping for strength and dignity until their final hour. “Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray” (line 17); the pleading son wishes his father “ . . . not go gentle into the good night” (line 19), but to be courageous and dignified, not weak and submissive in his father's dying hour. The tone exhibits somberness and heart-feltness. (Norton, pg 555, 2006)
On the other hand, Emily Dickinson's “The Wind begun to knead the Grass” contains a rich internal structure. She provides the reader with a vivid image of an evolving storm by using personification and simile. The poem is constructed in such a whimsical manner that it plays “The Wind”, “the Grass”, and “The Hand” as people. Dickinson uses personification to describe the events taken place outside her “Father's House-” (line 19). Dickinson essentially configures her poem in a sequential pattern where she uses her witty symbolic personifications throughout the poem. Not only is this entertaining for the reader, but helps the reader visualize the brewing storm where “[t]he wind . . .knead[s] the [g]rass -” like “[w]omen” knead[s] the “[d]ough.” (line 1-2) Part of Emily Dickinson's wit is her way in high-lighting important words that begin with a capital letter. These 'captured' nouns give meaning to the storm's progression. For an example: “The Leaves unhooked themselves from Trees-” (line 5); “The Thunders gossiped low-” (line 10); and “The Birds put the Bars to Nest-” (line 13). Each line, except line six, has a random word or words that began with a capital letter. The flow of the poem is not only seamless but enjoyable. Another element to the poet's creativity, is the use of the dash (caesura). At the end of each line she purposely used a dash instead of a punctuation. It has a great impact on how one reads or vocalizes the poem. (Norton, pg 481, 483, 533-534, 2006)
There are three similes used in Dickinson's poem, which are as follows:
“As Women do a Dough-” (line 2), where she compares it “. . . to knead of Grass-” (line 1); “The Dust did scoop itself like Hands-” (line 7 ),comparing it to a person scooping a handful of dirt and throwing it into the air; and “And then, as if the Hands/That held the Dams-” (line 16-17) comparing it to a rain cloud. Dickinson did not leave the reader without a surprise, she summoned the best in the last two lines: “But overlooked my Father's House-/ Just Quartering a Tree -” ( line 19 -20 ) The observer,
who is also the speaker, was viewing the storm and the lightning hitting the tree, safe inside her father's house. (Norton, pg 481, 533-534, 2006)
The external form that Dylan Thomas uses and Emily Dickinson's internal structure gives their poems' words its power, feelings, sound, and structure. Their whole poem establishes a fluid composition that develops rhythm and theme; whereby, the reader has no problem receiving the poem's intrinsic message. Emily Dickinson's quote, “People say a word dies when it is written by a pen, but for me that word's life is just about to begin” may also be reiterated that words become a live vehicle of expression that taps the recipient 's emotion. (burningbird, 2004)


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