“They Shut Me Up in Prose”

According to some scholars, Dickinson’s poem #613 is quite the exercise in feminism. In it, she masterfully uses the imagery of a captive bird and speaks in a defiant voice about the struggles of being a female, expected to be silent and kept locked up by societal expectations of the mid 1800’s.

Although she never engaged in any public romantic relationships, researchers have long questioned the many cryptic references to “loves” in her poetry and posed questions about her private life and potential relationships with several men and also with her sister-in-law, Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson. In my version of this poem I imagine the coded language she used to send messages that would not be deemed appropriate during her time. Over a century and a half later, fans of her work are still looking for the meanings between her lines.

Note on “fascicles:

*During Dickinson’s intense writing period (1858-1864), she copied more than 800 of her poems into small booklets, forty in all, now called “fascicles.” She made the small volumes herself from folded sheets of paper that she stacked and then bound by stabbing two holes on the left side of the paper and tying the stacked sheets with string. She shared these with no one. They were discovered by her sister Lavinia after Emily’s death.

References

They shut me up in Prose (F445A, J613) – White Heat (dartmouth.edu)

1855-1865: The Writing Years – Emily Dickinson Museum

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